The economy is still not gaining any real momentum, so to attract new buyers, some luxury automakers are forcing new-car shoppers to downgrade to stay in the segment with cars like the Lexus IS 250, Infiniti G25 and Mercedes-Benz C250. Buick, on the other hand, is taking a different approach in the luxury car market with the all-new 2012 Buick Verano that rewards those moving up from economy compacts without punishing those downsizing to a more practical, right-sized luxury sedan. As Buick's third new or redesigned vehicle in as many years, the 2012 Verano continues to build momentum for GM's smallest brand taking on rival luxury automakers in a price segment that is more affordable to the masses. One of the few issues that some buyers will likely have with the Buick Verano is the fact that it will be in a unique segment that’s not as sporty as some sport sedans and not as plush as some luxury sedans, but what the Verano does deliver is a great mix of the two at a price that consumers shouldn’t have a problem making small sacrifices.
2012 Buick Verano First Drive Review
2012 Buick Verano: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled at GM's Orion Assembly plant alongside the equally new Chevrolet Sonic, the 2012 Buick Verano has a starting MSRP of $22,585 but the available Convenience Group and Leather Group include additional equipment and raise the base price to $24,670 and $26,850, respectively. Checking every available option box (including dealer-installed accessories), the Verano's price never goes over the $30,000 mark including the $885 destination charge. For comparison, a fully loaded Verano still costs less than a base Lexus CT or Acura TSX - the only other luxury-branded cars that start under $30,000. Buick has not announced expected sales figures for the Verano, but the brand's sales are up almost 20 percent in sales compared to 2010 through the first 10 months of this year despite the fact that its string of consecutive monthly sales gains ended in October. Considering that the last compact that Buick offered was the 1998 Skylark, the all-new Verano should definitely help attract newer, younger buyers to the brand who are shopping luxury and price.
2012 Buick Verano: Competition
Positioned in a surprisingly niche market segment between economy-priced compacts and entry-level luxury cars, it is hard to point out any direct rivals to the 2012 Buick Verano, but Buick is definitely going after buyers shopping fully loaded compacts like the Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra as well as those looking at small luxury models like the Acura TSX, Lexus IS 250 and Infiniti G25. The advantage that the Verano holds is in the fact that you can easily option up a Cruze, Focus or any of the latest compact sedans into the mid-$20,000 price range, but you won’t be able to get the same level of refinement as this Buick. Likewise, some of the more premium brands offer cars with a more affordable starting price, but stepping up to the technology features will involve opting for pricey packages which can quickly raise the price.
2012 Buick Verano: Exterior
Unveiled earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the 2012 Buick Verano has a styling that fits in with other current Buicks while at the same time looking more youthful and energetic. Up front, the successful front-end styling first introduced on the Buick Enclave back in 2008 has become a staple of the Buick line-up, but the large, diamond-shaped headlights and waterfall grille aren’t as well proportioned on the smaller Verano giving the car more of a bug-eyed look. This can be quickly overlooked however thanks to the styling of the rest of the car which includes the sculpted hood with Buick’s signature portholes, L-shaped creases along the side of the car and horizontal taillights with a stylish chrome brow. The taillights are actually the biggest focal point of the car with their angular placement low on the body, and while they currently use conventional lighting, Buick's people at the launch did not rule out the future availability of LED taillights which would add an even more contemporary and up market look to the car. The Verano is available in five colors, but our favorite on the test cars was the Crystal Red Tintcoat (shown on this page) which is a $325 option; White Diamond Tricoat, a stylish color on the Enclave and some Cadillacs, is also offered on the Verano as a $495 option.
2012 Buick Verano: Interior
As stylish as the 2012 Buick Verano is on the outside, its interior is what will really help draw luxury-car shoppers to this newer, smaller segment. Above everything else, the most impressive aspect of the Verano's interior is its level of quietness thanks to what Buick refers to as Quiet Tuning. Buick paid close attention to reducing cabin noise in the Verano applying sound-deadening materials to everything from the carpet to the headliner and tossing in triple door seals and acoustic laminated glass for good measure. As a quick demonstration, Buick had people on hand with leaf blowers running at full throttle to show how well the cabin killed outside noise, but the true test for the Verano was driving through Manhattan where the traffic, honking horns, yelling people and all of the other signature New York City noises were suppressed.
Aside from the attention to sound deadening, Buick also put a lot of effort into making the Verano a true luxury car. Yes, the base car comes with a premium cloth seat that features leatherette side bolsters, but a leather package gives the car an interior that a Lexus owner could be envious of. Included in the base price, Buick gave the Verano plenty of standard equipment including Bluetooth, remote start, USB port and Sirius satellite radio, but even premium options like navigation and Bose audio are affordable as $795 and $595 options, respectively. Speaking of cabin tech, the Buick IntelliLink infotainment system is also standard on all Verano models which features a large seven-inch screen to control smartphone-related apps such as Pandora and Stitcher. Not only is the Verano luxurious, it is also very roomy with 95 cubic feet of passenger volume and up to 15.2 cubic feet of trunk space. This is almost identical to the Chevy Cruze in terms of space, but the layout and touch points all help make the car worth the premium price. Even better, the Verano’s cabin is roomier than that Lexus IS sedan with about 10 more cubic feet for the passengers and 2 cubic feet more in the trunk.
2012 Buick Verano: Interior Packages and Options
Instead of trim levels, the 2012 Buick Verano is offered with two option groups. With a starting MSRP of $24,670 (a $1,200 premium), the Convenience Group adds in features such as rear park assist, an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated exterior mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Moving up to the Leather Group, which starts at $26,850, the 2012 Verano is as luxurious as any of the other products in Buick’s line-up with a rich leather interior, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, keyless entry with push-button start and a Bose nine-speaker audio system. Options on the base Verano include a dealer-installed decklid spoiler ($300) and the Bose audio system, while the “mid-level” Convenience Group additionally allows buyers to opt for the navigation system and a $900 power sunroof. The Luxury Group also lets customers choose the same options as the Convenience Group, but it also adds the choice of the Verano’s only wheel options: 18-inch, 10-split-spoke forged alloys.
2012 Buick Verano: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
At launch, the 2012 Buick Verano will only be offered with the 2.4-liter direct-injected Ecotec inline-four that is rated at 180 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque, but Buick has already confirmed that a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four will eventually be offered in the car likely bumping the output up to 220 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque (which is what this engine is rated at in the new Buick Regal Turbo). For now, only a six-speed automatic transmission is available, but the turbo model could add a manual gearbox when it is released later next year. No official EPA fuel economy estimates have been released for the 2012 Verano, but Buick expects its new entry-level model to see estimates somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. This may seem pretty far from the fuel economy of other compact sedans that are hitting 40 mpg with ease these days, but Buick opted to use a slightly larger engine that sacrifices a few mpgs in the name of quicker and smoother acceleration expected from a luxury sedan.
2012 Buick Verano: Driving Impressions
Using the same platform that underpins the Chevrolet Cruze, it shouldn’t be too surprising at how well-balanced the 2012 Buick Verano feels on the road, but it also has its own identity that feels smooth and luxurious with a hint of sportiness. On the roads leading out of New York City, the Verano absorbed the harsh concrete pretty well, and once the roads opened up and got a little twisty, the MacPherson front struts and Watt’s Z-link rear suspension setup helped the car feel planted and stable. Not that the Verano is going to keep pace with an Audi A4 or Lexus IS, but it is intended to do so either; for this task, Buick will gladly show customers the all-new Buick Regal GS! The Verano is going to be a perfect car for small families taking occasional road trips or young professionals looking for a luxurious, tech-filled daily commuter that doesn’t break the bank. Between the heavily congested city driving and the fun country back roads, we had a great chance to really get a feel for the Verano, and at the end of the day, one of thing about the Verano’s ride that kept standing out was how it never felt like a small compact car.
2012 Buick Verano First Drive Review: Safety
Safety ratings for the 2012 Buick Verano have been released yet by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it is expected to perform quite well in crashes thanks to plenty of safety features and a strong safety cell. All 2012 Verano models come standard with 10 airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), StabiliTrak stability control and, of course, OnStar.
2012 Buick Verano: Final Thoughts
GM's track record of compact cars in the luxury segment hasn't been too strong in the last few decades, but the 2012 Buick Verano could be the best evidence yet how much better New GM is than Old GM showing that "compact car" doesn't necessarily mean "cheap car" and "platform sharing" no longer means "badge swapping." The new Verano is a great step up for shoppers who want more luxury from their compact car, but it is also an ideal move for shoppers moving down from bigger luxury sedans who aren't willing to compromise quality. In fact, the Buick Verano is the lowest-priced luxury sedan on the market, and it is still as fun to drive as its competitors and comes equipped with all of the features and technology expected in this segment. To put it simply, the Buick Verano is a car that a bank CEO could drive to work in without drawing the attention of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
2012 Buick Verano: Pros and Cons
- unique market position
- quiet interior with great use of materials and technology
- simple packaging
- great pricing across the board
- Buick corporate face looks bug-eyed on the compact Verano
- middle-of-the-road marketing might confuse buyers
- no manual transmission
Buick provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross