Buick forges a compact with China

It’s been nearly a decade-and-a-half since Buick offered a compact sedan to Canadian car buyers, so it’s a bit of a stretch to call the 1997 Skylark the predecessor of the 2012 Verano.

But in terms of model continuity, that’s a fact as the General Motors subsidiary jumps back into the com-pact segment, though this time with a luxury model rather than the more standard fare that was the Skylark.

Verano is the Spanish word for summer, but only North American and Chinese consumers will be able to get their hands on the 2012 Verano, which has just arrived in Buick showrooms in British Columbia.

Built on the same GM Delta II plat-form as the award-winning Chevrolet Cruze, and co-developed with Buick in China, the Verano has very few competitors in the compact luxury sedan segment. Not because it is a well-built, well-priced and well-appointed vehicle – all true -but because there are very few vehicles in this category priced under $30,000. By my count, one, and that sedan, the 2013 Acura ILX, won’t be in showrooms until later this year.

And while pricing on the new Acura is expected to start under $30K, it’s unlikely to start in the sub-$25K neighbourhood that the Verano base model begins at ($22,500 to be exact).

Starting on the outside, the new Verano doesn’t exactly scream luxury car, though liberal use of chrome accents does give it added sparkle over your run-of-the-mill compact sedan. The signature Buick black grille also provides some dazzle, but what impresses me most is the shape of the sedan. The flow from that front grille over the hood to the steeply raked windshield and through the arching roofline to the short-deck trunk gives the Verano a far-from-compact silhouette, and one that is pleasing to the eye from all angles. Outfitted with the optional 18-inch alloy wheels as my tester was, the Verano strikes a sleek and somewhat aggressive poise (when was the last time you read that about a Buick?).

Inside the cabin is where the luxury part of the equation really comes to the fore, from the large and comfort-able front seats to the chunky sport steering wheel through to the uncluttered yet sophisticated dashboard. The gauge package is large and easy to read, and the brushed metal accents lend a hint of elegance to the spacious interior. There’s still a little too much plastic for my tastes, and more liberal use of soft-touch materials would transform a good interior into a great one. Likewise, more side bolstering in the front seats would be welcome, particularly since the performance of this package is far from the land-yacht Buick’s of yesteryear.

Indeed, on my day-long test drive of the Verano – from Burnaby to White Rock and back – I was impressed not only by the solid nature of the peppy 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, but also by the sport=tuned suspension that had me hunting for off-ramps to throw the sedan into a tight turn. Can’t wait to drive the 2.0-litre turbo-equipped Verano with 6-speed manual gearbox due out later this year.

Despite using the same platform as the Cruze, much of the Verano chassis is unique to the vehicle.

Highway travel is particularly impressive as the cabin noise is kept to a minimum, the result of a determined effort on the part of GM engineers to make this the quietest Buick ever – which they claim to have achieved thanks to laminated side glass, extra foam insulation and foam in the wheel wells.

One limiting factor of the Verano is its compact size, and as you’d expect back seat passengers are a little squeezed if six-footers are up front, though trunk space is surprisingly ample for a car in this segment.

2012 Buick Verano
Style: FWD luxury compact sedan
Seats: Five
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder (180 hp)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (city/hwy L/100km): 9.9/6.2
Pricing: $22,500/$27,500

2012 Buick Verano.
Photograph by: Bob McHugh, for PNG