First Drive: 2012 Buick Verano

Buicks have long been all about cruising comfort — the float-on-air ride, cossetting cabin and life’s little luxuries. For the buyer well on in years, the formula worked; for the younger crowd, it did not. Buick’s transformation and its desire to seek a younger customer started with the introduction of the Regal. It still brought a luxurious and comfortable cabin, but the new-found thrust was to provide some semblance of driving pleasure. It worked very nicely.

The Verano is the next car aimed at rejuvenating Buick’s image and attracting that more youthful buyer. In the end, the Verano is so much of a clone of the Regal that it takes a keen eye to differentiate the two cars — the slightly more pronounced nose and the fact the character line that runs through the side of the car is reversed are the two key differences. It is all very subtle, to say the least. Now, that is not a knock against Buick — it works very nicely for BMW!

The Verano is also very close to the Regal in terms of size — its wheelbase is 53 millimetres shorter, measuring 2,685 mm. In terms of the practical effect this has, well, it means there is slightly less rear-seat legroom. And while the 14-cubic-foot trunk is 0.2 cu. ft. smaller than the Regal’s with the optional Bose sound system aboard, it is actually 0.1 cu. ft. larger minus said system. In the end, it requires a tape measure to really quantify the differences.

Up front, the Verano delivers ample room, comfortable seating and a refined finish — visually and build quality-wise, the Verano sets a new standard for Buick. The materials are obviously off the top shelf and the colour combinations brighten up the cabin nicely. Likewise, standard equipment abounds, especially if one opts for the Leather Edition. This thing counts all of the usual power toys, full leather and the aforementioned nine-speaker Bose audio system to go along with the heated seats and steering wheel. The Leather Edition also earns a seven-inch colour screen that integrates the infotainment and phone functions into one convenient format that can be accessed via the touch-sensitive screen or through voice command. The tester also featured an optional power sunroof and attractive 18-inch wheels. As I say, it’s loaded, and for less than $30,000.

If there is a niggle, it is paying $380 for premium paint. Unless one wants basic black, white or silver, one will pay a premium — $995 for the white diamond tri-coat finish!

Where the Verano truly shines is in the quietness of its ride. The firewall features not one but two noise-deadening blankets, there is extra insulation between the roof panel and headliner and more beneath the carpeting and in the trunk along with laminated glass in the front side windows and triple door seals. It is all part of Buick’s QuietTuning offensive. The effect the work has on the ambient cabin noise is extraordinary — there is no extraneous noise. In fact, the lack of any significant aural feedback seems a little eerie at first.

The Verano also borrows from the Regal when it comes to its motive power. In the Verano’s case, the 2.4-litre Ecotec engine, which uses all of the latest technologies, makes 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. That is two fewer hp and one fewer lb-ft of torque than the Regal. As employed in the Verano, this engine delivers decent performance and a run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour in 8.7 seconds.

The power is then fired through the same six-speed manumatic transmission and the front wheels. The box itself is a slick unit that slips through its gears seamlessly and it is willing to kick down when needed. The powertrain combination is effective, wafting the Verano to speed effortlessly while returning pretty good fuel economy — a test average of 8.7 L/100 km.

Ride-wise, the Verano has been imbued with the ability to control unwanted body motion without sacrificing the overall quality of the ride. The sensation of smoothness is undoubtedly helped by the aforementioned quietness within the cabin. As a result, the Verano is aptly described as a sporty boulevardier. The electric steering has some real feel to it, the up-level P235/45R18 tires minimize understeer and, more importantly, the Verano drives through a corner in a manner that’s just not expected of a Buick. It all comes together very nicely.

At the launch of the Verano, I wondered why anyone would take the more expensive Regal over Buick’s latest entry. My time with the Verano on home turf confirmed that initial impression. The Verano, especially the Leather Edition, brings as much or more equipment, a quieter ride and better fuel economy for less money. The base Regal with its cloth seats is, at $30,085, already more expensive. Option it up to the same equipment level as the Verano Leather Edition and, would you believe, the premium soars to more than $5,000 for what basically boils down to more rear-seat legroom — 86 mm to be exact, but who’s counting?

Type of vehicle Front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engine 2.4L DOHC in-line four
Power 180 hp @ 6,700 rpm; 171 lb-ft of torque @ 4,900 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P235/45R18 (optional)
Price: base/as tested $22,595/$29,725
Destination charge $1,495
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 9.9 city, 6.2 hwy.
Standard features Dual-zone automatic climate control, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated tilt and telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite radio with nine speakers, auxiliary inputs and steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth, keyless entry and push-button start, trip computer, fog lights
Options Power sunroof ($1,100), 18-inch wheels ($525), premium paint ($380)

2012 Buick Verano.
Photograph by: Graeme Fletcher, for National Post