I love that the compact car segment is filled with new cars that are only small when judged against the mid-size car segment. In case you didn't notice, the Verano, like the Cruze it's based on, is not really compact. In the same way, the Honda Accord, which is the size of my house, isn't really mid-size.
Anyway, that's probably a good thing, because a small Buick still strikes me as a strange Buick. The Verano, for what it's worth, isn't strange. It's not offensive to look at, and it's quite nice to drive -- provided you can find the button to start the damn thing, which, strangely, is located atop the center stack.
The four-cylinder engine is quiet and refined and the automatic's closely-spaced, very short gear ratios make the most of the power. It's no rocket, but thanks to that gearing -- and the transmission's willingness to use it generously -- it's certainly fast enough for this class of car. It rides better than our Four Seasons Dodge Charger, and it sounds quieter, too.
The Verano's halogen low beams are a tad weak and yellowish (where are the HIDs?) but the high beams are very impressive, even on a dark, rainy country road. In fact, the Verano as a whole is quite impressive -- and another bright spot for a brand that's still crawling out from the dark.
Jason Cammisa, Senior Editor
Buick's Quiet-Tuning sound dampening is effective in the little Verano, as the car's cabin is a serene environment without being isolated from the outside world. (Paying attention, Lexus?) Buick has really sweated the small stuff with their smallest sedan -- not smallest entry, mind you, that will be the 2013 Encore crossover that is roughly a foot shorter -- from the quite cabin, to the premium feel on all of the surfaces, to the color-matched plastics. A long pet peeve of mine is the mismatch of the steering wheel and column to the rest of the interior; here, Buick has made a point to match everything from the audio buttons, to the steering column, to the door lock pin surrounds in an attractive milk-chocolate brown.
The same sense of delight can't be said for the main hue of the interior, a color combination Buick calls "Choccachino" and is accented with ice-blue stitching -- a combination the brand is making its trademark. Why couldn't they have called it caramel, made it less orange, and ditched the clashing ice blue? It's quiet garish to my eyes and distracts from a very well executed interior.
The biggest question with the Verano, though, is who will buy it. Buick is still working on building its image and the Chevrolet Cruze -- with which the Verano shares most of its mechanicals -- overlaps the Buick in price and equipment in numerous cases. Sadly, the two cars also share the same disconnected steering. Maybe we get the Verano because the Chinese will lap it up (as the Excelle GT, the name it goes by over there) and the cost in making the Verano and selling it stateside is minimal. No matter the reason, it's a step into a class that will soon be populated with the likes of the Audi A3 sedan and Acura ILX, so at least Buick has gotten a head start.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Closing the door on the Verano is quite an impressive experience. With a muted thunk, it immediately sealed off the rainy horribleness of a Monday night in a Michigan winter. I attended one of the backgrounders on this car where they explained in depth all the measures taken to isolate noise, but I was honestly skeptical that extra sound deadening could really engender a premium experience. I'm man enough to admit I was wrong, as this small (OK Jason, small-ish) Buick has a feeling of solidity and substance that's notable even in today's much-improved compact segment. Credit also goes to the interior's warm interior aesthetics and high-quality, soft-touch materials. There are a few too many buttons on the center console, an unfortunate trait shared by several of GM's Opel-derived vehicles, including the larger Regal and the related Chevrolet Cruze.
That ergonomic flaw is more than a fair price for the benefits of a platform born in Germany. The Verano handles awful roads better than many larger cars and, more surprising, holds its ground when you take a corner quickly. The steering thankfully has a little more weight than in the Cruze but is still a bit vague on center. The Verano also has more power than a Cruze thanks to its larger 2.4-liter engine, but it's also carrying more weight due to all that sound deadening, so acceleration still isn't a strong point. A new 2.5-liter is coming and should deliver about 20 additional horsepower. The Verano is also set to receive a 2.0-liter turbo and, at last word, a six-speed manual transmission. If that combination actually reaches production, the Buick compact may be quite the sleeper.
Which brings us to the fly in the ointment: the sleepy styling. As Jason notes, it's not offensive. But it lacks the charisma and allure that would tell people, "this car is small, but it actually costs $30,000." Not good since our car, lacking navigation, checks in at $28,245. Part of the problem may be that that the Buick design language simply isn't cut out for compacts. The bigger issue though, is that Buick currently doesn't have a design language at all so much as it has a checklist of brand cues -- waterfall grille, portholes, and chrome accents. A brand whose styling heritage goes back to Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell can surely do better.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Although its dull styling does it no favors, the Buick Verano has a feeling of solidity, refinement, and attention to detail that rivals the leaders in this segment. It's also quite good to drive, with fairly buttoned down handling, a compliant ride, and a smooth and eager powertrain. What's most notable though, is that there are no indications that this car started life as a Chevy Cruze. Given GM's spotty history with badge-engineered vehicles, the goodness of the Verano is that much more impressive.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
This car drives like a proper Buick: smooth, soft, comfortable, luxurious, and quiet. I actually dig the excellent, classy design -- inside and out -- although the curvy components of the front inner door panels resemble puzzle pieces. The family resemblance is so close, though, that it can be hard to distinguish the Verano from the Regal from the LaCrosse. Lots of high-luxury features are welcome in this small car and help set it apart from its Chevy Cruze cousin: heated steering wheel, navigation, and heated leather seats in attractive brown colors. Another positive is that the rear seats are quite spacious considering the car's small footprint.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
If it's fair to say GM had a shaky record with small cars before the advent of the Chevy Cruze, then it certainly goes without saying it had an even hard time attempting to create a successful upscale small car. I still cringe every time I hear the names Skylark, Firenza, Achieva, and -- you guessed it -- Cimarron.
It's taken decades, but the 2012 Verano may be the first success GM has found in this niche. I walked up to the door expecting to find plenty cribbed from its Chevrolet cousin, but that's hardly the case. The Verano's interior design is largely borrowed with from the European Opel/Vauxhall Astra, but the Verano's interior, especially when bundled with the optional "Leather" package, looks refreshingly upscale (sorry, Donny; I rather like this leather color). Suspension tuning is a bit softer than the Cruze, but body roll is largely kept to a minimum. I was perhaps more impressed with what's underhood -- this 180-hp, 2.4-liter, direct-injection I-4 is part of GM's next-gen Ecotec engine range, and feels surprisingly peppy.
As the compact cars we drive grow increasingly sophisticated, the argument of paying for additional content versus paying for a larger vehicle increasingly rears its head - and that's certainly the case here. It's hard to argue that our tester didn't exhibit a surprising level of refinement or suggest it lacked content, but this tester was priced awful close to the $30,000 mark. That money buys quite a few midsize sedans that may not offer the same level of interior decor, but considerable more legroom to those stuck in the back seat.
This isn't necessarily an indictment of the Verano itself, but its segment as a whole: will these vehicles truly appeal to younger buyers seeking their first premium vehicle, or will buyers continue to hold out for something a little larger? I'm interested in seeing how this shakes out over the next few years as more and more automakers launch similar offerings into our marketplace.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor