2012 Buick Verano first drive review: Going where no luxury car has gone before

2012 Buick Verano

2012 Buick Verano

When General Motors made the decision to kill Oldsmobile instead of Buick seven years ago, many questioned whether this was the smart choice. After all, Oldsmobile was producing increasingly better vehicles (Intrigue, Aurora), while Buick remained stuck in its dated image. After driving the all-new 2012 Buick Verano, there’s no question the brand has validated its existence. The Verano not only solidifies Buick’s attention to build quality and quietness, but also might be the model that gets diehard import buyers back into a domestic vehicle.

Why do we say this? For starters, the compact Verano offers the same level of luxury as an Audi A4, Lexus IS 250, or Acura TSX, but at a base price of $22,585, you won’t have to eat boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner the next five years. Even selecting every available option (and it’s a short list: leather seats, heated steering wheel, moonroof, and a few more) will keep you well within your budget.

But price and features aren’t enough to get import owners out of their cars. What will convince them is the sum of the parts: performance, ride quality, reliability and styling, upon all of which the Buick Verano delivers.

2012 Buick Verano interior

The flowing contours of the interior of the 2012 Buick Verano interior match the shapes of the body.

Styling elements that will attract include fluid sculpting from nose to tail, unique blue rings around the projector beam headlamps, subtle use of chrome (admirable for a domestic manufacturer), and the classic Buick portholes located on the outer sections of the hood. The reasonably priced Verano looks upscale, especially since Buick has refused to shod it with steel wheels. The fact that there are 18-inch forged alloy polished wheels standard will please many who are seeking substance in a segment where 15s and 16s are the norm. (Plus, we’re told steel wheels are big noise generators…that’s a no-no for Buick.)

But styling alone isn’t enough, and Buick knows that. That’s why it set out to achieve five key objectives for the Verano: Consistency of brand (styling), responsive handling, comfortable seating, Quiet Tuning (Buick’s tag line), and purposeful technology. In reality, this is what every manufacturer strives for, but Buick has more to prove to customers who grew up in Honda, Nissan or Toyota vehicles.

Styling? Check. Quiet Tuning? Absolutely. Where Lexus used to set the benchmark, Buick has completely taken the lead. The amount of padding, baffles, and sound damping materials in the Verano is impressive, and it all works. Driving on rough highway, over expansion joints, or through busy traffic consistently delivers a cocoon-like interior. We like being able to carry on a conversation with our passengers without having to fight wind and tire noise. Keep in mind, a quiet interior also creates less driver fatigue, so longer trips will be more pleasant as well.

While some may scoff at Buick’s choice to put seat comfort on a list of key objectives, we applaud that decision. Commuters know that this is the make-or-break part of the drive. After recently spending eight hours driving to Las Vegas and back to Los Angeles in the Chrysler 200 Convertible, I can attest to that. While the 200 has its virtues, seat comfort is not one of them. In polar opposition to the orange-crate seating in the 200, the Verano’s seat cushions, sculpted forms and choice of materials could have been created in a La-Z-Boy factory. If you think that’s a bad thing, you’ve obviously never owned one of its recliners. The Verano seats comfortably fit just about everyone, provided plenty of support under hard cornering, and let us exit the car after an extended drive without placing both hands on our lower back and screaming in agony. Maybe we can have Buick make a pair for us to use at home…hmmm. So another check in the “achieved” column for the Verano’s objectives.