2012 Buick Verano road test: An upscale compact for a downsized world

2012 Buick Verano

2012 Buick Verano

With rising gasoline prices and and upcoming tougher fuel-mileage requirements, small could become the new big in the automotive world. If that’s the case, the 2012 Buick Verano should be well positioned to capitalize on a change in buyers’ preferences..

The all-new compact Verano has the ability to show many traditional bigger-is-better American car buyers that size doesn’t always matter. It’s reasonably priced, adequately powered, comfortable and quiet, with a distinct upscale aura.

The front-wheel-drive Verano is not a sports sedan by any stretch of the imagination, but it is agile enough to satisfy the needs of most people who do their driving on ordinary roads under ordinary conditions.

Yes, the Verano shares its basic configuration with the Chevrolet Cruze, but the execution moves it out of the standard compact class into the realm of an entry-level luxury sedan.

And, one thing it does share with the Cruze — its dimensions — is a big plus. These cars are classified as compacts, but their generous interiors feel more like mid-size cars and can comfortably fit four adults. A fifth (person) can be squeezed into the rear seat’s mid-section, but only for short trips.

The trunk space is generous, too, about 15 cubic feet in the car I drove. What’s more, the cargo space can be expanded, thanks to the 60/40 fold-down rear seatback.

Let’s take a look at the important ways in which Buick has differentiated the Verano from the Cruze.

First of all, with its distinctive grille and other Buick styling cues, the Verano immediately establishes its identity, Add its 18-inch alloy wheels and it fits in perfectly as the smallest and youngest member of the Verano-Regal-LaCrosse family. Some have said it comes across mostly as a baby Regal.

Second, it has its own engine. Instead of the Chevy’s base 1.8-liter and turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engines that each crank out about 138 horsepower, the Buick ups the ante to a 2.4 liters, four cylinders, 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.

Compared to the Chevy, the Verano’s EPA-rated 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway extracts about a 5-mile per gallon  penalty, but in real-world driving the numbers are much closer.

Buick Verano instruments

Buick Verano instruments

My results in the Verano ranged from 25 to 31miles per gallon. In an earlier test of a 2011 Cruze Turbo, I observed 24 to 31 mpg. Admittedly, my driving style and the terrain were more demanding in the Cruze.

None of these engines can be called exhilarating, (0-60 mph in about 9 seconds for the Buick), but the Verano’s additional torque gives it better pulling power throughout the power band.

Thanks to the extensive sound damping that Buick calls Quiet Tuning, the noise from the engine is well muted. The buzziness inherent in four-cylinder engines under the whip is muted almost all the way to the engine’s red line, making it feel relaxed under almost all conditions.

The Quiet Tuning works wonders throughout the passenger cabin, too. The rude cacophony of noise from the outside world is muted nearly into oblivion.

Speaking of the cabin, my Verano, equipped with the Convenience Group, came with cloth seats, trim and related materials that were far from bargain basement. The Verano was a pleasant place to spend time.

It also had a surprising amount of standard amenities, including a a remote starter system, dual-zone climate control, driver information center, Bluetooth hands-free phone and music system and Intellilink, which expands on Bluetooth to allow smart phone control via voice activation and steering-wheel-mounted controls.