2013 Buick Verano Turbo first drive: Manning up

2013 Buick Verano Turbo

Buick’s Verano Turbo, photographed near Louisville, Kentucky.

Automobile manufacturers – and their marketing departments – will almost invariably rely on a celebrity endorsement. The Chrysler Corporation has recently (and famously) used both Eminem and Eastwood; Ford has aligned itself with American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest; and Buick, in the context of this car and this season, has the extra- large Shaq O’Neal pitching the not-quite-as-large LaCrosse, as well as Peyton Manning behind the wheel of its Buick Verano. Per Mr. Manning’s suggestion we spent part of a day getting to know the new-for-2013 Verano Turbo; think of it as ‘speed reading’…

The compact Verano was introduced to bring – in Buick’s narrative – “luxury, technology, sophistication, craftsmanship and responsive performance to the growing market for premium compact sedans.” And the Verano team’s effort has been credible, if a tad nondescript. Built atop a platform shared with Chevrolet’s Cruze (and whose basic engineering emanates from GM’s Korean subsidiary, Daewoo), the built-in-Michigan Verano brings to the party an incredible – for its price point – level of comfort and refinement, while falling short against what Buick suggests are its key competitors: Lexus IS 250, Audi A3 and Acura ILX. I’ll give them the Acura, an underwhelming redo of Honda’s less-than-well-regarded Civic, but targeting a rear-wheel drive Lexus with a compact – albeit comfortable – Buick suggests a sizable stretch; more stretch, perhaps, than that offered by Mr. O’Neal.

The addition of a 2013 Verano Turbo has been anticipated, given the almost wondrous redefinition enjoyed by Buick’s Regal with the addition of its own blower, available in both mild and wild guise. The Verano’s powertrain is essentially the same as is offered on the Regal GS, albeit in slightly milder tune. The smaller Verano delivers 250 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm, along with 260 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm. At the outset you have your choice of two transmissions; a standard 6-speed automatic, as well as a 6-speed manual as a no-additional-cost option.

Beyond the new powertrain – a 2.4 liter Ecotec four remains standard on the cooking Verano – enhancements are limited to a mildly stiffened suspension (think low-dose Cialis), a semblance of more feedback in the steering, and the addition of a modest spoiler mounted on the rear deck lid. Wheels remain alloy 18-inchers shod with 235/45R18 all-season rubber. In short, this is as far removed from a ‘Boy Racer’ descriptive as GM will likely ever get, and while we were pleased with the obvious restraint there were those attending journalists at the media launch wishing for more.

2013 Buick Verano Turbo

In profile the Verano Turbo is virtually identical to its non-turbo stablemate.

Inside, the Verano Turbo is swathed in leather; we especially like the new Choccachino skins (and love saying it…)when paired with a silver metallic exterior. The buckets provide adequate support for everything but Track Days, and while a Verano Turbo may occasionally be seen at a weekend driving event, we’ll bet you a dollar-to-a-donut it’ll be a rental. We also enjoyed the visual clarity of the Verano’s instrumentation, support of the six-way power driver’s seat and – for a smallish sedan – reasonably generous headroom. Notably, given the efficiency of its platform you’re not sacrificing much interior space when opting for the Verano over (or under) the larger Regal.

On the road the emphasis is on wide-ranging capability. The turbo’s torque is generous, and while the horsepower is more than adequate there’s little reason – or reward – for exploring the two liter’s redline. Our first leg of a Louisville, Kentucky-based route was in the automatic; there, the Turbo’s comfort and capability seemed ‘just right’. Opt for the 6-speed manual and the combo is more visceral, but the heightened energy doesn’t diminish the Verano’s main mission. This remains very much a Grand Tourer and not – as is the case with its Regal sibling – a Gran Sport.

Having had a chance to sample Acura’s new ILX, with the ‘hot’ 2.4 liter/6-speed manual powertrain, I think the Buick people have devised one very credible competitor. Again, the ILX doesn’t have people standing in line, but it does a reasonable job of combining creature comforts and over-the-road poise with an entry-level, compact platform. Using roughly the same menu – albeit with turbocharged induction – the Buick comes off as more responsive, expressive and expansive. But it’s also as expensive – or within roughly 3% of the Acura’s $31K window sticker.

Were Buick’s marketing team really serious in taking on Acura, I’d suggest giving Buick buyers a 10% signing bonus. Of course, that bonus – we’d guess – is available via Buick’s two-year lease program; it’s a viable way to ‘date’ a Buick without being locked in holy automony.

With Manning having joined John Elway in Denver, the Broncos’ sideline is once again energized. We’re not sure the addition of a Verano Turbo will change – to the same degree – a Buick showroom, but it’s a pass in the right direction. Now, if only Buick can find someone – among the buying public – to play catch…