Buick Verano is classy little car

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“Nice car.” The words finally registered the third time the young man in the parking garage said them. With surprise, I acknowledged his comment. Then he asked, “It’s a Lincoln, right?”

The 2012 Buick Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze but offers a more luxurious environment.  GENERAL MOTORS CO./ASSOCIATED PRESS
GENERAL MOTORS CO./ASSOCIATED PRESS
The 2012 Buick Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze but offers a more luxurious environment.

No, the 2012 Verano is a Buick, not a Lincoln. But yes, it is a decidedly nice car with pleasing styling, quiet interior, decent fuel mileage and noteworthy ride and handling.

Arriving this month in dealerships, the Verano is the smallest car at Buick, where it is positioned in size and price below the Buick Lacrosse and Regal sedans.

The sedan comes with a four-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine and carries a federal government fuel economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged 25.5 mpg in travel that was two-thirds on the highway.

The starting price, including destination fee, is $23,470. This is for a base model with the 180-horsepower engine, six-speed automatic transmission and leatherette seats.

Competitors include premium compact sedans, such as the Acura TSX and Volkswagen Jetta. There is no compact Lincoln sedan.

The Verano gets a lot of looks, and not just from young people. The 15.3-foot-long, four-door car is nicely proportioned and upscale looking inside and out. Textured material on the interior ceiling looks as pricey as that in some European cars, and smart touches of fake-wood-look plastic inside convey a luxury feel even at a $20,000-plus price.

I wish the middle passenger in the rear seat had a height-adjustable head restraint. It’s stationary and sits too low for use by adults or even teenagers..

The Verano doesn’t float along on roads, the way old Buicks did. This new model rides solidly via a suspension – independent MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam in the rear – that keeps the car body planted over bumps.

Drivers feel some of the road imperfections through the steering wheel, and the tester cornered well, maintained its composure in the curves and moved into compact-sized parking spaces easily.

The car also is quiet inside, noticeably more quiet than the Chevrolet Cruze, which uses the same front-wheel-drive platform. The platform was developed in Europe by Germany’s Opel, which is part of Buick’s parent company, General Motors Co.

Engine sound management is impressive. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder has an Ecotec label. Ecotec engines are well-known in Chevy cars, and the Verano’s Ecotec includes direct injection for best performance.

With the hood up, the engine sounded noisy and a bit rattly, as four cylinders can. Seated inside, though, with the hood closed, I never heard rough, noisy engine sounds, and passengers couldn’t tell what kind of engine was in the car.

The transmission shifted smoothly, and in normal, everyday driving in the city and highway, the tester moved along with decent pep.

Most buyers won’t need much more than the 170 horsepower and peak torque of 171 foot-pounds at 4,900 rpm provided by this direct injection powerplant. Regular gasoline and E85, which includes ethanol, are acceptable fuels.

Three adults sit too closely in the back seat, and legroom back there is 33.9 inches, less than that of a 2012 Honda Civic. Headroom of 37.2 inches in the back seat is acceptable, but I’d prefer for the back doors to open wider for easier access and exit.

Much of the trunk space is under the rear window. Storage space is 15.2 cubic feet, if there is no Bose audio subwoofer intruding and a tire inflator substitutes for the spare tire.

I couldn’t find a keyhole on the trunk and opened it with the key fob or a latch inside the car.

The first time in the car, I couldn’t find how to turn it on. The fob included a key, so I looked for an ignition key hole, but there was none.

It turned out that a flat, black, rectangular button beside the buttons to disable the traction control and turn on the emergency flashers in the center stack of the dashboard was the button needed to start the car.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2012 Buick Verano, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, compact sedan

BASE PRICE: $22,585 for base model; $23,785 for model with convenience group; $25,965 for model with leather group.

DESTINATION CHARGE: $885

PRICE AS TESTED: $26,850

ENGINE: 2.4-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection, four-cylinder engine with VVT

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

MILEAGE: 21 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 118 mph

LENGTH: 183.9 inches

WHEELBASE: 105.7 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,300 pounds

BUILT IN: Orion Township, Mich.

OPTIONS: None


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