Even hotter than compact CUVs are a new breed of sedans called “compact luxury” and Buick is moving quickly to meet demand with the Verano.
For years Buick was stereotyped as building vehicles catering to seniors—and it was true.
But when GM went bust in 2009, out of the reorganization came just four brands, one of which was Buick that got whole new marching orders to attract younger buyers while retained Buick core values of build quality and solid engineering.
The first result was the LaCrosse sedan and now the Verano with the Encore compact CUV about to come to market.
Younger consumers are aware that the kind of land yachts Buick used to make just don’t cut it in a world that has recognized environmental responsibility.
While these buyers want smaller cars, they also want luxury materials to go with the sports sedan ride and handling plus of rich dollop of electronics/connectivity.
In short, they want image with efficiency.
Buick had tried small cars in the past but they were really just econocars with a richer interior and a Buick badge on the grille instead of Chevrolet or Pontiac.
While the new Verano shares the “Delta” platform with a few other GM vehicles, today engineers have learned how to make the overall driving experience different from brand to brand and target market.
If you look around, the usual compact luxury suspects such as Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are now jostling for attention with the likes of Acura ILX, Lexus IS250 and now the 2013 Verano. Even Cadillac is getting into the game with the ATS.
I drove the Verano a year ago and found it to be perhaps the quietest car I had ever driven to that date.
Part of an almost obsessive effort by Buick to quell noise, Verano was also enjoyable to drive and very richly appointed.
At that time, Buick officials said a Turbo version was coming that they believed would match the Euro sports sedans in any level and now it’s on the market.
The Verano with the standard 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder and six-speed automatic is priced at $22,895. But by the time you move up to the topline Leather version with dozens of features, the price jumps to $28,695.
The other engine available is the 2.0-litre direct injection DOHC inline four-cylinder with twin-scroll turbo, thus the model name. This engine is a $2,205 option that puts out 250 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque compared to the 180 hp and 171 lb/ft of torque with the 2.4-litre.
Not only is that 70 more hp but it’s also almost 90 lb/ft more torque which, believe me, you can feel.
GM has been working on this engine for a long time and has it to point where it is almost as fuel-efficient as the “normal” 2.4-litre.
Fuel rating for the Turbo is 10.1/6.6/8.5L/100 km (28/43/33 mpg) city/highway compared to the 2.4-litre at 9.9/6.2/8.3L/100 km (29/46/34), which is pretty close.
A six-speed automatic is standard with both engines but there is a six-speed manual available on the Turbo only.
Both versions are front-drive, but I bet Buick is working on an all-wheel-drive version as we speak because buyers in this segment are gravitating increasingly in that direction.
The Verano feels firmly planted and gives off the expected Buick sense of solidity.
The Turbo starts almost silently. That’s partly due to the muffled running nature of turbos but largely to Buick’s QuietTuning that involves 12 noise reduction and noise cancelling measures including: 5.4-mm-thick acoustic-laminated windshield and 4.85-mm-thick acoustic laminated side glass that minimizes wind noise; acoustic insulation material on both sides of the front steel dash panel and under the hood that reduce engine noise; and five layers of acoustic insulation material in the headliner, including a premium fabric on the visible outer layer that muffles wind noise.
They got rid of tire noise by using three layers of acoustic insulation material in the doors.
The Leather version is fitted with a nine speaker Bose Premium Sound System, which I could hear a whole lot better thanks to the all the external noise reduction.
When cold, there is a slight lag in acceleration, which goes way as soon as you pass 2,000 rpm.
Once heated up, the Turbo responds almost instantly. Part of that is due to the twin scroll technology but also to the turbo intercooler that cools air intake by almost 100 degrees C. The colder the air, the denser the charge and the most power released at ignition.
At the dawn of the passenger car turbo era in the mid-1980s, it was not uncommon for the driver to count to three between the time he/she hit the pedal and the power came in. And when it did, it came in all at once. This “turbo lag” was compounded by “torque steer” which occurred when one half shaft was shorter than the other causing the shorter one to have more grip and track the car off centre, sometimes drastically so.
But with experience in superior engineering and the above is just a bad memory for those of us who experienced it.
The Verano Turbo launches nicely off the line with standard traction control and stability control doing their part, resulting in no wheel spin or crabbing to the left or right.
At highway speeds the Turbo comes into play immediately for passing or lane changes with no drama and, again, very little noise.
One of the surprises is the amount of trunk space at 405 litres or 396 litres if you have the top Bose sound.
With the normal and turbo engines and an eAssist mild hybrid version expected by mid next year, the Verano is not your father’s Buick.
As I said last year, Buick is literally on the road to changing how people think about the brand.
Buick Verano Turbo 2013
Body Style: compact luxury sedan.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC inline four-cylinder (250 hp, 260 lb/ft)
Fuel Economy: 10.1/6.6/8.5L/100 km (28/43/33 mpg) city/highway
Cargo: 405 litres (14.3 cu ft); as tested with Bose premium sound, 396 litres (14.0 cu ft)
Towing Capacity: not recommended
Price: Leather trim model, $28,695): Turbo option as tested, $35,115 not including $1,500 shipping free