The cars we loved.
In the continuing drama that is small car development in America, perceptions have slowly been changing. The introduction of a new compact now comes with as much hoopla and pageantry usually reserved for larger cars. In the case of Buick, its latest attempt at a small car, the Verano might make you forget about the Skyhawk and Skylark. Verano is a Spanish word meaning summer or dry season. For small cars from Buick (or GM for that matter), it seems a fitting name considering the its compact car baggage.
The good small cars sold by Buick were once borrowed from Opel. Corporate changes in the 70’s resulted in Buick getting a more homegrown clone of the H and later J-body cars. The Skyhawk was interesting, but failed to win over a populace that was steadily migrating to Honda and Toyota. Buick would try again with the larger compact Skylark, but once again the ho-hum X-bodied car failed to make much an impression on buyers. The plug was pulled on the small(er) Buick in 1998, until now.
The Verano is a variation of Chevrolet’s Cruz. Built on the same platform as the Cruz/Volt, it also shares DNA with the European Opel/Vauxhall Astra. The European connection brings Buick back to its Opel small car roots. The new architecture is considerably better than any small car platform Buick had used in the past. The automotive press have praised the Verano with Road & Track calling it “quiet and luxurious” and Motor Trend noting its elegant design. The Verano is very much a Buick in spirit, with a hushed interior and plush ride. Thanks to laminated glass and insulated a headliner. The 5 passenger interior is as nearly as quite as a luxury car while coming close to offering the room of a mid-sized car.
The compact four door will come only as a sedan, although concept cars have been shown that show platform mates as five door sedans. One of those mates, the Cruze is sold as a five door hatchback in Europe. The Verano will eventually have multiple engine options, but during the initial model year it will be saddled with just a 2.4 litre four cylinder. The DOHC, 16 valve design is on its way out and will be replaced by a new 2.5 that will make its debut in base models of the revised Malibu. With just 180hp, the 2.4 struggles to move the portly Verano (3422lb.) quickly from a stop. The high weight impacts the Veranos ability to accelerate with a 0 to 60 time in the high 8 second range.
That might have been fine except that the Verano is not particularly great on gas with a 22 city/31 highway mpg rating. In today’s climate of zippy 40 mpg compacts the Verano will have stiff competition. The extra 10hp from the 2.5 might help, but the Verano is not likely to be confused with for a sports sedan or a Prius anytime soon. Buick seems to be ok with that because that’s not what the Verano is about, at least initially.
The Verano’s strong point is that it leans more towards luxury. The performance aspect will arrive when Buick drops in a 2.0 liter turbo later in the 12 model year. For now the quiet and compliant ride might be enough to make the Verano stand out in a sea of similar performing small cars. Comparisons to the Cruze LTZ, ironically its potential biggest competitor abound. Despite sharing platforms, the Buick shares no sheetmetal with the Chevy. The Verano is smoother riding than the Cruze, but feels a bit more sluggish due to the higher weight. To its credit, the Verano feels far more luxurious than the Cruze or most other compact cars in its price range. This is where Buick hopes to make inroads where the Skylark failed. Its tasteful design is clearly upmarket and leans towards Lexus like design. Buick wisely chose to exclude the portholes of larger Buicks. Its not inconceivable that dealers will rush to tart up base cars with stick on portholes to cater to the growing market for tasteless accessories.
The interior does not stray too far from the Cruze either. They both share the same Transformer robot looking control center, although the surface materials in the Buick are more varied and have a upmarket look. Buick spent a considerable time addressing the issues that plagued the Cruze. Improvements were made to steering and the six speed automatic among other things.
Currently in the US market, the ideal of a luxurious small car is still a new concept.
The Verano can exploit this market hole easily. With a starting price less than the top Cruze, the LTZ, it can top out close to the $30,000 range. At that price the Verano comes with soft leather and all the power features expected in a luxury car including all the electronic entertainments and creature comforts. Increasingly, lower priced cars are blurring the line of luxury and economy. Buyers are no longer being asked to choose between power, efficiency and luxury. The best of the breed of small near luxury cars are making considerable advances in that direction, especially with fuel economy.
Hyundai’s Sonata and Mazda’s 3 have increased luxury options while beefing up performance and gas mileage to the 40 mpg mark. GM’s own Cruze offers a 40 mpg version. The Verano is more luxurious than either of these but is lacking in a few areas where they excel. We will have to wait to see if the turbo or the 2.5 will improve the performance side. The turbo engine is said to come from the Regal GS and will be packing around 240 hp. The luxury aspect is spot on, but may not be enough for those who want a small Buick but are attracted to the higher power and gas mileage of competitors. The good money is on Buick to come through in 2013 with the car it should have released today.