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Youthful Buick trying to overcome old stereotypes

2012 Buick Verano

ted laturnus The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
Easily on par with most of its rivals, but comes with marketing baggage. You'll like this car if: you want a competent compact sedan and are not concerned about stereotypes.
Looks Rating
Not loaded with presence, but pleasant enough, with pleasing lines
Interior Rating
Excellent front seats, accessible switchgear and sensible ergonomics.
Ride Rating
A nice surprise here. Compliant without being squishy, surprisingly responsive.
Safety Rating
Ten airbags, ABS comes standard, plus GM's stability control system.
Green Rating
Not the top of the heap, but in line with this market.

In the car business, it's pretty difficult for a leopard to change its spots.

Take Buick, for example. Aside from the odd hiccup such as the Grand National, Buick has built its reputation as a manufacturer of staid, solid, comfortable and essentially unexciting sedans that might appeal to grampa but aren't going to stir the blood if you're below 40.

But with the introduction of the new Verano, General Motors is hoping to change all that.

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Older folks may still like it, but, according to Buick's vehicle line director, Chuck Russell, so will younger buyers. "There are two different types of vehicles in the compact market," he explained at the Verano launch in Oregon. "Civics, Corollas, the Chevy Cruze and so on, and then the luxury models. There is usually about a $10,000 price spread between them. We think the Verano bridges that gap."

Russell claims that the "aspirational" models for the Verano were the Lexus IS250 and Buick Lacrosse, and the Verano does bear a family resemblance to the latter model, which is probably a good thing. This is a tidily styled four-door sedan, pleasing to the eye and very contemporary looking.

Power is provided by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine. This is the ubiquitous Ecotec unit and, in this configuration, is rated at 180 horsepower. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission only, and Buick is claiming fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100 km in the city and 6.4 on the highway. This is not the top of the heap, but reasonable nonetheless. The Verano also has E85 capability, which means it will run on ethanol fuel – if you can find it.

Without stating the obvious, the Verano is not a pavement-scorner. By the company's own admission, performance was not at the top of the list of priorities during the R&D process and it'll leap from 0 to 100 km/h in about nine seconds. "This is not a '66 Corvette Stingray," concedes Russell. "We like to call it a 'comfortable fortress of solitude.' "

To that end, Buick has spent considerable amounts of time and energy making this a welcoming and comfortable car to spend time in. Sound-deadening is impressive, with things like a five-layer headliner, liquid sound-deadener, isolated brake and fuel lines and sound-absorbing foam being utilized throughout the car.

The result is one of the quietest models in this category. During the launch, just outside of Portland, Ore., we drove on a variety of road surfaces, including that harsh gravel/asphalt aggregate used throughout the United States, and the Verano never lost its composure. If you want a quiet placid ride, this could be the one for you.

And if you're a younger buyer who wants to be plugged in and online, the Verano has a plethora of electronic modcons, including OnStar, Bluetooth and Stitcher radio. Briefly, this latter feature is a media service that provides audio content, such as talk radio and sports, and can be linked to your mobile device. Unfortunately, one of Stitcher's content providers is Fox Radio, so that may give you an idea of what to expect from this particular service. An audio-command navi system is also available.

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To quote Chuck Russell again: "The Verano keeps 'white noise' to a minimum and at the end of the work day, the decompression process should start in your car."

A word about the Verano's handling. Suspension is handled by MacPherson struts up front and a "Z-link" arrangement in back with ABS as standard equipment. In a nutshell, it was a pleasant surprise. No wallowing in the corners or lurching through the turns. Potholes are nicely absorbed and the car has a good sense of balance. Steering is a trifle vague and feedback could be a little better, but, for the market it's aimed at, the Verano is right on target.

For its under-$23,000 starting price, the Verano has all the basics. Climate control, electronic parking brake, push-button start, one-touch-up-and-down power windows, and steering-wheel-located radio controls all come standard, and you can order things like a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, leather interior, larger 18-inch wheels and tires, and GM's IntelliLink system, which allows you to access its various electronic features verbally.

As I tried to explain to my American colleagues at the launch, Buick doesn't have the same kind of resonance up here in the frozen north as it does in the States. Canadian buyers tend to favour models like the Accord, Camry, and red-hot Sonata when they're choosing a compact sedan, and Buick's biggest obstacle may be overcoming buyers' prejudices when it comes time to buy. The Verano is a fundamentally sound car, with a lot going for it, but it's still a Buick, and to many people that conjures up visions of the Roadmaster, Rendezvous, Century and Park Avenue.

What can I say? My father drives a Buick.

Tech specs

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2012 Buick Verano

Type: Compact four-door sedan

Price Range: $22,595-$27,620

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 180 hp/170 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.3 city/6.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Lexus IS250, Audi A3, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200

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