Who remembers the Skylark? Not us. We’ve deleted it from our memory. Small Buick? Never happened. Thankfully, Buick seems to be on a different trajectory from its’ mid-90s/early-00s floundering and appears eager to shed the reputation that it seemed so happy to embrace only ten years ago. Gone are the blue haired drivers and yachtlike suspension, the boring powerplants and mediocre build quality. The Verano is General Motors’ return to the small luxury class segment, and it’s a formidable entry. In today’s world, every dollar needs to go further, every MPG counts, and consumers have more options than every before. Knowing this, we set out to see just what would make the Buick so different from every other well equipped sub-$30k car out there.
The Buick looks sharp, and it’s a look that we are now quite familiar with, as it’s not so dissimilar from the Regal and Lacrosse, and the lights and grille can be found across essentially all Buick platforms, as is de rigueur for most brands these days. While the designers didn’t take many risks, they certainly weren’t out to offend anyone, either. The curves and lines of the Verano are soft and subtle, the distinguishing swooping curve running low-to-high, as opposed to that of the Regal which goes the opposite way as you look down the side of the vehicle. The signature grille and blue-accented headlights were pleasant and well-proportioned also; the only bit of styling that I disagree with (and I’m sure others will as well) was the Lincoln-esque taillights, complimented by strange chrome eyebrows that truly seem out of place on this car. That aside, this Buick is nothing if not well proportioned. The truncated nose flows perfectly into the rest of the vehicle, barely hinting at the Cruze platform that shares so many similarities underneath.
Step into the Verano, however, and it’s easy to forget how much the car has in common with its bowtie-clad brother. The well-equipped 1SL Buick that we tested had almost every luxury amenity one could ask for, including a heated steering wheel and terrific tobacco leather seats that were supportive during more spirited driving or stopped in gridlock. The brushed aluminum inserts and slivers of wood inside were nothing extraordinary but the fit and finish was good, enough to silence critics that may feel that Buick cut a few corners to get the Verano into the market. The obligatory Bose stereo, other than providing an excellent soundtrack, integrated teardrop speakers into the front doors, which was a nice touch. An oddly located push-button start amidst the standard Buick layout wasn’t enough to deter me from enjoying the experience, and the Buick’s large display was a pleasant (but now standard) feature as well. I did think the Verano could benefit from a backup camera, but again this certainly wouldn’t be a deal breaker for a sedan at this price point.
Driving the Verano, I was struck by how quiet the entire experience was. Now, this goes both ways. I was pleased to learn that the engineers at Buick had intentionally achieved this effect by using triple-sealed doors and acoustic laminated glass , leading to a more serene time behind the wheel. However, I also felt a little detached from the Verano, the result of the uninspired 2.4 liter (170 horsepower) four-cylinder that lurked beneath the hood. While I understand the yin-yang between performance and gas mileage, it’s safe to say other companies do as well, and advances in technology have struck a nice balance for manufacturers like Hyundai (who achieve 100 more horsepower and better fuel economy through forced induction) and BMW (whose newest iteration of the 3-series will be the benchmark for performance and fuel economy on small luxury cars). There is a lot to be said for the sonorous growl of a six (or even five) cylinder engine piping through the cockpit, to make for a more engaging drive. In lieu of extra cylinders, some forced induction would be nice, to better compliment what the engineers at Buick are trying to achieve. Without criticizing too much, it is important to say that if a smooth riding car was the goal, Buick has certainly achieved that. A clever suspension and slick-shifting 6-speed transmission give the 3,300lb car a lithe feeling when gliding through traffic or a back road. The transmission is definitely a high point of the Verano, and despite lacking a ‘sport’ mode it kept the engine ready to engage while optimizing fuel economy.
So where does the Verano fit in? While it’s not ready to be mentioned in the same breath as a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi competitor, it’s also thankfully not at that price point. I see the Buick as a worthy adversary to a Camry, Accord, or Sonata, all of which can be nicely equipped and target savvy buyers looking for an amalgam of performance, fuel economy, and build quality. Despite its modest roots as a Chevy Cruze, the Buick Verano brings a lot to the table at an excellent price, and, after years of laying dormant it’s obvious that Buick has a viable entry into this segment again.