The art of downsizing has been a popular trend in the automotive industry lately. We’ve witnessed the arrival of smaller and more frugal sport utility vehicles, as well as smaller, more efficient, and more powerful engines.
Downsizing has also had an impact on luxury sedans, where high-end names such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi have started selling smaller, more affordable and rejuvenated products.
But it was Buick that actually started this trend back in 2012. Largely based on the Chevrolet Cruze, the Verano was meant to be the poster child for a new corporate image of smaller, firmer, and more compelling Buicks. The current question is, does the little Buick still have what it takes to stand its ground against its newfound German and Japanese competitors?
The first thing you notice when you see the Buick Verano is its well executed and tightly wrapped proportions. Since we live in a world of overbloated crossovers, the arrival of properly sized and elegant sedans is rather welcome.
The Verano may be a compact sedan, but in no way does it look or feel flimsy. In fact, this is a European-inspired design that sends a message of athleticism through short front and rear overhangs, wheels that are placed at the extremities of the body, and a wider than average stance.
The smaller proportions do, however, limit rear legroom.. Luckily, cargo space is abundant thanks to a more than ample-sized trunk.
Although General Motors admits the Verano is based on the same Delta II platform as the Chevrolet Cruze and Volt, it shares absolutely no body panels with its cousins. In fact, this model is more in tune with the German-built Opel Astra, but with added Buick design cues.
There’s the classic Buick waterfall grille up front, elegant and rather sporty 18-inch wheels, and chrome accents that wrap around the rear, giving the taillights a menacing stare. It all looks nice and clean, but I’m not a particular fan of the fake chrome air intakes on the hood, which frankly look kind of tacky.
One of the many ways General Motors distinguished the Verano from its Chevrolet cousins is by giving it a pair of drivetrains that are exclusive to the Buick lineup. Entry level cars, such as my tester, come with the same 2.4-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder found in the larger Regal, good for 180 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. It comes with only one choice of transmission: a conventional 6-speed automatic.
But it’s the 2.0L turbo unit that’s creating the most buzz these days. Available only in the higher Premium trim levels, it pumps out an impressive 250 hp and, get this, is available with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Now that’s good news.
This gives the Verano a performance edge over its competitors, as it is the only one of the group available with a shift-for-yourself gearbox. Kudos to Buick for delivering what the kids actually want.
Now, although I would have loved to try that 2.0L turbo with the stick, the base engine is not as bad as one would imagine. To my surprise, during the 4 days I had this car, the 2.4 L got the job done fantastically well, providing smooth and linear power throughout the entire rev range, plenty of torque down low, and more than decent acceleration.
I was also impressed with the way the 6-speed automatic transmission operated, providing smooth downshifts and an enjoyable tendency to stay in gear when giving more throttle.
What I enjoyed the most about the Verano though, is how simple and straight forward this car is. We live in a world of buttons, sport modes, and electronic nannies, but to my relief, the Verano has none of those. Except for an easy to find traction control OFF button, you just get in and drive.
The same goes for the transmission. While most competitors attempt to add “personality” to their cars through a selection of fake driving modes, the Verano’s transmission simply adapts to your driving habits in an old school, yet effective way.
Ironically, this car’s simplicity and lack of tech is actually refreshing in this day and age.
On the road, I was impressed with the Verano’s responsive chassis, quick turn in, ample steering feedback, and ability to carry speed effortlessly. This feels more German than American.
The brakes grip hard, showing very little fade, and thanks to the optional 18-inch wheels, this little Buick will stick to the pavement when cornering. Unfortunately though, since the suspension was designed mostly for comfort, there is a fair bit of unwanted body roll when pushed hard, preventing the Verano from being a serious sports sedan.
Also, although the chassis is solid and quiet, it seems easily unsettled. More often than not, the Verano would quibble and bounce over rough surfaces. It just seems like Buick didn’t know what kind of handling characteristics they wanted to give the Verano.
It’s on the luxury bits that Buick aced this car. The Verano has by far one of the quietest cabins in this price range. In fact, GM has gone through great lengths to make this cabin whisper-quiet thanks to a patent called QuietTuning; an engineering process that uses a variety of different techniques to keep cabin noise down.
For example, they’ve fitted the Verano with an acoustic-laminated windshield and side glass, as well as acoustic insulation materials on both sides of the steel dash panel, under the hood, in the doors, and in the headliner. There’s also a dual-density carpet on the floor and triple-sealed doors.
As if that wasn’t enough, Buick added underbody paneling that lowers wind and road surface noise. There are quiet-tuned tires, isolated chassis components, hydraulic suspension bushings, an isolated engine cradle to reduce vibrations, as well as high-strength steel to help eliminate squeaks and rattles.
Yes, it all sounds very technical, but it transcends to a smooth and ever-so-quiet experience behind the wheel.
The Verano also boasts a well put together interior, with high-quality materials and superior fit and finish. The simplicity and straight-forwardness is carried over in the instrument cluster, where everything is located on the center stack. The mashup of buttons does feel overwhelming at first, but you quickly get your head around it.
I’m not a big fan of its forward and rear visibility though. Due to an aggressively raked windshield, the two A-pillars are bridged by a sail window that seriously limits visibility when turning at an intersection. There’s also a higher than average rear deck lid that limits the rear view. Luckily, my tester was fitted with a backup camera.
Overall though, the Verano’s interior is a pleasing place to be. The seats are comfortable and the level of luxury of refinement is impressive for the segment.
The 2016 Buick Verano sets itself apart from the competition thanks to an attractive sale price. Entry level models start at $26 140, with Premium trims topping out at just under $35 000 for a fully loaded 2.0 L turbo manual.
In comparison, the Acura ILX, the Verano’s most direct competitor, starts at $29 490, while its German rivals, the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA, both start well over $30 000 before options.
I would recommend getting the Leather 1SL trim, such as my tester. It may still have the base engine, but at $31 040, it comes with a truckload of luxury amenities such as leather seats, leather door inserts, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a backup camera, Buick IntelliLink connectivity with XM radio, OnStar with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connection possibilities, electrically adjustable and heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a Bose 9-speaker premium sound system.
In conclusion, there’s no denying the fact that the 2016 Buick Verano offers a long list of likeable attributes that should without a doubt attract younger buyers into showrooms. A nimble chassis, a comfortable ride, compelling drivetrains, and lots of creature comforts all add up to create an attractive package.
Although still not as refined as its competitors, the Verano remains a solid first attempt from Buick in the compact luxury sedan segment and a sign of great things to come for the brand. Whatever you do Buick, don’t get rid of that 6-speed manual gearbox option.