New Car: 2012 Buick Verano

Buick executives have to be pretty happy with 2010. The brand had its highest sales since 2007, even outselling Cadillac. Now, executives think the brand is ready for a small car, and dealers who no longer have Pontiacs to peddle seemingly are clamoring for such a vehicle. Enter the 2012 Verano, which is debuting at the 2011 Detroit auto show and will slot below the Regal in the Buick lineup.

Based on the Chevy Cruze, the Verano matches the Cruze in virtually every dimension, including length, width, and height. Visually, however, the two cars are fairly different. The Verona's svelte styling borrows from other Buicks, with a curvy front end very much like the Regal's. On the side, a prominent indentation in the sheetmetal—a take on Buick’s traditional “sweepspear”—flows downward toward the rocker panel ahead of the rear wheel arch, and is a very sophisticated and eye-catching complement to the profile. The rear of the Verona, where taillights are topped with chrome "eyebrows,” is its least-attractive angle. It is reminiscent of many small sedans sold in China, and that's not an accident. This car was designed largely with that market in mind, and has already been on sale there for nearly a year, badged as the Excelle GT.

More differentiation between the Buick and the Chevy come from what GM says it has done to make the Verano a luxury car, including increased sound-deadening measures and a total interior makeover. Buick is hot to trot for the fit and finish in this little car—rightfully so from what we experienced at a brief preview. The optional leather seats are wrapped in high-quality hides similar to those in the LaCrosse, the wood trim is real and looks it, and the interior panels fit together nicely. We’ll make a more definitive judgment when the car actually goes on sale here and we can slide behind the wheel.

The materials needed for these refinements, as well as the extra kit that the Verano will carry—more on that in a moment—add up to a curb weight that Buick estimates will be 100 to 200 pounds more than the 3,206 of the Cruze LTZ we recently tested.

To motivate that added mass, the Verano gets GM’s direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which also serves in the base versions of the Regal and LaCrosse. Although it makes 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque in the bigger cars, GM estimates the four will make 177 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque in the Verano. The engine isn’t available in the Cruze, which instead offers 1.8-liter naturally aspirated and 1.4-liter turbocharged fours; both make 138 hp. Routing its power through a six-speed automatic and to the front wheels, Buick says the Verano’s four needs about eight seconds to accelerate the car to 60 mph, and will return an EPA-estimated 31 mpg on the highway. Those figures are a bit disappointing, as the much bigger and slightly heavier four-cylinder Chevy Malibu delivers a similar 8.6-second 0-to-60-mph run and an EPA-rated 33 mpg on the highway.

In case you want a Verano but don’t fancy being dusted by a Mazda 3 in a straight line, Buick promises a hotter GS version will launch in late 2011, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine—evolved from the 220-hp 2.0-liter turbo in the Regal Turbo—and an available six-speed manual transmission. Such a powertrain seems like a natural fit for the on-again, off-again Cruze SS, but GM’s lips are sealed on that matter.

Thanks to: Car and Driver

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