Buick is exploring its sport edge: Following the Regal T and GS, there is now the Verano T, which packs 250 hp and a 6-speed manual. Buick thinks it's an alternative to the fancy Acura ILX. Here's what we think.
The Verano is the luxurious version of GM's Delta platform, which also includes the Chevrolet Volt hybrid and the Cruze compact sedan. Subjectively, the Cruze is one of GM's best targeted cars on the road today, especially in the 6-speed "Eco" trim, which provides an interesting option for those who want to own car that can easily exceed 40 MPG without paying the hybrid price tag.
What the Cruze lacks is horsepower. The upscale Cruzes come with a turbo-charged, 138 hp 1.4 liter 4-cylinder developed by Opel in Germany (instead of the base 1.8 liter 138 hp engine which is considerably thirstier). The fun factor is limited and you will have to choose the 6-speed version over the automatic to squeeze some enthusiasm out of the little power plant. The Verano comes standard with Buick's 2.4 liter four-cylinder with 180 hp that is also available in the Regal and LaCrosse. It's a livelier engine, but it is still better suited for a motorized sofa and not an enthusiast's car. However, go for the Premium Group package in Buick's configurator and you automatically get a 2.0 liter turbo-charged engine, which is also used in the Regal T (220 hp) and the Regal GS (270 hp), and delivers 250 hp in this setup. Now we're talking.
The 4-cylinder provides 260 lb-ft of torque already at 2000 RPM, compared to 180 lb-ft at 4900 RPM for the base engine. At 3,300 lbs, the Verano T cannot be considered overweight, given the standard equipment that lifts the car well above the compact sedan class and closer to what you expect to see in an Acura or Lexus. As far as acceleration is concerned, the Verano T is ahead of its rivals, turning in 6.0 seconds from 0-60 MPH in our test. It's faster in this discipline than both the 270 hp Regal GS and the 201 hp Acura ILX (both 6.4 seconds).
Then there is the six-speed manual, which allows the driver to play with the power band up to 6,500 RPM. The 2.0 liter turbo, the manual as well as tightened suspension are a highly addictive combination not just on straight highways, but on curvy roads as well. Otherwise, the steering delivers much better feedback than in the regular Verano. The 2.0 is the best engine in Buick's lineup today, even if it has a few hiccups, including considerable turbo lag. If you ask for the full horsepower at 2000 RPM, don't expect it to kick in with full force until around 3000 RPM. There is, by the way, considerable torque steer, but it can be controlled at the limit.
Unfortunately, the Verano T occasionally feels raw in its purpose and reveals two different sides that don't mix well: There are some things that will remind you of its heritage as a Buick with a soft side. For example, there are soft leather seats with virtually non-existent lateral support. Given the capability of the engine, Buick should consider adding seats that would support the sporty attitude of the car. The furniture from the Regal GS would be a much better choice than the cushy seats in the T. There are interior color combinations of light brown/dark brown colors that are much better suited for the LaCrosse and not for a car that could appeal to enthusiasts. Fortunately, the stunning Luxo Blue Metallic of our car can also be combined with a much more attractive grey/black interior.
A concern was the hefty gas consumption of our tester. Buick says the T delivers 20 MPG in the city and 31 MPG on the highway. Our Verano T averaged 22 MPG in suburban driving - without true city traffic. My lead foot surely contributed to the low MPG result, but don't expect this car to achieve more than 25 MPG in average driving patterns.
The Tech and Oddities
While the Cruze competes with vehicles such as the Mazda 3, the Honda Civic, and the Ford Focus, the Buick Verano plays with the Acura ILX (Acura's version of the Civic) and the Lexus IS. Buick even noted the BMW 3-series as a potential competitor. Given its origin, Buick may be aiming a bit high with the 3-series and IS, but the ILX is definitely in its range.
You will have to invest at least $30,000 to get into the 250 HP Verano. There are few additional options available, so you are likely to stay below a sticker price of $31,000, which is about in line with the 201 hp Acura ILX, which starts just below $30,000. It is definitely not a cheap car.
The technology available is almost complete, but has some quirks to it. As usual, the interior tech is anchored by the navigation screen - in this case the high-resolution 5-inch touch screen from the larger Regal models. The screen also displays the image from the backup camera, and displays a rear traffic alert when backing up. Strangely enough, more and more features are moved from physical buttons in the dash to the touch screen and car manufacturers occasionally forget that this may not always be such a good idea. In the case of this system, for example, there is no selector push button on the dash; you will have to scroll through radio stations via a knob on the dash, but you will have to select a radio station by pressing the screen.
The most useful tech often is the simplest, works automatically and invisibly. The Verano T has, for example, the best "hill start assist" system I have seen in any stick shift car. You can be the most experienced driver, but accelerating the car from a standstill on a steep hill with or without using the handbrake is always a slight challenge. The Verano automatically engages the parking brake when stopped on an incline and releases the handbrake automatically when you accelerate. Besides the potent engine, this was by far my most favorite feature in our tester.
I found somewhat strange that Buick decided to not equip the Verano T with HID lights, but surround the regular lights with blue accents to fake the daylight impression of HID lights. Also, only half the seats can be adjusted via electric motors. The bottom moves to the front and back, as well as up and down via electric motors, but there is an awkward manual lever for your back. To compete with Acura and Lexus, these are hiccups that should not happen, especially not when you are asking customers to shell out more than $30,000 for a compact sedan.
The Purchase Decision
I am frequently asked - after driving a car - would I buy it? If I had $30,000 to spend on a luxury compact sedan, the Verano T would be on my shopping list. The power plant is enough fun to break it from the perception of being a car that appeals only to older age groups. Those who value performance over brand perception may find the Verano T an attractive alternative to the Acura ILX. Buick got a lot right with the T, but it should fine-tune the package. Drop the dreadful brown/brown color scheme that only matches with an old, brown Microsoft Zune, add the seats from the Regal T/GS, and improve the entertainment system's usability. Suddenly, there is a dark horse in the small enthusiast's sedan segment that is not just a sofa on wheels, but a serious and luxurious driver's car.