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The all-new 2012 Buick Verano certainly isn't the first compact sedan from Buick. But while past lackluster efforts have been merely badge-engineered versions of Chevrolet models, GM argues that the Verano is something markedly more luxurious—and worth the extra few thousand over the nearly identically sized Chevrolet Cruze.
The Verano is, in all fairness, a completely different vehicle. It's assembled in a different plant than the Cruze and shares no body panels, as well as no parts above the floorpan—even though these two models do share a common architecture. Inside, the Verano gets richer leather, a standard voice-activated touch-screen infotainment system, and true luxury features like a heated steering wheel.
Especially from the side, the Verano tends to look like a large sedan—in particular, Buick's LaCrosse—sized down. The long, arching roofline and additional front mini-windows tend to stretch it out a bit visually, as do the low hoodline combined with the bold vertical grille. We like most of the chrome accents—including the light strokes of chrome that angle around the rear corners then angle downward to the center in back—but the Buick 'ventiports,' which have again found their way atop the Verano's fenders, look tacky as ever.
The Verano, with its 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine, is by no means quick; but its six-speed automatic transmission has been fully reworked for quicker yet smoother responses, so it's a very refined combination. Four-wheel disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power, even if the pedal feel is old-lux spongy. Handling is better than you might think, given the Verano's relatively soft ride; it's safe, responsive, and even quite fun, with a sense of confidence and more enjoyment than in cushy alternatives such as the Lexus ES 350.
The Verano's EPA ratings, of 21 mpg city, 31 highway, aren't all that impressive next to some other non-luxury compact sedans—like the Chevrolet Cruze or Ford Focus, for example—but they're better than nearly all luxury-brand sedans its size (except for hybrids like the Lexus HS 250h and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid).
What does distinguish the 2012 Verano from less-expensive compact sedans, along with many premium-brand models, is its phenomenally refined, comfortable, quiet interior. Quiet Tuning is a keyword at Buick, and it describes much of the Verano's personality. Through meticulous sound-deadening measures like triple-sealed doors, laminated side glass, an acoustic windshield, and various foams, baffles, and mats, the Verano is very, very quiet inside. Buick has worked to isolate road, wind, and engine noise, so even if you're driving the Verano hard, on some of the coarsest surfaces, you'll be able to have a soft-spoken conversation.
Interior appointments are also worthy of being compared to those of any luxury car this size. And thanks to its front-wheel-drive layout, the Verano has a very spacious interior. Front seats are superb, with all-day support for a wide range of drivers, along with plenty of seat travel and headroom for the tallest drivers. Rear seats are well contoured for adults, too; the only thing that calls the Verano out as a compact is the need to compromise legroom between front and rear if there are several lanky occupants riding at once. Trunk space is large and well-shaped, and rear seatbacks fold forward nearly flat, with a wide opening.
Crash-test ratings aren't yet out for the 2012 Verano at the time of posting, but GM expects to achieve top five-star federal results, as well as Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS. Equipment-wise, it's all here: ten standard airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock braking with brake assist, as well as OnStar Automatic Crash Response. Rear parking assist is available.
The Verano is clearly not a Cadillac, but it's not priced as one either. For just $23,470, the base 2012 Buick Verano comes equipped with an impressive roster of features, including dual-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth, a USB input, and the Buick Intellilink touch-screen interface, which includes voice controls as well as Pandora and Stitcher apps. A Convenience Group adds heated side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and rear parking assist, while a Leather Group adds to that heated seats, a driver power seat, Bose surround sound audio, push-button keyless start, and premium leather upholstery. A heated steering wheel and nav system are among the few options, with a fully loaded Verano priced well under $30k.