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The Buick Verano finds its way into more compelling territory for 2013, only a year after it first went on sale. It's not giving up its handsome sheetmetal or chucking its quiet cabin, but it is adding turbocharging to its four-cylinder engine--a change that makes the Turbo the Verano we'd pick every time.
The 250-horsepower Turbo changes the mood of the even-tempered base car, lifting its tepid performance into something more interesting. And it's just in time, since the arena of premium small cars is about to get more challenging, with the Verano and Acura ILX soon to face an onslaught of German-made four-doors, starting with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA.With turbocharging solving the woes of sluggish acceleration, the Verano continues to impress us as far more than a badge-engineered Chevy--which it isn't, though it shares some significant suspension and body structures with the compact Cruze. With its own style and a high-value set of luxury features, the Verano carves out a new niche for Buick as a 'tweener compact sedan, one with premium content and a bargain pricetag.
From the outside in, the Verano looks every bit the Buick, though sized down to compact proportions. With a long, arching roofline like that on the LaCrosse, a low hood, and a grille sized and shaped like that on the mid-size Regal, the Verano blends effortlessly into today's Buick lineup and is one of the prettier efforts in a segment that has some real styling clunkers. Almost all its styling cues are uniformly tasteful and subdued, but we take issue with the portholes on the hood--they're afterthoughts, and seem tacky in contrast to the smoothly sculpted shape. Inside, the Verano has its act together, with a richly finished dash and softly lit gauges.
A 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is standard on the 2013 Verano. Not quick by any means, it's capable only of 0-60 mph times of about 8.6 seconds, but the front-driver feels a little more eager than that, thanks to a responsive six-speed automatic and an overall level of refinement that's easily among the best in its segment, if not the best. Life gets much more interesting when the 2.0-liter, 250-hp four is applied: it's good for 0-60 mph times of 6.2 seconds, and top speed drifts up to about 129 mph, with almost no perception of lag or audible change from the engine bay.
The same is mostly true for ride and handling, though we'd prefer it were less the case. The Verano's ride is softly sprung, even so on the Turbo, which gets only slightly stiffer front shocks and the same set of tires. Handling is better than safe, in the sum: it can be fun and responsive despite lots of body roll, more so than the dull alternatives, but the modestly quicker steering and tauter feel of the Turbo could easily be the base setup--and the Turbo could go twice as far, and still be half as aggressive as any Acura. Four-wheel disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power, even if the pedal feel is old-money spongy.
Gas mileage is a sticking point, though. The EPA rates the Verano at 21/32 mpg, not so impressive considering the Cruze's top 42-mpg highway figure. It is better than nearly all luxury-brand sedans its size (except for hybrids like the Lexus HS 250h and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid). The Turbo penalty? Just one mile per gallon.
Interior appointments are worthy of being compared to those of any luxury car this size. The front-wheel-drive layout grants the Verano 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.
A phenomenally refined, comfortable, quiet interior distinguishes the Verano from less-expensive compact sedans. 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.
Crash-test ratings from the NHTSA come in at five stars overall, and the Verano's earned 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, and a rearview camera is standard; Turbos have blind-spot monitors standard, too.
The Verano is clearly not a Cadillac, but it's not priced as one either. Starting in the low $20,000s, the 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. All that comes standard on the Turbo. A heated steering wheel and nav system are among the few options, with a fully loaded Verano priced well under $30,000, where the Turbo price begins.