The Buick Verano is one of the first compact cars to stake out premium territory here in the U.S., and given the nearly blank slate, Buick's chosen to tune it with comfort, not performance, in mind.
That said, the Verano is accommodating enough for most daily drivers, and its responsive electric power steering and well-sorted independent suspension pair well with its smooth four-cylinder engine. With turbocharging, it's truly quick but not much more taut; the mild re-tuning, frankly, could be applied across the board.
Instead of the related Cruze 1.4-liter four-cylinders, the Verano ups displacement under the hood to 2.4 liters. Its base four-cylinder turns in 180 horsepower and, through a six-speed automatic transmission, runs off an estimated 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. That's slightly quicker than the Cruze can execute, and roughly on par with the other normally aspirated premium compact, the Acura ILX. In our tests, we've had to push the in-line four insistently through the lower rev range; it comes to life really only at about 4000 rpm.
The automatic isn't hesitant, but shifting it manually means putting a hand to the shift lever--the Verano isn't offered with shift paddles. Shifting manually is almost counterintuitive anyway--the Verano is so quiet, the engine always sounds distant, and the perceptions of speed always seem remote.
The Verano Turbo pitches a more solid game at the other turbocharged compact we've driven, the Mercedes CLA. With displacement downsized to 2.0 liters and augmented with a blower, the Verano Turbo's boosted to 250 horsepower and peak torque of 260 pound-feet, available down at 1,700 rpm to a useful 5,500 rpm. There's hardly a growl or whistle to let on how it's spooling up to full boost, but the Verano Turbo can reel off 60-mph runs in 6.2 seconds or less. Top speed is tire-limited to 129 mph, and gas mileage barely suffers a mile per gallon. It's a clearly different, and happier, animal from the base powertrain.
The differences are far more subtle at the ride-and-handling level. The Verano's suspension design and geometry are shared with the Cruze. Front MacPherson struts are paired with a Z-link (Watt's linkage) design in back. GM engineers argue that you actually get better, more predictable response and better body control on quick transitions—no matter the surface. even compared to an independent setup.
A relatively quick steering ratio (with a fat, somewhat small-diameter steering wheel) complete the hints of sportiness, and 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. Still, the Verano Turbo has more solid moves, more confidence, and it could easily be tuned even more aggressively for the power on tap. The front shocks are stiffer, but only by about 10 percent, to accommodate about 100 pounds of added weight; the electric power steering gets remapped for quicker, slightly more weighty responses. There are no aggressive air intakes, no fatter tires than the base 235-series rolling stock, no mission creep into Verano GS territory, either.