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 shrunken 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 limited by the tires to 129 mph, and fuel economy barely suffers a single 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. It's not a high-tech independent setup, but GM engineers argue that it provides predictable response as well as solid body control during quick transitions.
A fairly quick steering ratio (combed with the fat, smalerl-diameter steering wheel) provides a hint of sport. The brakes suggest otherwise; they're strong, but the pedal is spongy in its feel.
The Verano enters curves better than its soft ride might suggest. It provides a safe, responsive, and even entertaining feel with more confidence and driver engagement than in cushy rivals like the Lexus ES. It's the Verano Turbo that offers better moves. Commensurate with its power increase, it features firmer front shocks and remapped electric steering for quicker and marginally weighter responses. But this isn't a Verano GS by any means; its 235-series rubber is unchanged. Shame, that.