Buick Verano moves into BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz territory

Buick took the European approach with the Verano

Buick took the European approach with the Verano Turbo, in that there are no wings, spoilers or scoops. The only real sign is the emblem. (Credit: General Motors)

Buick's grand plan is in full swing and it appears to be actually working.

Just what is the plan, you ask? Well, it involves downsizing the line and injecting it with with more style and less mass. And baptizing all models in a fountain of youth.

They also run on smaller, fuel-frugal powerplants that offer as much or greater performance than previous models. The plan includes enhancing the luxury-car experience to match or exceed the premium import brands.


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The Lacrosse and Regal already fall into this strategy, as does the Verano, which was new for 2012. However for the 2013 model year the smallest Buick sedan is literally stepping up the pace with an optional - and significantly more powerful - turbocharged model.

The sense here is that Buick needed to add some premium power for the Verano to be considered in the same sport-sedan league as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and not be viewed as an afterthought brand. With its more mature customer base shrinking over the years, reinvention and rejuvenation has become a matter of survival.

Originally, the Chevrolet-Cruze-based Verano appeared to fill the bill with its standard 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. That was a significant increase from the Cruze's pair of 138-horsepower four-cylinder engines, but it isn't quite enough to interest and enthrall younger, more performance-minded buyers. And it isn't enough for easy freeway passing, or charging into faster traffic from an on-ramp.

Enter the Verano Turbo that puts out 250 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder. More importantly, the engine makes 260 pound-feet of torque, with 90 percent of it available from between 1,750 and 5,500 revs per minute. That's only 20 horses and 10 pound-feet shy of the larger (and heavier) Buick Regal GS. It's also less expensive than the $35,500 GS by about $5,500, which places the Verano Turbo in the no-brainer department as far as pound-per-dollar sporting output is concerned.

A six-speed automatic transmission is attached to the Turbo's engine, while a six-speed manual, considered de rigeur for models in this segment, is offered as an option at no extra discount. There is a gated shifter with the automatic, but there are no steering-column mounted paddle shifters, which implies that the Turbo is a more powerful model, but not necessarily a sporty model.

Still, Buick claims the Turbo will accelerate to 60 mph from rest in slightly more than six seconds, which is right in line with comparable premium brands from Audi and BMW that Buick holds up as performance benchmarks. It's also half a second quicker than the 270-horsepower Regal GS.

Fuel economy with the manual gearbox is claimed to be 20 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway (21/30 for the automatic), numbers that differ only slightly from the base Verano's 22/31 rating.

To adequately handle the power, the Turbo receives a unique steering calibration and a suspension that's 20 percent firmer. That shouldn't be enough to upset the Verano's generally softer (Buick-like) ride or allow nasty road noises to enter the ultra-quiet confines of the cabin.

Outwardly, the Turbo varies only slightly from the regular-strength Verano with dual exhaust outlets, subtle rear spoiler and trunk lid badge. Elegant is better, here, for sure.

The Turbo is fitted with considerably more gear than the reasonably loaded base Verano, including leather-covered seats, dual-zone climate control, rear-vision camera, backup warning assist, nine-speaker, 250-watt Bose-brand audio and 18-inch wheels.

Standard safety features include blind-spot warning (signals you when traffic is travelling in your blind spot) and cross-traffic alert that lets you know when vehicles are crossing from behind while you're backing up.

The fact that the only significant Turbo options are a navigation system and a power sunroof underscores how well the car lines up with other luxury-leaning compacts vying for your dollars.

The overall attractiveness of the Verano, coupled with the rapid-fire authority of its high-output turbo, makes it worthy of its Euro-based peers and for less money in most cases.

You have to love it when a plan comes together.

What you should know: 2013 Buick Verano Turbo
Type: Four-door entry-luxury compact sedan
Engine (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (250)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic; six-speed manual
Market position: The Verano Turbo places Buick in a more competitive position with several European and Asian small-luxury four-door competitors that offer added performance for their finicky customers.
Points: Attractive and stylish, in keeping with Buick tradition, but with wolf-in-sheep's clothing powerplant; Turbo gives pricier mid-size Regal GS a run for its money; AWD option is the only piece of the puzzle missing from Turbo's bag of tricks; Ten standard airbags beats all competing models; The interior could use a few more Turbo treats.
Safety: Front airbags; front/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 20/31 (MT)
Base price (incl. destination): $30,000

BY COMPARISON

Audi A4
Base price: $34,000
Top-rated sport sedan offers affordable AWD and 333-hp V6 S4 option.

Hyundai Sonata turbo
Base price: $25,700
274-hp turbo option offers more kick, but only with a six-speed automatic.

Volvo S60
Base price: $31,900
A gorgeous sporty sedan that can be optioned with AWD and 325-hp V6. 

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