New Car Review: 2012 Buick Verano

Front 3/4 view of dark brown 2012 Buick Verano parked in resort setting
The 2012 Buick Verano.

I sense a slippery slope ahead when I'm at the wheel of the Buick Verano. And it has nothing to do with the pavement under the tires.

Call it generational perspective. I'm old enough to remember when Buick wanted a compact car so badly that it took a 1973 Chevy Nova, made it a bit prettier (in the eyes of some beholders, anyway), a bit cushier, a bit more upscale, and sold it as the 1973 Buick Apollo.

Rear 3/4 view of dark brown 2012 Buick Verano parked in resort setting
Rear/side view of the 2012 Buick Verano.
Well, truth be told, the Buick Verano is, by and large, the Chevrolet Cruze LTZ, made a bit prettier, a bit cushier and a bit more upscale.

By no means is that a bad thing...regular readers will remember (or can follow the link above to discover) that we like the Cruze. But the questions are: Is there room for both cars and can Buick establish a premium image with a car like the Verano?

The answer: I don't know. The Cruze targets competition like the Ford Focus and the soon to be released Dodge Dart. Buick says the Verano's competitors are machines like the Volvo V30 (the upcoming four-door version of the Volvo C30), the Lexus IS250 and the Acura TSX. And the Verano, starting at $23,785, enjoys a considerable price advantage over those three. But that bumps it right up against the Cruze LTZ.

How close are they? The Verano we tested, with zero options, bottom-lined at $24,670. The Cruze LTZ we tested a year ago was $24,415. For that money, wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?

Ah, but the Cruze LTZ had leather and a sunroof and all sorts of other things not on the base Verano. Easily solved. Just step up in trim levels. The leather group gets you there for $26,850, and the sunroof is a $900 option, so that's $27,750. Still considerably less than the Volvo, the Lexus or the Acura, comparably equipped.
But now, you have this problem. You're up more than three grand over the cost of the loaded version of the same car from Chevy. And the Chevy, with its 1.4 liter turbo 4, feels peppier than the Buick's 2.4 liter four-cylinder, and gets better mileage (EPA estimates of 24 city/36 highway for the Chevy versus 21 city/32 highway for the Buick). Upsides for the Buick: It's smoother and quieter.

The 2012 Buick Verano interior.
Yes, the interior is re-done nicely to say "Buick" rather than "Chevy", but if you've spent any time in a Cruze, you'll know the roots are showing.
And back to the mileage for a moment...the EPA estimate is optimistic. In 800 miles, with a good 350 of those at highway speeds, I averaged 21.9.

GM has to keep Buick if only for its immense popularity in China, which has become the world's largest car market. And they have to sell downsized, competitive product in America to stay afloat here. But what got GM in trouble way back in the 70s, what sowed the seeds of the 2009 bankruptcy, was too many products too close together in size, mission and price.

The Verano's a fine car. Five years ago I would have bet GM couldn't make a car like this. It would be much more impressive if they hadn't made the Cruze first. I hope I'm wrong, but I see a lot of buyers for the Cruze, and a lot of buyers for the cars the Verano is targeting...with the Verano stranded in the middle.