The Verano is a new compact sedan from that near-luxury nameplate, Buick. It's an impressive, competitively priced car; a stellar cut from the quiet and comfortable motoring cloth.
A great car in many respects, the Verano is also an unmitigated failure. It's more off-key than Rosanne Barr's rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." It's a strikeout the size of "Gigli," Crystal Pepsi or Charlie Brown's place-kicking career.
Yep, a single car is poised to both flourish and fail. All the goodwill this Verano works hard to achieve — goodwill I came to wholly appreciate during my week with a near-loaded, $28,245 example — may be largely undone by an odd miscalculation by Buick and parent General Motors Co.
The Verano's failure isn't its driving experience. The car is powered by a 2.4-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. Although its 3,300 pounds is a tad heavy for this Buick's size (it's smaller than a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry), the engine has just enough power to move the car sufficiently.
That motor is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. The gearbox routes power to the front wheels and helps move the Verano from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, according to Car and Driver. This engine and transmission are the only units available on the Verano and they work in concert with each other to create a smooth, capable driving experience.
The result is a fuel economy rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway. In just under 200 miles of testing on more city streets than highways, I averaged 22 mpg.
Also smooth is the Verano's handling. Based very loosely on the Chevy Cruze, it uses the same rear suspension setup; something called a Watts Z-link. Without getting into a dissertation on physics, this setup essentially gives the car more responsive handling than you might expect from a Buick pedigree. Meanwhile, driving over rough roads is also nicely dampened.
Turning inward, this Buick's failure isn't its passenger experience.
The front seats are so comfortable I almost stole them for my living room. They're soft and supportive but have the firmness and bolstering you know is good for you. The back seats are good too, but they're not the thrones of the front.
My test car came with the Luxury package, which swaddled those seats in a beautiful deep tan leather Buick calls Choccachino. This option also adds a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless entry, push-button start and a nine-speaker Bose sound system.
The interior is well constructed and feels worthy of its near-luxury status. The standard full-color touch screen, which controls the stereo and optional navigation, is intuitive and fast-acting. Below the screen sit the climate control and redundant buttons for the stereo.
Although they have a quality feel to them, there's a bit too many buttons and their layout could be a bit more straightforward. My only other complaint about the interior was the just-too-wide gaps between the doors and the dashboard.
The Verano is also exceedingly quiet inside. Mausoleums are louder. This is no accident, as Buick used tricks such as laminated glass on the doors and windshield as well as fiberglass stuffed into the door panels.
Finally, passengers can enjoy the quiet comfort of the Verano knowing the car has impressive safety features such as 10 air bags, ABS, stability control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Despite all this content and safety, the Verano's failure isn't its value.
The car starts at $23,470, which is less than a top-end Chevy Cruze. Every Verano comes with amenities including a six-speaker stereo system with XM Satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs, a 7-inch touch screen display, Intellilink infotainment system with Pandora and Bluetooth streaming audio, automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.
The aforementioned Luxury package added $3,380. A sunroof and paint upgrade brought the grand total to $28,245. Since the only feature my car was missing was the $795 navigation system, you can get the loaded potato version for a smidge over $29,000.
But if the Verano's value, comfort and especially its seats deserve an ode, the car's styling deserves a eulogy. This is where the car fails.
To be clear, the Verano is certainly not a bad-looking car; much of its look is similar to the rest of Buick's conservatively styled products at the moment. It has a prominent chrome grille and wide, eager headlights out front. At the back is a handsome, straightforward design, accented only by a pair of thick chrome trim pieces that seem to draw their inspiration from the eyebrows of the late Andy Rooney.
But Buick takes this car, replete with conservative, practical luxury, and tells us the Verano will target people considering a Lexus IS250, Acura's TSX or even Volvo's compact C30 two-door hatchback. The unstated goal? That this car would appeal to people born during the presidential administrations of Carter or Reagan rather than those of Taft or Wilson.
It doesn't; it can't. On paper it should, for the multitude of reasons you've just read. But this exterior design takes precisely zero chances and rather than dispel the notion that a Buick is only for people who buy Ensure by the pallet, it reinforces it.
There needs to be a unique or aspirational element to Verano; something to draw the attention of thirtysomethings at a stoplight and cause them to ask "What is that?" and then pick up their iPhone and Google it. Buick had an opportunity to really change the perception of its brand and to move it into the perspective of a younger buyer. But it missed by a mile.
Including features such as the Intellilink infotainment system and pricing the car very competitively is a nice start, but it's not enough. Throwing in a free Xbox game with every tube of denture paste doesn't make people want to buy denture paste.
Styling and features aside, another element of the Verano's handicap is that the cars it's targeting have gobs more luxury street cred. The competitive Lexus is one of the cheapest cars that company makes; buy one and you have the same brand of car as the guy in the full-size, $113,000 Lexus LS Hybrid. Although it may seem silly on its face, this kind of brand equity matters.
Instead, this Buick will appeal to the same demographic the rest of the brand's lineup attracts and perhaps younger empty-nesters who are seeking affordable luxury but don't need a large car. Those buyers will get a comfortable, quiet, economical product that they will like very much.
Even better, when their kids come to visit for the holidays, no one will ask to borrow the car. Which is good; you don't want them discovering those front seats. They may never leave.