Test Drive: 2015 Buick Verano Turbo

That a small Buick would sell in North America seemed a doubtful prospect to some a few years ago but, in the midst of a product turnaround conceived to boost sales and attract younger buyers, Buick's small cars turned out to be its strongest assets in 2014.

The Verano alone accounted for well over a third of the brand's sales last year, which is a kind of personal vindication for me: I called the Verano the best car in the Buick line (not to mention one of the best in the entire GM portfolio) when I drove it in 2012, and it seems that at least a few people agreed with me.

Since the Verano's introduction, the most significant change was the addition of a turbocharged engine for 2013. That motor was in the 2015 model I tested recently; this year, the only update is standard 4G LTE connectivity and a built-in wifi hotspot.

So the Verano's a strong seller in Buick's own stables, but the question is what kind of buyer it's aimed at. Its compact size and $24,000 starting price (the lowest of any Buick) would suggest this is the car best suited to the preferences of those youthful shoppers Buick is so eager to sell to, but on the surface, there isn't much here that seems in tune with that demographic. The Verano looks upscale, but doesn't shout about it as loudly as, say, a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 does, with that big three-pointed star in its grille.

The Verano's a strong seller in Buick's own stables, but the question is what kind of buyer it's aimed at.

Drive the Verano, and on the surface, it feels grown up, with a quiet ride that's on the comfortable side of firm. It isn't until you carry more speed than seems wise into that first corner that you discover the Verano's chassis (shared with the Chevrolet Cruze) is capable of surprisingly sharp handling and decent steering feel.

Lightning-quick throttle response makes the engine's intentions more obvious; turbocharged torque lends itself well to moving the Verano quickly when it's called for; and good brake feel makes for confident stopping.

All the same, the Verano's responses lack the immediacy of other compact luxo-sedans; the CLA-Class, Audi A3 and Acura ILX (particularly with the updates it's getting for 2016) all seem more ready to party than the Verano which, despite its ultimately capable dirty bits, feels exactly like you'd expect a Buick to feel. 

My tester came with the six-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual is a no-cost option with the turbo engine; having driven it, I can say it's a nice gearbox to use, but its tall gearing takes some of the fun out of shifting for yourself. Much as it pains me to say this, the automatic is a better fit for the car's overall demeanour.

Fuel consumption estimates for the Verano Turbo are 11.4/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway). In city driving, my tester averaged a little more than 14.0 L/100 km in a week of frigid winter weather; past experience suggests a 12.0 L/100 km city average is realistic in milder temperatures.

This is a comfortable car, as you'd expect given Buick's reputation for cozy cruisers, but there's not a lot of headroom under the optional sunroof, and legroom for those riding coach gives away this car's compact sedan roots. In its high-spec models, VW's Jetta is a competitor here, and offers more interior space, if not quite as quiet a ride at speed.

Wide A-pillars take a big chunk out of the view forward, even with the spotter panes located forward of the side mirrors; steer your gaze to the centre stack, and you get an eyeful of buttons, an anomaly in a class of upscale cars tending toward touch interfaces or central dials to eliminate clutter. The funny thing is that Buick's IntelliLink touchscreen system is one of the better ones, so for once I wouldn't complain if the interior designers ditched a few of these hard-button controls.

Verano's $24,000 starting tag is attractive, but that entry-level model is a pretty dull drive with its 2.4-litre engine; one of my main criticisms here is that you have to go for the full-jam trim to get the turbo mill, which would be an absolute steal if it could be had in a mid-range trim for, say, $28,000.

As it stands, though, the Verano Turbo's $32,500 makes it a decent value when stacked against some of its competitors. The comparatively tiny CLA 250 starts at $33,900, while the Acura ILX, in its most-engaging Dynamic trim, just about matches the Verano for price and feature content, but presents it all in a package with more appeal to the entry-level luxury shopper for which these cars compete.

Then again, Buick sold nearly three times as many Veranos last year as Acura moved ILXs; maybe Buick's onto something with the Verano's grown-up-car-in-a-small-package philosophy.

Competitors:
Acura ILX
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
BMW 2 Series
Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Audi A3

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 24-hour roadside assistance
2015 Buick Verano Turbo
2015 Buick Verano Turbo
Base Price $32,485
Optional Equipment Experience Buick Package (Sunroof and navigation, $795)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,600
Price as Tested $34,980
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.2
5 Exterior Styling
7 Performance
6 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy