2012 Buick Verano: GM figures out how to make a small luxury car right

Buick is famous for producing land yachts big enough to qualify as congressional districts, so a small car from Buick is big news, indeed.

The worrisome thing about the 2012 Buick Verano, however, had been its lineage. It’s a luxury car derived from a Chevy compact. GM had been down that road before — with disastrous results.

You may recall the ’82-’88 Cadillac Cimarron, spawned from the lowly Chevy Cavalier. Leather seats and a different grille do not a luxury car make, GM learned. Cimarron was a disaster of biblical proportions. It’s urban legend that, to this day, at least one GM product planner has a framed picture of Cimarron over his desk with the legend, “Lest we forget.”

Happily, GM hasn’t. Verano is a worthy competitor for the likes of the Acura TSX and Audi A3, not least because its source material, the Cruze, is a fine compact in its own right. Even so, Verano, though sharing its basic platform with Cruze, co-opts little else from the Chevy. Sheetmetal, cabin décor and even its drivetrain are unique.

Verano also is treated to significantly more sound-deadening insulation to achieve what Buick calls a “quiet tune” ride. It’s more than a slogan. We found Verano the quietest compact we’ve ever driven.

Metal-benders gave Verano a sort of “little Regal” look — no bad thing. Its black chrome waterfall grille, translucent blue projector beam headlamps, hood portholes, large indentations in the flanks (a nod to Buick’s classic ‘sweepspear” profile) and big 18-inch wheels ensure no one will mistake this beauty for a Cruze.

Inside, cabin trim also is unique. To give Verano a distinctly upscale feel, interior surfaces are clad in metallic and genuine wood trim while seats can be wrapped in real cowhide. Absolutely lovely.

Room is that of a compact — good up front, OK in back.

Under its hood, Verano eschews Cruze’s 1.8-liter naturally aspirated and 1.4-liter turbo fours, both making 138 hp, in favor of a more powerful 2.4-liter Ecotec four. It makes 180 hp and 171 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic.

While Verano’s handling is good, acceleration is only adequate in this hefty, 3,300-pound compact. You’ll greet 60 mph in about 9 seconds while achieving EPA mileage ratings of 21 city/32 hwy. In 160 miles of all city driving, we registered 21 mpg, just as the EPA promised.

Those who want livelier performance will want to wait for Verano’s 2.0-liter turbo, which arrives this fall.

Among Verano’s gee-whiz features is a smart phone app allowing owners to remotely start the vehicle, lock or unlock it and even find it if it’s been mislaid. Another nice touch is the available keyless entry and push-button start system we had, although its inability to allow trunk opening was mildly irritating.

Standards include a best-in-class 10 air bags, stability control, USB input and Bluetooth capability. Available are Bose premium audio and touch-screen navigation.

The Buick Verano may not be the fastest car in the compact luxury segment, but it’s certainly the quietest and among the most luxurious.

Prices start at $23,470.

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