published Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Kennedy: Buick Verano may be best car you’ve never heard of

FAST FACTS


Model: Verano FWD 1SL

Exterior color: Black Onyx

Interior color: Cashmere

Engine: 2.4 liter four cylinder

Horsepower: 180

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (shiftable)

Fuel economy: 32 mpg highway, 21 mpg city

Dealer: Integrity Automotive Group

Price (as tested): $28,448

Sometimes you sit in a new car and wonder where all the money went.

Other times you grip a steering wheel at 10 and 2, lean back against soft-leather seats, plant your right foot on the accelerator, and think, “How in the heck can they build this much car at this low price?”

That’s how I felt behind the wheel of the new baby Buick, the Verano.

Yes, $28,448 is a pretty penny to pay for what is technically a luxury compact sedan that shares parts with the more pedestrian Chevrolet Cruze. Yet, the Verano — maybe the best car nobody knows about — is a solid value that would look at home in the garage of any Chattanooga junior executive.

STYLING

Like any high-value car, the Verano is really more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t hurt that it’s basically a three-quarters scale Buick LaCrosse, which still gets my vote as the most beautiful American-made car on the road for less than $40,000.

As I was test driving the Verano, I couldn’t help but feel a little patriotic about the fact Detroit can clearly still make world-class vehicles. If the Verano is the shape of things to come from The General, buy stock now. This car is tight, quiet and fun to drive.

The exterior, which shares design cues with the larger Regal and LaCrosse, features Buick’s signature waterfall grille. A high belt-line combined with a low roofline give the Verano a sporty profile. Generous use of chrome accents add character and panache, as do 18-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels.

My favorite part of the Verano, though, is the interior. A tasteful blend of dark-gray and cream-colored plastics, the dash and door-panels are works of art. Our tester came equipped with leather seating surfaces and a six-way adjustable power driver’s seat.

Other niceties on our test car included push-button ignition, navigation system, a 7-inch color touch-screen audio interface, heated steering wheel and a nine-speaker Bose stereo system.

Adding to the luxury feel of the Verano is a whisper quiet interior that comes courtesy of layer upon layer of sound-dampening insulation. Fit and finish throughout the car are superior. Rear visibility is pinched by a smallish rear window, but trunk space is especially generous for a car this size.

PERFORMANCE

The Verano is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine is plenty powerful for most highway chores. Buick has promised that a 250-horsepower turbocharged version of the Verano will be available this fall.

Steering is well balanced, and the Verano’s beefy steering wheel feels solid in your hands. Various automotive sources have clocked the four-cylinder Verano’s 0-60 mph time at about 9.0 seconds.

BOTTOM LINE

Integrity Automotive Group general sales manager Dwight Morgan said he is eager for Honda Accord and Toyota Camry buyers to sample the new Verano. He said the car’s high content is even evident in base models priced at about $23,000. Indeed, the Verano feels like a mid-size car inside and has a degree of refinement that will no doubt raise eyebrows, if buyers give it a chance. Step up to loaded Verano models like our test car, which stickered at $28,448, and the Acura TSX has plenty to worry about. Add a turbo-charged engine, and Katy bar the door.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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