2012 Buick Verano first drive review Page 2

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For now (a 250-hp turbo engine is on the way next year) Buick is only installing a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter DI four-cylinder engine in the front-wheel-drive Verano. It's the same engine that's in the Equinox, but it's hooked up to an updated, next-gen version of the Equinox's transmission with revised torque-converter programming and more precisely-acting solenoids.

Not so quick, but surprisingly agile

As such, the Verano is by no means quick—and surprisingly, not all that much quicker than the Equinox or the Cruze. Buick says 0-60 mph takes 8.9 seconds (just a few tenths shorter than the Cruze 1.4T), and the 2.4-liter, while it has decent grunt off the line, seems to lack its full stride if you're much below 4,000 rpm or not really mashing the throttle. There are no paddle-shifters, but you do have full manual control if you slide the shift lever over to the side.

The suspension layout, and the basic geometry of it, are actually shared with the Cruze, although the pieces themselves are different. With a MacPherson strut design in front, paired with a Z-link (Watt's linkage) design in back, GM engineers argue that you actually get better, more predictable response and better body control on quick transitions—no matter the surface. even compared to an independent setup. Four-wheel disc brakes and a relatively quick steering ratio (with a fat, somewhat small-diameter steering wheel) complete the hints of sportiness.

In all honesty, we'd been expecting the Verano to feel a little quite a bit heavier than the Cruze and be less fun to drive. But when Buick picked a route heading out over the Oregon coast range—and including a couple of stretches that are best enjoyed with a true performance car—we knew the Verano must be quite capable. And it is. Like most GM cars nowadays, the Verano feels a little heavy when you push it hard around a corner. But just as in the Cruze, once you move past the spec-sheet stage, you'll never miss the lack of a true independent rear suspension.

Even through the tightest esses, on heaved, poorly graded surfaces, this sedan held its own. There's lots of lean and body motion—and not all that much grip through the tires—but it's safe, responsive, and even quite fun; everything loads and unloads with a sense of confidence, and we had way more fun than we would have in a Lexus ES 350.

And all the while, if you're driving hard, this whole “quiet tuning” thing plays mind games. Through the foam, matting, and such, engine noise is so well muted that you can easily forget when the engine is revving up high or left in manual mode. The roads around Portland, Oregon, where we tested the Verano have some of the coarsest surfaces of any in the U.S., too, yet this Buick's Quiet Tuning really worked—resulting in an interior that seemed quieter than many other vehicles on glassy-smooth asphalt.

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