By Peter Dushenski @carenvy
What does this compact car mean for Buick, a company renowned for staid near-luxury and burdened by associations to bailouts? It means that Buick has succeeded.
Buick’s mission, much like that of every luxury manufacturer you can name, is to provide relevance to young professionals and the upwardly mobile set. As we speak, Cadillac is giddily missing the mark with its smallest of breed, the ATS, and Lincoln is a nonstarter. With the ATS, you already know the story even if you haven’t read the recent reviews. “Once upon a time, an overly complicated sedan focused too much on handling and iPad-inspired interfaces.” Honestly, the young professionals that the American luxury carmakers aspire to capture, your author included, have surprisingly little use for day-to-day handling and fussy touchscreens that pale in comparison to a Samsung Galaxy Tab. We’d rather something that easy to park, cheap to run, and offering real value. The rear-wheel drive ATS’s chief concern, therefore, is that it’s far too expensive. The smallest Caddy starts at $35,195 and tops out near FIFTY. Even with the expected GM incentives, that’s hefty – obscenely so.
The city-sized Verano, on the other hand, starts at only $22,995 and tops out at $31,835 with leather, bright-screened navigation, 10-spoke 18” wheels, and a sunroof. It’s Ford Focus money. And like the Eurotastic Focus, it’s also FWD, so it’ll trounce Canadian winters. The flattering exterior design of the Verano is another key component of its appeal. The elongated chrome strips that flow in from the taillights add useful width and visual mass to the design. The waterfall grille is perky and right-sized. The profile isn’t overly fussy. It’s an elegant, if conservative style.
The interior is one more cause for celebration. Borrowing much from the Germanic Regal certainly helps. With dual-zone climate control, touch+joystick navigation, Bluetooth audio, heated seats, strong ergonomics, and standard cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring on top-end 2013 models, the Verano perfectly appeals to the under-30 crowd – those entitled to tech.
This commercial is right on the money, right up until it calls a technology “unexpected”. It’s, like, totally expected.
Based on the feedback and discussions I’ve had on Twitter and Instagram about this car, not only are young people interested in it, but they really quite like it. For younger buyers, the Buick brand has no value whatsoever. This is actually a plus because it leaves the 113-year-old company free to develop a fresh identity. Based on the Regal and Verano alone (never mind the fetching Regal GS I’ll be testing next week!), Buick is shaping up into a value-priced luxury slayer. It feels as solid as the German and the Japanese luxury brands at a more attractive price point and without any badge stigma. It’s kind of a perfect storm. No, it’s not fun to drive, but nor does it promise to be. There’s never any pressure to push on a bit, so you’re never let down. It’s quiet and well-damped, full of high-end gadgets and convenience. It’s fast enough, economical enough, and a bloody brilliant value proposition. It makes “entry-level” luxury like the Lexus HS250h (which starts at a comical $40,850) look like a money pit for stupid people. And no one wants to look stupid, especially those of us who have stern bosses and skeptical clients to impress.
How GM managed to make such an attractive and competent car out of something as awful and woebegone as the Cruze will never cease to amaze me. The Cruze remains one of my least favourite new cars, and yet the Verano mixes it up at the other end of the spectrum. It’s nothing short of revolutionary, particularly given the starting point.
Buick is now emerging as the most relevant American luxury brand, one that can honestly run with the Acuras and Audis. Lincoln can’t shake the fact that it’s just a $10k-too-pricey Ford and Cadillacs are too futilely aimed at BMW. That leaves Buick: a company that’s doing its own thing and is far better for it. With cars like the Verano and upcoming Encore micro-crossover, Buick is even finding new gaps in the market before the niche-obsessed Germans.
Now that GM has succeeded in making Buick hip with the kids, it’s time for them to refocus Cadillac on our grandparents.
[Photo credit: author, video credit: YouTube]
This vehicle was generously provided by GM Canada for the purposes of this review.