Cars

Verano flies; Mercedes wins best SUV

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—A little more than a decade ago, I supercharged my 1997 Toyota Camry V-6, seeking (pretty successfully) to create my personal version of a poor man’s sport sedan.

The result was terrific. I enjoyed driving that car for 10 years and still have regrets about selling it— certainly, one of my all-time dumb moves.

My experience with that car made it particularly appealing when Buick invited me to test the new, turbo version of its 2013 Verano earlier this month.

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I’ve always been a manual transmission fan, but the Verano is a blast to drive either in manual or automatic. Both are six speed. Buick introduced the Verano two years ago as a premium compact sedan and the entry-level into a revamped lineup that was aiming for a younger market. So far so good for Verano as it’s shown month-tomonth sales growth this year over 2011.

I remember talking about my grandfather’s “porthole Buicks,” which in the previous century were the older man’s comfortable luxury sedan.

Now that I’m, ahem, a grandfather, I want to take the Verano out on some back roads, hit the gas, and yell “Wahoo!” Driving usually isn’t fun anymore, especially in metro areas, but the Verano definitely will put a little levity in your life.

The Turbo version sits atop the Verano lineup with a $29,990 price tag. The base Verano starts at $23,965 and steps up to the Convenience level ($25,260) and the Leather version ($27,640).

Verano falls into a market niche that isn’t overcrowded. It competes with the Audi A3, Acura ILX, and Lexus IS250. These aren’t exactly the poor man’s sport sedan, but you’d have to ante another $10,000 to get into BMW’s 3-Series or an Infiniti G sedan.

This turbo features a 250 horsepower (260 lb.-ft. of torque), 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec engine. The turbo edition also adds a rear spoiler, sport pedals, special badging. and dual exhaust.

Fuel economy (20 city/31 highway) with the automatic is just one mpg lower (highway) than with the standard 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine.

Besides the extra power, the Verano turbo has a retuned front suspension (18 percent stiffer) and Buick’s across-the-board Quiet-Tuning to dampen vibration with acoustical laminated glass and triple door seals.

A rearview camera is standard across the line and side blind zone alert and rear crosstraffic alert are standard on the three upper trim levels. Buick has a new take on LED taillights with a lens that produces an even (instead of pinpoints of light) and brighter light than incandescent bulbs. We asked why Buick used LEDs when the finished product didn’t look like LED lighting. The answer was because they’re brighter, less expensive, and don’t burn out.

As the weather turns chilly, the heated steering wheel in the turbo is a wonderful feature. I remember chuckling at the idea of a heated wheel until a long-time BMW mechanic extolled its virtues, advising me to “try it before you knock it.” I’m not knocking any of it anymore.

Mercedes Wins SUV Award

Motor Trend recognized the Mercedes-Benz GL SUV lineup—the GL350, 450, and 550—as its SUV of the year. The other finalists were the new Ford Escape and Nissan Pathfinder.

The magazine cited the GL’s performance in five of six judging categories, noting that its starting price of $60,000-plus wasn’t exactly a “value” except against the vehicles it competes with, such as the Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX 56, and Lexus LX.

However, it won the other five categories: performance of intended function, design advancement, engineering excellence, efficiency, and safety.

It was the first year that all 10 finalists were car-based instead of the body-on-frame design of the original SUVs.

Last year’s winner was the Range Rover Evoque.

Etc.

Friend Tina Gonsalves took one look at last week’s test car, the Fiat 500 cabriolet, and cracked, “It looks like a little kid’s Cozy Coupe.” She’s right, but that cabrio lugged a lot of our stuff for a weekend away as we used both its limited trunk space and (also limited) rear seat space.…A definition of dealer service: My son-in-law took his Acura in for service at Schaller Acura in Manchester, CT, early last Saturday morning, and I was following in my Fiat to give him a ride home. Coincidentally, the low-tire-pressure warning light had come on in the Fiat, saying to check the right front tire. As we were leaving the dealership, I mentioned to my son-in-law that we’d have to find a place to put some air in the Fiat tire on the way home. Service advisor Glenn Anderson overheard the comment, had us bring the Fiat into the service bay, and checked not only the right front but put the correct pressure in all four tires. Result: Goodwill and a car that handled noticeably better.

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