The American market wasn’t kind to compact Buicks, so none have been offered here since 1997. But, with Pontiac gone, and the Chinese far more interested in small Buicks than Americans ever have been, GM is giving a small (but at about 3,300 pounds not light) Buick another go. Pricing for the 2012 Verano has now been released…officially this time (test pricing leaked back in December). How close has Buick ventured to the stated fancy brand competition? And how far from the closely related (but not a panel or piston shared) Chevrolet Cruze?
[The following has been updated using complete official pricing.]
Buick cites the Acura TSX and Lexus IS 250 as the primary targets for the Verano. But if this is the case, why does the base Verano have cloth seats with manual adjustments, and even the optional power driver seat lacks power recline? Eight-way power leather seats are standard in both the Acura and the Lexus (though they are optional in the unmentioned but likely studied Audi A3 and BMW 328i). As are rear air vents, which aren’t available in the Buick at any price. Memory for the driver seat is similarly standard on the Acura, optional on the Lexus, and not available on the Buick. Buick’s riposte: the top-level Verano has a heated steering wheel the others don’t offer. The preliminary pricing included a fourth level with even fewer features. Apparently GM realized that offering the car without automatic climate control might undermine their “compact luxury” pitch.
The feature mismatch is clear when using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool to compare cars with no options except automatic transmissions (columns are for length, horsepower, sticker price, an adjustment for feature differences, the adjusted sticker price, and the difference compared to the Buick):
|2012 Buick Verano||184||180||23470||N/A||23470||N/A|
|2011 Acura TSX||186||201||30495||-2650||27845||+4375|
|2011 Lexus IS 250||180||204||35340||-2515||32825||+9355|
|2012 Buick Regal||190||182||27530||-940||26590||+3120|
|2011 Lexus HS 250h||185||187||37205||-2190||35015||+11545|
|2010 Volvo S40||176||168||28300||+650||23470||+5480|
|2012 Chevrolet Cruze LS||181||138||18465||+2630||21095||-2375|
|2012 Ford Focus S||179||160||18390||+4540||23930||+540|
|2007 VW Jetta Base||179||150||18205||+3525||21730||-1740|
In terms of standard features, the base Verano almost exactly splits the $5,280 difference between an Acura TSX and a Chevrolet Cruze LS. Load up the cars with heated leather, sunroof, and nav and the feature adjustments get much smaller:
|MSRP||Feature Adjust||Adj. MSRP||Diff.|
|2012 Buick Verano||28545||N/A||28545||N/A|
|2011 Acura TSX||33595||-225||33370||+4825|
|2011 Lexus IS 250||38445||-690||37755||+9210|
|2012 Buick Regal||32520||-1090||31430||+2885|
|2011 Lexus HS 250h||40120||+185||40305||+11760|
|2010 Volvo S40||33450||+625||34075||+5530|
|2012 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ||25755||+825||26580||-1965|
|2012 Ford Focus Titanium||25880||+535||26415||-2130|
|2007 VW Jetta 2.5||27025||+1410||28435||-110|
The Verano is much less expensive than the TSX and IS 250, especially the latter. But then Buick already has one direct competitor for these cars in the Regal, which is priced much closer to the Acura. Which Buick is the more credible competitor? The answer is reflected in their prices. Line item features aren’t everything: with the Acura and Lexus—and the Regal—you’re paying for more car.
In layout and dimensions, the Lexus HS 250h is actually a much closer match than the IS 250. Perhaps Buick didn’t want to name the HS as a competitor since the Verano doesn’t offer a hybrid powertrain, at least not yet (Buick’s other two sedans get a mild hybrid system this year). Or they might have noted that Lexus sells more than three times as many of the IS—the HS doesn’t attract enough buyers to be worth poaching. With no non-hybrid Lexus HS 250 and the Acura CSX only sold in Canada, the Japanese don’t offer a direct competitor to the Verano in the U.S.
Buick might have also named the Volvo S40 as a competitor, except the Swedes couldn’t shift their small sedan here and have discontinued it this side of the Atlantic. I’ve ventured back to the 2010 S40 to compare the non-turbo model. Judging from the numbers, the Volvo was undersized, underpowered, under-equipped, and overpriced. No surprise it didn’t sell.
But the Verano’s largest challenge (aside from pitching the concept of a small Buick to Americans) will likely come from compacts wearing non-premium badges but nevertheless constructed with the features and feel of a premium car. This space used to be owned by the Volkswagen Jetta. But VW found too few takers for lavishly outfitted Jettas. First they trimmed the options list, then last year they downgraded the entire car. We must venture back to 2007 to find a Jetta 2.5 available with leather. Adjust for features (but not a half-decade of inflation), and it’s almost dead even with the Verano.
Chevrolet and Ford have both moved to fill the space vacated by VW. The Verano is priced about $2,800 above a heavily-equipped Cruze or Focus. Adjusting for the Buick’s additional features narrows the gap to about $2,000. A significant number, but not a big one, that puts the Buick much closer to the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus than the Acura TSX, much less the Lexus IS 250 or the unmentioned Germans. Will people pay a couple grand more for the Buick’s mid-scale badge, more powerful engine, higher-grade leather, cushier seats, and “quiet-tuning?” Put another way, can Buick succeed where Volkswagen and Volvo could not? Though I had my doubts when the car was first shown back in January, it actually seems likely. The Cruze LTZ and Focus Titanium have now successfully tested the waters, and found American car buyers who are (finally) ready to pay a semi-premium price for a refined, luxury-oriented small sedan. The Buick’s pricing nudges these buyers just a little higher, while providing more than a badge as justification.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.