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Aimed at tapping into a long-unexplored market segment, the 2012 Buick Verano marks the division's first foray into the upscale compact arena in more than two decades. Slotting in under the new Regal in size and price, this front-drive four-door will offer an impressive combination of luxury and economy that John Schwegman, vice president of Buick marketing, contends should allow it to successfully vie with rivals like the Audi A3 and Lexus IS250 for the hearts, minds and wallets of a new generation of younger, value-oriented buyers.

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Creating premium character on a smaller scale

A significantly upgraded variation of a car that Buick already successfully markets in China as the Excelle, the new 2012 Verano is based on GM platform architecture that also underpins the Chevrolet Cruze. Employing a host of "quiet tuning" techniques to complement its cleanly-styled bodywork, the Verano's extensive noise-abatement/cancellation efforts span everything from liberal use of acoustic attenuators, thicker windshield/side window glass and triple door seals to unique intake/exhaust manifolding and special quiet-ride wheel/tire fitments.

Making the Verano's well-appointed cabin as inviting as it is user-friendly, a variety of high-quality materials, numerous soft-touch surfaces and various upscale cloth/leather/metallic trims are joined by well-formed front buckets designed to provide long-range comfort and support. The Verano's decently scaled rear quarters can accommodate a pair of average-sized adults or a trio of kids. Standard/available features include dual-zone air conditioning, a full range of power assists, push-button starting, a multifunction steering wheel, rear park assist and LaCrosse-inspired ambient lighting plus 10 standard airbags. Further enriching the Verano's connectivity mix will be the latest iteration of enhanced OnStar including Automatic Crash Response and a variety of other new apps, Bluetooth phone/audio, XM Satellite Radio, plus a next-gen radio package with touch-screen navigation and a Bose premium audio system. 

An engaging driving experience

Initially, the new Buick Verano will be fitted with the same 2.4-liter naturally aspirated/direct-injected Ecotec four-cylinder engine used in the Regal, here tuned to make 177 horsepower/170 lb-ft of torque and paired with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. That matchup should be good for 8.0-second 0-60 mph sprints and return 31 mpg on the highway. Later on, an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec that makes 220 horses and 258 lb-ft of twist in the new Regal will be added to the lineup, along with a six-speed manual transmission exclusive to the T-charged engine.

Tuned for comfort as well as for crisp response, the Verano's suspension hardware pairs front MacPherson struts and GM's "Z-Link" torsion beam-with-Watts link rear axle. Its electric power steering is both quicker and more efficient than normal hydraulically boosted systems while StabiliTrak electronic stability control, traction control and anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution round out the Verano's driver-oriented chassis equation. 

No word on pricing just yet, but the 2012 Buick Verano is likely to fill a $21,000-$26,000 window when it does arrive at dealers in the fall.

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