The Verano is very pleasant to drive and, to use the hoary old cliché, pretty much bank-vault quiet. The engine is well-suited to the car, which has a base curb weight of 1,497 kilograms but doesn’t feel that heavy. Merging into highway traffic is effortless, and thanks to extensive use of sound-deadening materials, the extra engine effort when the transmission downshifts doesn’t echo in the cabin. The electric power steering responds quickly and accurately to input, but it doesn’t return much in the way of road feel. That isolation is something I’m guessing many Buick buyers prefer – overall the owner demographic is younger than before, but it’s still older than most – but I like a little more one-on-one with my ride.

First Drive: 2012 Buick Verano reviews luxury cars first drives buick
2012 Buick Verano. Click image to enlarge

The interior is well-done and, most importantly, for the most part it looks in line with the price. My car was an early pre-production model, so there were a couple of fit-and-finish issues, but they should be ironed out on the showroom versions (it’s built in Orion, Michigan in a flexible manufacturing plant that also turns out the unrelated Chevrolet Sonic). I wasn’t too keen on the fake wood trim, but there’s very little of it, mostly just strips alongside the centre stack and in the door handles. The basic seats will be cloth, while the topped-out model I drove came with very comfortable leather versions. The front seats are roomy, while rear-seat legroom is quite good considering the compact footprint; a six-foot passenger behind me only touched his knees to the front seat when it was slid all the way back. I did quibble about the heated seats, though; when you turn them on, the controls are illuminated with the car’s signature ice-blue lighting. To me, red means hot and blue means cold, and it just looks odd.

First Drive: 2012 Buick Verano reviews luxury cars first drives buick
2012 Buick Verano. Click image to enlarge

A seven-inch LED touch-screen comes on all but the base model. It will be paired with a new system, called IntelliLink, which uses Bluetooth and USB capability to control smartphones through voice activation or the steering wheel-mounted controls, and will enable streaming audio through specific services. As if there aren’t enough distractions in new vehicles, you can eventually expect to see it read e-mails and text messages aloud.

The exact features of the four trim lines haven’t been revealed yet, but standard features on all models will include ten airbags, automatic climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and ambient lighting. Available items, depending on the trim line, will include 18-inch multi-spoke forged wheels, heated steering wheel, pushbutton ignition, Bose premium audio and a remote starter that will automatically activate the rear defogger, heated mirrors and heated seats if you start it up when the temperature is below 7C.

The Verano is a very nice driver, but GM is realistic about it; the company knows it’s not going to sell a million of them. It’s a tough room to play, since buyers will often shun a pricey domestic model in favour of an even pricier European one, for reasons that include real or perceived quality differences, more luxury features, or simply the cachet of the brand. Realistically, the Verano doesn’t have much in the way of head-to-head luxury compact sedan competition. Time will tell if that’s because very few people buy luxury compact sedans, or if the Verano is poised to carve out a brand-new piece of the automotive pie.