Buick Verano Turbo tries to cure stodgy image with horsepower

Buick Verano Turbo city night drivingWhen it comes to cars, few brands are as bland as Buick. The stereotypical Buick owner was alive during the Spanish-American War, and the GM near-luxury division’s softly sprung land yachts can’t attract anyone else. Buick has been trying to update its image for years in order to compete with Lexus and other luxury brands. That’s why its engineers bolted a turbocharger to the compact Verano.

The stock Verano is classic Buick. It is basically a Chevy Cruze with more sound deadening, more luxurious options, and suspension tuned for a smooth ride. As a result, the Verano is very comfortable to ride in, but also very boring.

Adding horsepower is a great way to add excitement. The Verano Turbo has 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, up from the base Verano’s 180 hp and and 171 lb-ft. As an added bonus, it will be offered with a six-speed manual transmission (or a six-speed automatic). The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission are also used in the larger Buick Regal GS.

The new powertrain seems like the perfect way to attract driving enthusiasts. Buick says the Verano Turbo will go from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds. A Volkswagen GTI, which is less powerful but also lighter, does zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds and the quarter mile in an identical 14.7 seconds. It may be a Buick, but the Verano Turbo is pretty quick.

Don’t expect GTI owners to trade in their VWs for Verano Turbos, though. The GTI is all about unadulterated fun, while the Verano is still a luxury car. Instead, the Verano Turbo will probably be cross-shopped against luxury compacts like the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series. The A3 is a grown up Golf, just as the Verano is a grown up Cruze, and its most powerful engine only makes 200 hp.

If Buick can deliver more performance than its competitors, while matching or undercutting their price, it might have a winner on its hands. The A3 starts at $28,145, while the Turbo will be the most expensive Verano, exceeding the current price ceiling of $26,850 by a small amount. Whether image-conscious buyers will trade their German and Japanese machines for this little Buick remains to be seen. The pudgy styling and lack of differentiation between the Turbo and lesser models don’t do it any favors.

One thing that should comfort Buick salesmen is that the division has been here before. In the 1980s, Buick was also trying to attract younger buyers while dealing with new emissions regulations. The solution was a series of turbocharged models, culminating with the Regal GNX, which ditched Buick’s traditional V8s for high-tech turbo V6s. The Verano Turbo is not a muscle car like the GNX, but hopefully its turbocharger will work the same magic. The new powertrain is definitely a step in the right direction.