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Turbo ups the fun factor of Buick Verano

| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The 2013 Buick Verano turbo marks the latest step in Buick's journey from a hopelessly dull brand into one that consistently delivers unexpected fun, features and value.

The turbo adds muscle to the likable but leisurely Verano compact sedan. With 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the Verano turbo overpowers and outclasses small competitors like the Acura ILX and TSX, Audi A3, VW Jetta GLI and Volvo C30.

Prices for the Verano turbo start at $29,105, compared with $23,080 for the base sedan.

In addition to the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Verano turbo offers a long list of standard features. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are both available for the base price.

I tested a well-equipped model with the manual gearbox, Bose audio, Bluetooth phone and audio, heated seats and steering wheel, leather upholstery and more. It stickered at $30,395. All prices exclude destination charges.

My test car lacked memory for the driver's settings, but was otherwise well-equipped.

Standard safety features include backup video, ultrasonic rear parking assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, curtain and seat-mounted air bags for front and rear passengers, and front-seat knee air bags.

The interior is attractive, roomy and comfortable. But more storage cubbies for sunglasses, iPods, phones, etc., would be welcome.

At 95 cubic feet, the Verano's passenger compartment is larger than that of any of the competitors I've named with plenty of head and legroom. The 14.0-cubic-foot trunk — it grows minimally to 14.3 without the excellent Bose speakers — has a large opening and a regular shape that allows you to use all its space. It trails only the VW Jetta GLI and Audi A3's cargo space.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine produces considerably more horsepower and torque than any of the competitors. It requires premium fuel for maximum performance, but regular is acceptable and provides plenty of power.

The availability of peak torque from just 2,000 rpm equates to strong acceleration, whether from a stoplight or passing on the highway. I experienced virtually no torque steer.

It's easy to slice quickly through the gears, thanks to the manual gearbox's precise shifter and light, easy clutch.

The Verano turbo is visually understated, with no glitzy boy-racer touches. Dual exhausts and a mild rear spoiler are the most noticeable changes from the base car.

The Verano turbo's EPA rating of 31 mpg in highway driving tops all the competitors except the Jetta GLI, which scored 33 mpg.

The electric power steering is responsive and has good feel. The suspension holds the road in quick maneuvers and fast curves. The car is stable under hard acceleration and braking, with little squat or dive.

The competition among compact luxury cars will be fast and furious this year. A new model of the Audi A3 will feature a sedan body style developed with U.S. tastes in mind. Mercedes-Benz is about to enter the fray with its sleek new A-class. Both of those cars promise plenty of power and optional all-wheel drive, which should improve handling.

Other luxury brands will join the fray, but the Buick Verano turbo has set the early standard for performance, features and value.

Mark Phelan is the auto critic for the Detroit Free Press; mmphelan@freepress.com.

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