Buick Verano & Volkswagen Passat
Starting price: about $23,000
What is a Verano anyhow? In short it’s the new compact Buick sedan. The vehicle is so current and modern that if they took the badging off the car, most people would never realize that it was a Buick.
For clarity, I think that Buicks are fine cars and have been for a long time. The task for Buick however is to overcoming the notion that Buicks are cars that only grandparents drive. Vehicles like the Verano will help the public view the brand differently.
With the rise in gas prices and governmental mandates for higher fuel economy, auto manufacturers have pivoted toward smaller more fuel efficient vehicles. Buyers still want their luxury accoutrements so upscale small cars are appearing everywhere. The Verano is Buick’s entry into the premium compact sedan market.
For comparison it is about the same size as a BMW 3 series or the Lexus IS compact sedan. It’s equipped with a 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine, a 6 speed automatic transmission and a front wheel drive powertrain. It has good power and drives very nicely but its 21/32 mpg economy rating though good, is not class leading. GM will be introducing a totally new 2.5 liter engine that promises a hike in efficiency. A performance 2.0 turbocharged engine may also be offered soon which would give the vehicle a big power boost.
Buick describes the car’s styling as a “sculpted design”…it’s a very fine looking car. Its clever lines make it appear larger and more expensive than it really is. The interior similarly has a premium look and feel. The quality of the materials, the fit and finish, and the seating comfort all get high grades. It has a very rich look and even the imitation wood grain is executed with taste.
Buick engineers have spent a lot of time on noise reduction in order to have a “library-quiet” passenger cabin. They have gone so far as to use hydraulic ride bushings, five layers of acoustic fiber in the headliner, sound insulation materials between body panels and even the tires and wheels were optimized for quiet running.
Safety has not been overlooked in the Verano. A strong body structure, all the current safety systems plus 10 standard air bags keep occupants safe.
Further, Buick has filled the vehicle with purposeful technology. This includes touch screen navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice command, text-to-speech conversion of SMS text messages, Pandora and Stitcher to name a few. All of this plus the Bose audio system helps convince occupants that they really can have an upscale vehicle driving experience in a compact car. The fact that the Verano looks good, has attractive pricing and good fuel economy makes it even more compelling.
Starting price: about $19,900
The new Passat is made in VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Passat’s new design delivers a vehicle that has a strong, substantial and classic VW look. It’s a car with presence and is not encumbered with gaudy, flowery lines. Still, the simplicity of the vehicle and its straight- forward approach is most appealing and confidence inspiring.
The interior is also an exercise in simplicity. All the upscale features are present, but they seem happy to provide access via small unobtrusive dials and switches. This minimalist look wears well on the new Passat. It also accentuates the expansive dimensions of the interior. The rear seats have near limousine proportions and a trunk to match.
One of the signature features of the new Passat is the Fender audio system. Fender of course refers to the guitar company and not the automotive body part. This premium 10 speaker audio system cranks out 400 watts of power and truly is exceptional.
Though the vehicle is substantial, it somehow manages to maintain its lithe supple road manners and responsiveness. Part of the joy of owning a VW is how it drives and handles. The Passat still delivers on that expectation.
The standard engine in the Passat is the 2.5 liter 5 cylinder. There is also a powerful 3.6 liter V6 but my personal favorite is the 2.0 liter TDI turbo diesel. This highly efficient engine is hands-down the most successful automotive diesel ever sold in North America. It is combined with the high tech DSG transmission. DSG is a dual clutch 6 speed manual transmission with automatic shifting.
The result of this combination is a very pleasing driving experience and astounding fuel economy. Though the EPA rating is 30 city and 40 highway, in reality I would routinely get an indicated 50 miles per gallon or better on freeway cruises! Once you get the Passat TDI to a cruising speed, it takes very little energy to maintain that speed. That gives a range approaching 800 miles on a single tank of fuel! That’s a drive from Houston to Dallas, to Austin, to San Antonio and back to Houston with no fill ups.
Hybrid vehicles are very efficient in the city with lots of stop and start driving which maximizes the electric component of the drive. Diesels are most efficient at highway cruising and can deliver amazing fuel efficiency in that setting.
Volkswagen now includes “Carefree Maintenance” on new Passats which is free scheduled maintenance and service on the car for 3 years or 36,000 miles.
My test vehicle was a nicely equipped SE model with the TDI turbo diesel engine and the sticker price was a very reasonable $27,895.
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