We’ve just gotten a close up look at Buick’s new compact car, and can share the following earth shattering news: it’s quiet.
“Our target was the LaCrosse and Enclave in terms of quietness. It’s about being quiet, smooth, and premium,” says Verano engineer Matt Purdy.
Though the intense focus on silence certainly sounds familiar, it in fact represents something of a return to form for Buick, which has recently trumpeted European performance with the Regal and touted fuel economy with its eAssist mild hybrid technology. The Verano, despite being a compact car related to the European Opel Astra, will be a Buick in a more traditional sense.
“Its center of gravity is luxury,” says Tony DiSalle, Buick’s U.S. vice president of marketing.
The noise reduction effort is more than just hype. Verano engineers started with GM’s global compact platform – the floor pan and basic suspension layout is the same as that of the Chevrolet Cruze – and then sought nothing less than “the elimination of noise from external and internal sources.” The front MacPherson struts have dual-rate dampers to soften impacts. The body structure, based most closely on the Astra, went through further analysis to reduce creaks and rattles. The standard eighteen-inch wheels are heavier than those on the Cruze and wear tires designed to produce less road noise. Baffles in the intake dull the growl of the direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Aerodynamic underbody panels first employed on the Cruze Eco show up here to reduce wind noise. Any noise that escapes these preventative methods must then get through a multi-layer defense of insulation – acoustic lamination for the windshield and front doors, thick mats on both sides of the fire wall, sprayed on sound-deadening foam, and last but not least, “muckets” – GM engineering lingo for rubber plugs. One might think the Volt, also built on this platform, would offer a wealth of sound deadening know-how, but Purdy notes that most of the noises the Volt team had to worry about are of a higher frequency, and thus require different countermeasures.
All this shushing comes at a price. Small car lead engineer Jim Federico says GM has become much more efficient at “quiet tuning” but concedes the measures still add perhaps a hundred pounds over to the 3100-pound Cruze, with other engineers estimating the total curb weight around 3400 pounds. With its larger 180 hp four-cylinder, it will achieve poorer fuel economy – around 22/31 city/highway compared to 26/38 mpg in the 1.4-liter Cruze. The quiet luxury positioning also squashes enthusiasts’ hopes of another American Astra (many GM people shudder at the suggestion of repeating that disastrous experiment). Even the sportier, 2.0-liter turbocharged version “will not be rock hard.” Still, Buick does have its eyes on a particular set of German car enthusiasts: disaffected Jetta owners.
“The old uplevel Jetta sort of owned that market. The new Jetta went toward [the Chevrolet Cruze]. We looked at that as they left us a little hole,” says Federico.
We were able to sit in some Veranos to hear how it handles real-world noise – Buick even brought a leaf blower out to Milford Proving Grounds to enhance the experience. It is indeed a quiet car. As in the LaCrosse, Buick has done a good job filtering out the diesel-like ticking typical to direct-injection engines. Of course, as any old Jetta (or current Golf) owner can tell you, subjective design details matter as much as what the engineers term “critical wins” in areas like quietness. Judging by the preproduction cabins we saw (some of the grains and finishes are not yet final) Buick has come a long way in this regard. The carpet is plush and expensive looking; the woven headliner tucks up at the windshield rather than ending in a crude cut; the optional full leather seats boast contrasting stitching and thick, comfortable bolsters. However, some of the upper dash graining, which we were told was close to production quality, looked cheaper than it felt, and the button-intensive center stack looks old, even though it’s accompanied by a seven-inch color touch screen. The inner door pulls could also feel more solid, a peccadillo we’ve noticed on several GM vehicles.
The Verano goes on sale by the end of this year. We’ll have our driving impressions for you before then. Stay tuned.