First impressions are critical – emotional appeal is what moves most cars out of the showroom – so after a brief orientation, we parked the two compact luxury sedans side-by-side and took a good look at each.
Between the two, it was the Verano's design that stole all of the attention. The sedan has a fresh, upscale and purposeful design that we felt definitely projected a more premium vibe. Phillips: "At first blush, the Buick really stands out to me as an attractive car, in part due to the blue paint and the beautiful brown leather interior. I know Buick has made an effort to build a car for a younger demographic, and in this car, they've succeeded." Yet there was some dissent. Thibault called out GM's platform sharing immediately: "It's clearly a Chevrolet Cruze... and I'm not sure if Buick's design language does enough to attract younger buyers, especially with those rear chrome eyebrows." We all felt that the Verano's "Angry Bird" rear lights were a bit distracting, and we also found it odd that GM declined to spill the beans on our tester's turbocharged powerplant. "There should be visual differentiators like wheels and fascia, and performance indicators like a lower sport suspension and brakes," said Thibault. "The only indicator is a little red 'T' badge on the trunklid."
The Acura ILX isn't a bad-looking sedan either, but its bland overall design means it has an even more difficult time removing itself from its Honda roots. "Looks a lot like the Civic," said Thibault before peering inside. "The styling appears to reflect a 'make it work' attitude and the interior design borrows from Acura's design language, but in a more minimal way," he added. Upon closer inspection, all of us agreed that the fit and finish were below what we expected from a premium brand. Everything from the inexpensive appearing headlight assembly to the unsubstantial sound of the doors closing reminded us more of a Honda.Buick also took top mentions for interior appointments, build quality and comfort with its warm and inviting cabin. "The interior is at the level of a luxury sedan, just smaller," said Thibault in a subtle reference to its bigger LaCrosse sibling. We likewise expected premium materials in the ILX, especially as Acura is better established as a premium marque, but the small sedan let us down. Its interior wasn't even as nice as the emergency-refresh 2013 Civic. "I've seen better leather on a Kia," blasted Thibault. Rumor has it that Acura will be making a few Civic-like upgrades to the ILX in the near future, and it can't come soon enough.Buick's hot little turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine emerged as a workhorse, pulling the Verano strongly up each of the mountains. "Lots of power once the turbo kicks in," said Kyle over the radio, verbally expressing what each of us had been thinking the whole time. But a good engine is nothing without a competent transmission, and that's exactly where the Buick fell on its face. Its sloppy six-speed gearbox soon attracted a storm of complaints: "The manual transmission seems like an afterthought in the Verano Turbo, feeling vague and uncommunicative. In fact, the gearing of the six-speed transmission feels far too high, often leaving the turbo-four out of its powerband," said a frustrated Phillips. When the engine was spun to redline, the fuel flow was abruptly cut resulting in an immediate loss of power. This annoyed all of us, but it particularly chafed Thibault: "The very aggressive rev limiter is incredibly annoying. This frustrating and awkward manual transmission is the reason people don't buy manuals anymore – why even offer a stick shift if it's going to be this bad?"
The engine in the Acura, an automaker long known for its wonderful naturally aspirated four-cylinder mills, screamed effortlessly all the way to its soft redline with each throw of its short-shift lever. Power was obviously down compared to the Buick, but the shorter gearing and more precise shifter action in the ILX made it the favorite in the mountains. "Great Honda engine note all the way past 7,200 rpm... and the manual transmission is fun – clutch and shifter are robust and offer quick shifts." More test notes: "The ILX sounds like a racecar for the street. While it may not be the most pleasant thing to listen to on the freeway as it hovers above 3,000 rpm, it's an addictive noise when you're engaged in spirited driving."After the first stop, halfway up the mountain, everyone fought over the keys to the Acura. It didn't seem to have the power or even the lateral grip of the Buick, but it was much more communicative in terms of steering, chassis and throttle response. "The ILX is undoubtedly the better car to throw around on a canyon road," said Phillips matter-of-factly. "Not that many buyers will purchase it for this type of mission, but the car is certainly capable of an entertaining Sunday drive." The steering on the Buick felt artificial and vague, and its superior cabin isolation was discomforting when pushed hard, as the drive felt disconnected from the pavement. Said Thibaut succinctly: "I can't communicate with the road in the Verano."
A similar lack of engagement was found with the Buick's manual gearbox, as it seemed out of place. The Verano's clutch pedal felt disconnected, and its shifter sloppy. Some of us complained about missing shifts. The Acura, on the other hand, was nearly perfect with a smooth clutch and tactile lever action. "The ILX's shifter is its saving grace, allowing for gear changes that are both accurate and lightning fast with a flick of the wrist," said Drew. Everybody agreed.
I want to like GM on more occasions but too often their products are half-baked.
The only consistent efforts they produce are the Corvette, Silverado, and recent CTS/ATS.
I think they still have too many manufacturers and not enough focus/organization. When committed, they are capable of great efforts. Too often though they don't create a complete package, IMO.
They should develp products with a mission instead of trying to be all things to all people. The Verano has a great engine, why neuter it with a fuel efficient transmission? That's what the other Verano models are for.
2012 Mustang GT (current)
2008 Honda Civic Si (wife's)
2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII (sold)
2001 VW Golf 1.8T (sold)
"She's workin' at the pyramid tonight..."
'08 BMW 335i Sedan
Interesting that the ILX is a legitimately fun drive. Maybe someone could go as far as calling it a four door modern RSX.
The Verano is sort of ... a spork. A really nice spork made of nicely burnished steel with engraved floral pattern. However, it can't deliver as much pasta as a fork, or as much soup as a spoon. But it is nice at least.
The Verano is outselling the ILX 3 to 1 so I guess it works.
Shenandoah hot lap 1:46.92: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmYq3mBbwPg
The Buick doesn't seem that much nicer than the Cruze to me. The plastics are nicer in spots, but the Cruze already feels so robust and well screwed together I didn't find the difference as great as the Civic/ILX. I also think the Cruze looks nicer on the outside. In black especially a loaded Cruze looks sportier than overly chrome laden Buick.
19-- Willys Jeep * 1989 Cadillac STS * 1991 Ford Escort GT * 1995 Dodge Neon Sport * 1997 Honda Civic EX * 1997 BMW 528i * 1998 Honda CR-V EX * 1999 Acura 3.2 TL * 2000 VW Golf GLS 1.8T * 2001 Land Rover Range Rover 4.6 SE * 2002 VW Passat GLS 1.8T * 2002 Honda Civic EX * 2006 Lexus GS430 * 2006 Honda Pilot EX-L * 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS * 2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 * 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX * 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE * 2013 Honda Accord Sport
Both brands service the same segment/class at the same price range, so it's not like one is using CF or exotic materials. Given everything else is equal the reason for the louder Honda is likely due to LESS INSULATION. It affords them less mass, too, I bet (I haven't checked curb weights.).