The Cruze is Chevy’s best-selling model around the world. Since 2008, over 3.5 million examples have been sold across 75 countries. It’s the second best-selling car for American buyers under 25, and with its 2016 refresh — and a much needed five-door hatchback version for 2017 — it’s likely to become an even bigger success.
On the other hand, its platform-mate, the Buick Verano, is none of those things. On the surface, it’s a piece old school GM badge-engineering: a Cruze with a Buick grille and a nicer interior. Since 2012, Buick has sold just over 127,000 Veranos in the U.S., and as its lineup increasingly shifts to crossovers and SUVs (save for the Regal, LaCrosse, and Cascada convertible), the compact entry-level semi-luxury sedan occupies a niche that makes less and less sense to fill. The Cruze is likely on to bigger and better things; after 2016, the Buick Verano is done.
So the Cruze is soaring and the Verano is a lame duck. But is it as simple as this? Are people paying a $5K premium for a badge, or does the Buick have some merit of its own?
Tale of the tape
For 2016, Chevy has focused on trimming the fat to make its world car as appealing to as many markets as possible. It’s 2.7 inches longer and 250 pounds lighter than the late-model car. The sole powerplant is a 142-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four that can take the car from zero to 60 in a respectable 7.7 seconds, while still returning up to 42 miles per gallon on the highway.
Inside, the 2016 Cruze’s interior is bigger and feels more upscale than the ’15 model. Layered soft-touch surfaces are accented with piano black trim, and center around the 7-inch (though an 8-inch is available too) Chevrolet MyLink infotainment screen, which is compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and is available with Chevy’s 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability. With 10 standard airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, a rear-view camera, and a host of available safety and tech features, it’s possible to get a very nice car for well under $30K, which brings it into direct competition with its platform mate, the Verano.
We can’t help but feel that the Verano would’ve really benefitted from the Cruze’s improvements, but unfortunately we’ll never know. There were plenty of similarities between the old Cruze and the Buick, but the company did an admirable job differentiating the two cars, even if you had to look below the surface to see how. The Verano comes standard with a bigger 2.4-liter four, which is good for 180 horsepower, but it also is offered with a 2.0-liter turbocharged mill, which pumps out 250 horsepower and can be mated to a six-speed manual transmission, making it a baby Regal GS of sorts.
Starting at a reasonable $21K (with the turbo model starting at $28K), the Verano’s shared bones with the late-model Cruze are easy to find, but an upscale leather interior, and exterior that blends in well with the current Buick lineup make it feel a bit more substantial than a well-optioned Cruze.
The Verano was never much loved in its day, and in light of the big advancements for the Cruze, it isn’t likely that it will be terribly missed either. The car served as a respectable entry-level Buick for five years, it wasn’t bad to look at, and offered a surprisingly nice combination of luxury and tech for its price. China will see a second-generation model, and we’d love to see how Buick applies the Cruze’s important changes into its car. But in America, the sedan segment is drying up, and even though we would’ve taken the Verano over a 2015 Cruze, the Chevy has simply gotten too good to ignore.
The new Cruze is already popping up everywhere, and once the five-door hatches reach dealerships, we expect the car to grow even more popular. For a thoroughly contemporary compact model with good fuel economy, excellent safety features, and plenty of options, the Cruze is simply one of the most attractive cars in its segment. If you can get your hands on a ’16 Verano Turbo with the six-speed manual at a discount ($28K puts it dangerously close to more substantial sport sedans), we’d say do it. But if you’re looking for one of the best all around compacts, we’d have to recommend the Cruze.