Answering The $30,000 Entry-Level Luxury Question
Twenty years ago, a comparison between an entry-level Buick and Acura would have matched a Skylark against an Integra.
Twenty years ago, a comparison between an entry-level Buick and its Acura equivalent would have matched a Skylark against an Integra. The unfair battle would have resulted in the compact American's defeat in nearly every measurable category, as the Japanese competitor was arguably at the height of its powers.
Yet the automotive industry has flipped, twisted and merged itself through more than just a recession over the past two decades – it's morphed into a whole different ballgame. Pitting a Buick against an Acura makes perfect sense today, as both automakers are peddling new entry-level models designed to scoop up buyers seeking premium features, luxury appointments and fuel efficiency in a reasonably priced compact sedan package.
Today's battle is between the Verano and the ILX. Instead of wringing out the base models and setting ourselves up for a day-long yawnfest, we chose the most powerful and dynamic variants of each, configuring them with six-speed manual transmissions to liven the pace. This unquestionably made our behind-the-wheel excursion more interesting, but we soon realized that our enthusiast-oriented decision would introduce a whole new set of headaches.
The Buick Verano was launched at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show as a new-for-2012 model. Although it shares Delta II platforms with the Chevrolet Cruze and Opel Astra, General Motors has gone the extra mile, giving the more premium Verano its own unique styling inside and out, and it's fitted the four-door sedan with laminated glass, triple door seals and a long list of other sound-deadening upgrades to separate it from its lesser sibling. Buick calls the cabin "library quiet," and its interior features an appointment level on par with its larger LaCrosse sibling.
Both the Buick and Acura are built in the United States.
The Acura ILX was launched at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show as a new-for-2013 model. The four-door sedan shares platforms with the Honda Civic, but the automaker resculpted its panels to change its proportions and imbued it with a more befitting interior complete with upscale switchgear. Signature Acura touches such as the dual arched instrument panel and a red push-button starter to the right of the steering wheel complete the transformation.
Both the Buick and Acura are built in the United States (the Verano in Orion Township, Michigan, and the ILX in Greenburg, Indiana), and each is offered in several trims with a choice of engines. While the base models of each start in the mid-$20,000 range, we chose to compare the range-topping trims, as they are similarly equipped and very closely matched in overall performance.
Our 2013 ILX, a six-speed manual with the Premium package trim, arrived painted in Silver Moon over ebony leather carrying an as-tested price of $30,095. The only addendum to its $29,200 MSRP was the mandatory destination fee of $895. Standard equipment includes full power accessories, an eight-way power-operated driver's seat, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth and a 350-watt premium audio system. Navigation, conspicuously missing from our ILX, is not offered on this particular model (yet).
Navigation, conspicuously missing from our ILX, is not offered on this particular model.
Under the Acura's hood lies a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 201 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 170 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The transverse-mounted engine, basically shared with the Honda Civic Si and Acura TSX, sends its power through a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels and earns an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The suspension is an independent MacPherson strut design up front with a multi-link setup in the rear. There are disc brakes at all corners and its 17-inch alloys are wrapped in 215/45R17 Michelin HX MXM4 all-season grand touring rubber.
Our 2013 Verano, a six-speed manual in Premium trim, was painted in Luxo Blue Metallic over Choccachino (honest) premium leather and carried an as-tested price of $31,695. The base price ($29,105) was bumped up with the addition of a power sunroof ($900), satellite radio with navigation ($795) and a mandatory destination fee ($895). Standard equipment includes full power accessories, six-way power-operated driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, Bose premium audio and navigation bundled with Buick Intellilink connectivity.
Nestled under the hood of the Buick is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 250 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. The transverse-mounted engine, shared with the Buick Regal GS, sends its power through a six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels to earn an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The suspension is independent with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam augmented by a Watts Z-link in the rear. There are disc brakes at all corners and its 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in 235/45R18 Continental ContiProContact all-season grand touring rubber.
Both are within an inch of each other in wheelbase, but the Verano is about four inches longer.
Parked side-by-side, the Buick Verano is wider, taller and longer than the Acura, but only marginally. A tape measure reveals that both are within an inch of each other in wheelbase (105.7 inches to 105.1), but the Verano is about four inches longer overall (183.9 inches vs. 179.1). Place each on a scale, and the Buick is the heavier of the pair with a curb weight of 3,300 pounds (compared to the ILX curb weight of 2,978 pounds), That said, both carry about 61 percent of their weight over the front wheels – typical for a front-drive car.
To compare the Verano against the ILX, I teamed up with Translogic contributor Kyle Thibaut and Autoblog photographer extraordinaire Drew Phillips and headed out on a nice day trip that would bring our near-lux sedans from sea level up to Southern California's snow line (about 5,000 feet elevation this time of year) and back down. The route offered plenty of urban driving, wide-open mountain canyon roads and mundane freeway travel. After loading the center consoles with Red Bull, Swedish Fish and beef jerky, we filled each tank with fuel and began our comparison.
Read the rest of the comparison at