Can a car still offer a luxurious driving experience without being big, heavy and expensive? We find two vehicles that fit the description, available for just under $30,000, which give you a premium driving experience, without the extra pretentiousness of a big luxury car.
Practically defining a new market segment, the Acura ILX and Buick Verano are small cars, but manage to be full of luxury goodies and technology. Both cars borrow platforms from less premium compacts: the Honda Civic underpins the Acura ILX, while the Chevrolet Cruze provides the basis for the Buick Verano. That said, are these two just dressed up economy cars? And if not, which is the better buy?
When it comes to driving dynamics, the two cars feel better than their less premium siblings. For those looking for a sportier, engaging drive, the ILX is the better option. The Acura’s 2.0-liter engine is down 32 horsepower to the Buick’s 2.4L 182 hp engine, but the ILX manages to feel responsive and rev-happy – due in part to it weighing several hundred pounds less.
The Acura does, however, have one less gear to use, with a rather out-dated 5-speed automatic. Still, the Honda unit is smooth and responsive. While both cars feature a manual mode for do-it-yourself shifting, the Acura has a pair of quick-thinking paddle-shifters to make driving more engaging.
Despite being short a gear, the ILX’s smaller engine proves more fuel efficient. On paper the ILX gets 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, compared to the Verano’s 21/32 rating. That holds true in our real world testing with the Acura returning 29 mpg compared to 26 mpg in the Buick.
It’s also worth noting that Acura recommends premium fuel for its vehicles (though its not required), while Buick says regular is just fine on the Verano. The difference in cost between the two gas types is certain to negate most of the fuel savings between the two cars.
While the ILX features a sporty, more engaging drive, the Verano manages to keep drivers comfortable, though somewhat distant from the act of driving. The Verano masks its economy car roots with light, over-boosted steering and floaty suspension. This makes the Verano ideal for drivers who prefer to glide gracefully down the highway.[vs-comparsion-table]
Additionally, thanks to some keen engineering, the Verano is much quieter when driving, even at highway speeds, or when passing. While the ILX certainly isn’t bad, compared to the Buick and its boast of being the quietest compact car on the market, the outside world doesn’t feel as outside as it should.
Overall, the two cars are completely contrasting in the way they drive. The Acura doesn’t forget its Civic siblings, and while softer than the less premium compact, is still stiff and sporty compared to the Buick. On the other hand, those looking for a more leisurely daily driver should look to the Verano, which proves to be the more comfortable car.
With soft suspension, light steering and more power, the Buick certainly acts like a luxury car, and inside it’s no different. While some switches and buttons can be traced back to the Chevy Cruze, the atmosphere inside the Buick is upscale. Our tester features the Leather package, which bumps the price to $27,650 and adds heated leather seats as well as a leather shift knob and steering wheel (also heated), plus other high-tech goodies like blind-spot monitoring, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a 9-speaker premium audio system and rear park assist.
The Buick feels like a luxury car on the inside, with a stunning, almost overwhelming amount of technology. Even the standard Verano, which starts at $23,475, has an abundance of features like a standard rear-view camera, remote start and fog lights, making the Buick the better value of these two premium compacts.
In the Acura, things aren’t as bright. While the ILX features black leather seats and dash, the materials just aren’t up to luxury standards, with cheap feeling plastics found around the cabin. Despite the added Technology and Premium packages, which brought the ILX’s price tag up $5,500 to $31,400, it seems low-tech and basic compared to the Buick. Missing features like a heated steering wheel, or blind-spot assist, along with the less than stellar interior quality and extra price make the more expensive ILX a harder purchase to justify,even with standards like keyless access and push-button which are extras on the Verano.
Inside, the two cars have very similar interior dimensions up front. Back seat passengers get at least one more inch of head and leg room in the Buick. The Verano also has a larger trunk, with 14.3 cubic-feet of trunk space, while the ILX has just 12.3. With its 4-inch smaller length and nearly 300 lbs. lighter curb-weight, the ILX is certainly smaller. Thankfully it feels that much more nimble too.
Both cars hardly look like cheap compacts, with chrome accents, big alloy wheels and impressive designs. The Verano’s use of chrome is a little excessive, and those vents in the hood are disappointingly non-functional – if not terribly out-dated. The Buick also has a strange blue halo around the head-lights which is a unique design cue, and makes the Verano stand out.
The Acura looks a bit snappier, and clean-cut. There’s less chrome, and the Acura grille looks at home on the smallest member of the family. Furthermore, at first sight, the ILX looks nearly identical to the more premium, and desirable Acura sedans, like the TL. In comparison, the Verano makes you think of other less exciting Buick vehicles like the LaCrosse and Regal.
Luxury cars need to look premium, act premium and be loaded with premium features. With the Acura ILX you get about two out of three, and end up paying more for it. The Buick Verano turns up to provide extra features, additional comfort and feels like a solid luxury car while driving down the road. Pair those elements with the Buick’s low starting point, and the Verano can transport almost any driver in a level of luxury that far exceeds that of other compact cars.
2013 Buick Verano
2013 Acura ILX