2013 Buick Verano Turbo
"Verano Turbo." Sounds like a Starbucks order, doesn't it? Bark those words at a 'Bucks barista and you'll only get quizzical looks; say them to your Buick salesman and he'll give an insider's nod, then gently place his hand on your shoulder and walk you over to the chromed-out compact wearing a rear wing in the corner – the one outfitted with a 250-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged-four, three pedals, and a stick shift (gasp).
Indeed, the Turbo is sleepy old Buick's attempt to give this quiet, competent entry-level luxury sedan a caffeinated kick, with an engine that outperforms its main competitor, the 201-horse Acura TSX. After a three-day spin in the six-speed manual Verano Turbo, we'd label it a mild stimulant – one that with use, could become addictive. The main reason: The Turbo's peak torque is available in a real-world, wide swath of powerband – from 1,700 to 5,500 rpm – making the stops, starts, and sprints of city driving feel as gutsy as you want. But the Verano does subtle, too, thanks to an extensive soundproofing regime that isolates the engine and primes the cabin for whisper-level conversations.
There's plenty of tech included standard, especially for a vehicle at $30K: a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, leather-appointed seats, a heated wheel, and a nine-speaker Bose stereo. As for that exterior: We could do without all that chrome – the burnished brightwork surrounding the windows and the bordering-on-garish hexagonal grille up front are a steampunk's worst nightmare. Underneath the bling, the Verano's sharp bodywork – see the upward-sloped crease under the door sills – gives it some street presence. So if you're shopping the compact category, then put this Buick on your list. We promise you won't fall asleep. [$29,990; buick.com]