Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jonathan Yarkony
Luxury comes in many shapes and sizes these days. Some say the concept has been stretched too thin. Some say the gap between a “normal” car and a “luxury” car has closed naturally over time. Whichever way you approach it, what many consider “luxury” is now more accessible than ever.
Luxury comes in many shapes and sizes these days.
Acura, Honda’s take on an upmarket sister brand, and GM’s equivalent Buick both have offerings priced to attract new aspirational buyers and fitted with the trappings that just a few years ago were limited to rarefied luxury cars at a much higher price point.
Why is Buick listed as GM’s Acura equivalent instead of Cadillac? Like Acura with Honda, Buick shares many of its underpinnings with the base Chevy platform. And while Cadillac positions itself in the true luxury market, both Buick and Acura exist in the middle ground between basic and upscale. You can consider them a mezzanine, giving access to the luxury trappings that mean the most without the lofty price point.
The ILX and Verano are also both on the small side of mid-size, both have “sporty” intentions, and are priced within a few hundred dollars of $36,000 for their respective top trims.
Walking up to these two in the carpark it’s the Acura that makes the most impact. Its sharp lines, lower bonnet, roof, and trunk height and narrow headlights focus your attention, as do the intricate 18-inch alloys. Those are standard on the A-Spec trim we have here. The bulbous Buick looks taller, bulkier and plainer than the Acura, with less detail and flatter panels giving it a dated appearance. This might have a little to do with the fact the ILX is freshly updated, and the Buick was last redesigned in 2012.
Inside, the Acura keeps up appearances with quality materials and a more engaging dashboard layout. The gaudy silver plastic that dominates the centre stack of the Buick is shown up here, and the cloth inserts in the leather seats of the ILX are well enough executed to enhance, rather than detract from the sensation of quality. The thin leather of the Buick’s steering wheel is no match for the stitched leather on the ILX’s – though I do prefer the more elegant simplicity of the Verano tiller to the button-explosion that Acura littered the ILX wheel with.
Round One: Acura.
Both the Acura ILX and the Buick Verano come standard with a 2.4L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. The one in the Acura ILX is good for 201 hp at 6,800 rpm and 180 lb-ft at 3,600; the one in the Buick is good for 180 hp at 6,700 rpm and 171 lb-ft at 4,900 – so in standard guise, the ILX wins. Here though, as always, there’s a catch. This Buick has a little red “T” next to the Verano badge on the bootlid, and that means we’ve got the $2,890 Premium Equipment Group upgrade. Its centrepiece? A 2.0L turbo shuffling 250 hp at 5,300 rpm and 260 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm into what is now a very stacked deck.
So Buick has snuck a trick engine into this little battle without blowing the budget – the Verano is still within $100 of the ILX. The result was an engine that was smoother, punchier, more engaging and just plain better than the Acura’s. Sure, the ILX has a nifty automated manual DCT with a torque converter added to it for smoothness, but with such a difference in engine performance and refinement the Buick’s six-speed automatic is more than enough to keep us happy. Traditionalists would perhaps gravitate to the ILX’s fine manual transmission, but it is sadly no longer available.
The Buick moved effortlessly from the line, accelerating with a quiet confidence that the energetic and rev-happy Acura couldn’t beat.
Buick lost ground a little at the fuel pump, where an EPA rating of 11.2/7.8/9.8 L/100 km city/highway/combined made it a solid 20 percent thirstier than the Acura at 9.4/6.5/8.1. Our observed ratings on the day were 11.9 for the Buick and 9.6 L/100 km for the Acura. Ouch.
The low-down grunt of the Buick made for a less stressful driving experience with less engine noise, less vibration and more instant “go” when called for.
Round Two: Buick
Fingertips and Backsides
Okay, so the Buick packs a far bigger punch, but the Acura looks sharp and is resplendent with lots of “Hey, I’m sporty” details – Acura gave this one an “A-Spec” badge to highlight its performance potential. So does that mean the Acura is the better driver?
Well, kind of. It depends.
There is no question that the Acura feels better through the wheel and the brake pedal. Its speed-sensitive steering has a nice balance of weight and allows the tires to communicate with the driver’s hands. Even the brake pedal is firmer and more convincing than that of the Buick. And yet, pushed hard the Verano is not that much less balanced than the ILX mid-corner, holding its line well.
The Acura with its larger gap between front and rear track and more sport-oriented geometry is happier to turn in, however, changing direction crisply. Taking the Acura through a turn is a more rewarding experience and the slightly lighter chassis (1,424 kg vs 1,497) is more playful.
Yet the victory Acura claims in terms of handling and driving feel is eclipsed comprehensively by the Verano’s manners in every other aspect of road holding.
Over bumps the Verano is smoother and with less suspension noise. The ILX vibrates loud thuds through the cabin over even moderate corrugations. The ILX also lets in more wind noise.
And while old GM products were soft to the point of floaty, the Verano is smooth. It feels like a larger car than it is thanks to its composure and ride quality.
If you like comfort, the Buick is your answer, if you really want the best steering feel and agility, it’s the Acura.
Round Three: A draw.
The Buick Verano is comfortable up in the front row, with good seats and plenty of space for driver and passenger. A higher roofline here helps make things feel more spacious. In the back though, the Verano feels cramped and squishy alongside the Acura. The seatbacks in the rear also feel awkward and uncomfortable. The middle seat in the Buick is downright unusable with a high floor hump robbing footspace, narrow seat and hard seatback.
The ILX front seats are a little less supportive and squishy than the Verano, but the back allows a lot more room for passengers, and an actual middle seat human beings could use. The outboard seats are supportive and comfortable and leg room is far more generous.
Behind the seats, the Verano’s 396 L trunk trumps the 348 of the ILX immediately. The fight only gets more uneven when you notice the Buick’s 60/40 split fold rear seat and cavernous opening between the trunk and passenger compartment which can be used to dramatically expand your load-carrying ability.
The ILX has no split fold, and the pass-through is comparatively tiny thanks to a lot of body bracing between the trunk and the back seat.
Round Four: Buick.
Gizmos and Gadgets
At first glance, Acura is the winner here. Two large screens in the dash and adaptive cruise control jump out immediately and signal the Acura’s intention to take it to Buick in terms of feature content. Add the litany of AcuraWatch safety features including Collision Mitigation Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, and most impressively - Road Departure Mitigation. Road departure mitigation works by reading the edge of the road, and braking and steering to prevent you crashing off the edge of a cliff or into a tree.
But Buick has some tricks of its own. Sure, the cruise control is the normal, non-radar version but you still get all the passive systems like Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. The big feather in Buick’s cap? GM’s 4G LTE wireless connection in every car, which turns the Verano into a mobile wifi hotspot. And sure Acura has AcuraLink, but it’s no match for OnStar.
When it comes to features then, this is an even match and your preference for connectivity or active driving aids will steer your decision.
Except the Acura infotainment and entertainment system is clunky, ugly and horrible to use out on the road. It is slow to respond, unintuitive and has Windows 3.1-inspired aesthetics.
Buick Intellilink is a little convoluted due to the depth of features in it, but is far easier to use than Acura’s system, which requires multiple presses of a touchscreen just to tune a new SiriusXM station.
Round Five: Buick
When we first set up this comparison test I was convinced I already knew who the winner would be. Having enjoyed the car on my ILX First Drive, and being so much more impressed with its styling compared to the aging Verano I thought the Acura ILX was a shoe-in for this one.
I was wrong.
If the mission is an affordable entry point to “luxury”, then the Buick performs the mission better. More refined ride quality, a quieter, more peaceful cabin and greater usable space and versatility mean the Buick delivers more for the money – and that’s before you throw in the hot-rod 2.0T engine.
And while the Acura ILX will better fill the sporty intentions with its handling and agility, the Buick’s powerplant takes back a large chunk of that advantage.
So for those reasons the Buick Verano pulls off a surprising victory here.
|2016 Acura ILX A-Spec Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance
|2015 Buick Verano Sedan Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/160,000 km corrosion perforation; 6 years/160,000 km roadside assistance; 2 years/40,000 km maintenance; 6 years/110,000 km courtesy transportation
|Optional Equipment||None||Premium Equipment Group (2.0L turbo, rear spoiler, dual exhaust, sport pedal kit) - $2,890, Experience Buick Package (audio system with navigation system, sunroof) - $1,895, 18-inch ten-spoke aluminum wheels - $525, chrome grille and trim - $445|
|Price as Tested||$36,985||$37,050|