Driving

The front-wheel-drive Verano gets a larger four-cylinder than the Cruze. It's normally aspirated, as opposed to the Cruze's available turbocharged four-cylinder, but it makes for smooth starts and enough passing power. The standard six-speed automatic kicks down readily on the highway, arriving at the right gear with little hunting. It's a decent cornering partner, too, downshifting readily to get you back up to speed. Armed with the right gear at the right time, the Verano makes the most of its 180 horsepower. GM hasn't had the most responsive six-speed automatics, and it's good to see the latest generation — installed across many of its 2012 models — improve on that. Should you want more power, hold your horses: GM will offer a turbocharged four-cylinder down the road.

The Verano will need more than a power bump to be fun, though. The linear brakes and sharp steering show promise, but throw the Verano into a corner and its nose-heavy balance and precipitous body roll will have you dialing back the antics. Most Verano drivers will keep to straight-line stop-and-go, I suspect, where the car fares better. The front-drive TSX feels similarly mushy at the limits. Driving enthusiasts should look elsewhere.

The Verano rides as well as the Cruze — no slouch itself. The suspension reduces expansion joints and potholes to distant clunks, and it isolates the cabin well on the highway. EPA gas mileage with the four-cylinder is a modest 21/32 mpg city/highway, but the Verano runs on regular unleaded. So do comparable compacts — most of which beat the Verano by a few mpg — but luxury cars like the TSX and IS want premium and lose a few mpg, too.

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