Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Which Do I Like Better the 2012 Buick Verano or New York City? It's No Contest, Really

I was in New York City -- NEW YORK CITY? -- a couple of weeks ago. It's not my favorite place.

I know, I know, I should love it because it's the city that never sleeps, and there is soooo much to do there. The restaurants are wonderful, the pizza has no equal and the theater is the best in the world.

Yawn. Snore.

Here's how I see it: I live in unassuming Greenville, South Carolina and I don't have the time nor the moola to do everything I want to do in Greenville, let alone everything there is to do. Moreover, Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina, with all they have to offer, are less than 90 minutes away, or about the same amount of time it takes to negotiate 20 blocks by car in Manhattan.

It doesn't matter to me that there are several eateries and bars along every New York city block; I am going to wind up picking just one.

Besides, who the heck wants to deal with the masses of people and nose-to-tail traffic moving with all the alacrity of tree sap just because the pizza is good? Not me.

So what took me to New York? Buick invited me to a first-drive media event of its all-new Verano.

Compact in size, the Verano is a luxury sedan targeting cars such as the Lexus IS 250. It is powered by a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine that sends output to the front wheels via a driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission. It will scoot from 0-to-60 in less than 9 seconds and has a highway fuel economy rating of 31 mpg. It has 10 air bags.

Going to New York City to test drive a car is something akin to going to Phoenix to learn how to make snowballs. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Previously I had been on a couple of other car manufacturer ride and drives in NYC. The most notorious was the Chrysler launch of its three cab-forward LH sedans -- Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision -- in 1992, I think. A two- or three-day event that included driving all three sedans, it had journalists slogging around the congested streets of the city for hours. It was miserable.

Sprinkled among the hours of nerve-racking driving were stops for tours of the Concorde jet and the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier. The clever diversions didn't help.

So I wasn't excited to learn New York City would be the venue for the Verano launch. I could have attended the West Coast Verano program; it was in the Portland, Oregon area. Unfortunately I had a travel conflict.

The day I flew into LaGaurdia, it was pouring rain. Driving from the airport to the Empire Hotel took well over an hour.

As I have grown older, I have somewhat mellowed. If you can't do anything about a situation, it's far less stressful to just roll with the punches. I was doing a lot of rolling that afternoon.

My room at the Empire was nice enough. The bathroom, however, was so miniscule that when the door was open, it completely blocked the toilet. You had to enter the bathroom, crowd against the shower stall and push the door closed to use the potty. There was no counter around the sink. For a surface on which to put my bag of toilet articles, I had to close the toilet-seat lid and use it. I'm not kidding.

Sleep that night was a highly prized commodity. The racket filtering up to my fourth-floor window was relentless. Drowned out by the three-times-an-hour sirens or the beeping of a reversing garbage truck was what sounded like a slowly spinning 50-gallon drum with a half-dozen ball bearings rolling around inside. I'm assuming it was a malfunctioning air handler unit of some sort. It went on all night long.

When we went to dinner that night, we discovered what we think motivated Buick to choose NYC as the East Coast launch venue: the Kefi restaurant. Apparently, Buick has some sort of relationship with its owner/chef and decided to hold an event where Kefi could be included in the itinerary. Greek cuisine is the specialty of the house, but you couldn't prove it by my experience. I had a perfectly grilled filet mignon in a spectacular red wine sauce. Among the appetizers were the best meatballs I've ever had. These things practically melted in my mouth.

How is the new Verano? On what turned out to be a better driving route -- not great, but acceptable -- than I expected, I found the new Verano to be remarkably quiet and surprisingly athletic. Quick and surefooted, it is crammed with technology and offers a rich variety of high-tech options for its comfortable interior. With a starting price of $23,470, including destination charges, it is a value as well.

Even New York couldn't diminish my first impression of Verano.

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