When I posted a picture of Buick's newest entry in its lineup on social media, I was kind of surprised by the outpouring of dislike that I got from my followers on Facebook and Twitter. Especially considering the fact that Chicago is the second largest market for Encore and that J.D. Power has given the compact SUV high marks in performance and initial quality.
So, was the sentiment warranted? No. Ish.
I first drove the Encore in a quick 10-minute loop at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. And, I have to admit, my first impression was of extreme OK-ness. I didn't think the Encore was awful, but neither did I think it was awesome. It was, quite simply, fine.
During my weeklong test with the Encore, the needle moved off fine toward good, but it's still a long way from awesome.
The biggest sticking point for me? It somehow just doesn't seem like a Buick. It could have been the plastic bits on the exterior. Or the ride and handling that was a bit rough. Or, maybe, it was the engine power that was a little less than spirited. But at the end of the day, I almost think the Encore would have made a better Chevrolet than a Buick.
In fact, once I stopped thinking of the Encore as a Buick and started looking at it on its own, I actually liked it a lot more.
The true compact utility segment is actually kind of small, and you see entries from the likes of Kia, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen, but luxury brands typically start a little bit bigger. Base price for the Encore is $24,950, which is pretty competitive for its size and packaging. Nissan Rogue has a base price of $20,310, Ford Escape has a base price $22,700, and VW Tiguan has a base price of $22,995. And none of those brands are considered luxury. If you do want to look at a lux brands, I'll point to the Infiniti EX, which starts at $36,900 but has leather standard. On the Encore, if you go top of the line and add every possible random accessory and option, you won't top $33K.
So, what I really like about the Encore is the ability to build in as much or as little as you want. At a basic level, you get Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, SiriusXM radio with a 3-month trial, steering wheel audio controls, OnStar with a 6-month trial and backup camera. If you go to the top-of-the-line Premium model ($28,940), you'll get standard features such as a heated steering wheel, Bose premium audio system, memory seats, front and rear park assist, lane departure warning, heated front seats and leather seating surfaces. Plus, you can also choose between front-wheel and all-wheel drive.
The test vehicle was in the "Leather Group" trim ($27,460), which falls just below Premium, and had everything I could possibly want on a vehicle - including the heated steering wheel and heated front seats. It didn't have the front and rear park assist or the lane departure warning, but I didn't miss them. It added a few options, including power sunroof ($800), navigation ($795) and premium audio ($595) and had an as-tested price of $30,600.
As a compact SUV, the Encore had decent handling and a nice turning radius, which makes it a phenomenal city trawler. It was easy to park and easy to drive, and it holds all of the stuff I'd want to carry with me on a daily basis. I did have to transport a set a golf clubs during the test week, and while the rear cargo area fit the bag and most of the clubs when positioned diagonally, I did have to drop one of the rear-folding seats to accommodate the driver.
The exterior of the Encore is cute. I don't know how else to put it. It's got a snub nose and the Buick sweeping lines. But rather than being elegant, it's, well, cute. It could have something to do with the plastic cladding in a couple places, but the compact size itself just lends itself to cute. Which is better than what one of my twitter followers said when they called it a Suzuki SX4 look-alike. Yikes. I don't agree with that at all.
The Encore comes equipped with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which I have to admit was adequate but not quite peppy. It delivers 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. In comparison, think about the fact that the compact Buick Verano sedan, equipped with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine delivers 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.
One of the upsides of the smaller engine, however, is fuel economy. EPA estimates 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. I averaged in the high 20s with combined, but mostly highway driving. I think that's pretty decent for an SUV of any kind.
The driver's seat of the Encore was both comfortable and uncomfortable for a petite driver. I liked the seat itself. It had good lumbar support and was relatively neutral in terms of bolstering and cushion length. I did, however, feel like I sat a little too close to the steering wheel. And even though I was in a far-forward position, there was still some travel left for the seat to move forward. I wish the telescoping steering wheel started a little closer to the dash.
I liked the interior appointments, and if you're familiar with General Motors products, you're not in for any surprises with the gadgets and gauges.
My new favorite feature on a vehicle is the rear cross-traffic alert. People in Chicago are very aggressive drivers, and this can be disastrous in a parking lot. That's where the cross-traffic alert comes in. When you're backing out of a parking spot, and you can't quite see around the behemoth parked next to you, the rear camera can. And it alerts you to those aggressive drivers who don't see (or don't care) about your reverse lights. While this isn't an option on the base Encore, it comes standard one level up at the Convenience trim.
Overall, I liked the Encore. It was a great city car, and it drove how I needed it to drive and hauled what I needed it to haul. It was comfortable and had a decent ride. But as I said in the beginning of this review, it somehow didn't fit with what I think of as a Buick. So, I can kind of see where my social media followers are coming from. But I also think they were being a bit hard on the Encore.