The Buick Encore is a compact crossover that competes with vehicles like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX200t, MINI Countryman. Available only as a 4-door wagon, Encore shares engines and chassis with the Chevrolet Trax and seats five on front buckets and a 3-place rear bench seat.
Encore was introduced for the 2013 model year and carries on with only minor upgrades for 2016. Changes include a more powerful engine for a new trim level, new exterior colors and a revised 18-inch wheel option. Five trim levels are offered: Base, Convenience, the new Sport Touring, Leather and Premium. Base prices range from $24,990 to $30,710.
Standard engine in all models save the Sport Touring is a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 138-horsepower. The Sport touring comes with an enhanced version of that engine that makes 153 horsepower. Sole transmission offering is a 6-speed automatic. All models are available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
All models include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front knee airbags, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a rearview camera. Also available are blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision and lane-departure warning. As on all General Motors products, OnStar comes standard. OnStar is a subscription service that provides automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen vehicle assistance.
Standard on the base model are 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, roof rails, rear privacy glass, air-conditioning, cruise control, six-way power driver seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, 60/40-split folding rear seats, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, cargo cover, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, USB port, media player interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Convenience model adds foglamps, a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror and 120-volt power outlet. Stepping up to the Sport Touring includes all of this equipment, more powerful engine and unique exterior styling cues.
The Leather trim adds leather upholstery along with a six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and driver memory settings. The Premium model gets front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning system, lane-departure warning system, automatic wipers and a seven-speaker Bose sound system. Sunroof and navigation system are available on all but the base model. Encore is built in South Korea and has a $995 destination charge.
The more powerful engine in the new Sport Touring makes all the difference, transforming Encore from a rolling "no passing zone" to a credible performer. Make no mistake, with a 0 to 60 mph time of about 9 seconds, Encore is no drag racer, but it moves out from a stop with authority and offers decent passing punch. Load up 3 or 4 full-size adults, and acceleration is dulled quite a bit. The transmission preforms admirably, providing smooth upshifts and prompt downshifts.
The Encore Sport Touring with AWD is EPA rated at a conservative 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Those numbers are easy to duplicated in routine suburban commuting where most will see about 30 mpg overall. Fuel economy is aided by a start-stop system that automatically shuts off the engine while the vehicle is waiting at stoplights.
Dynamically, the Encore is an urban champ. The suspension does a good job of soaking up road imperfections while still providing a fair amount of ride control. Combine this with a short wheelbase and tight turning circle and you'll find that Encore is easy to drive around town - and easy to park. On the downside, the steering lacks on-center feel, the short wheelbase can contribute to a choppy ride on the highway, and the tall build leads to a tippy feeling in sharp maneuvers.
Buick's emphasis on quiet tuning really pays dividends as Encore is easily the quietest luxury compact crossover. There's very little wind or road noise and the engine is quiet and refined except when pushed very hard, where a bit of four-cylinder rasp can be heard.
Interior materials are a cut above what you might expect at this price point, but can't match the top-notch fittings found on more-expensive competitors. Controls are thoughtfully arranged for easy operation and the gauges are easy to read day or night. Unfortunately, Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system isn't as easy to operate as it should be. The system is slow to respond to inputs and simple operations seem overly complicated.
Front seats offer moderate support and are comfortable enough for short trips, although long-haul comfort might be compromised by the short seat bottom. Head and leg room are great. Outward visibility is also quite good as is entry exit.
Rear-seat passengers, unfortunately, don't get the same treatment. Head room is OK, but knee and foot room are very tight unless you push the front seats well forward. Also, sitting three across will squeeze everyone. While second-citizen status is not uncommon for back-seat riders in this class, it should be noted that the Encore actually offers a bit more room than some competitors.
With only 18.8 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, cargo space isn't great. Throw down the rear seatbacks and you increase capacity to nearly 50 cubic feet. Working in Encore's favor is a tall build that lets you easily stash bulky items. Interior storage is just so-so with a few open bins throughout and a moderately sized glovebox and center-console bin.
Bottom line, the Buick Encore is an appealing choice for shoppers in the compact crossover class. It's certainly more affordable than most competitors and comes very well equipped. Dynamically, its humble Chevy Trax underpinnings keep it from being a driver's crossover, but its diminutive stature makes it a great urban assault vehicle. Buick touches up the front end and freshens the interior for 2017, so be sure to consider stepping up to the 2017 before you buy.