While Buick may be dropping traditional sedans, its doubling down on crossovers, literally. Rather than replacing its subcompact Encore, the GM brand is adding a revised version to sell alongside its subcompact Encore, dubbed Encore GX. An entirely new vehicle, the Encore GX is three inches longer and rides a 2.2-inch longer wheelbase than its suffix-challenged namesake. Competitors include the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus UX and Volvo XC40. Encore GX is mechanically similar to the Chevrolet Trailblazer, which is also a new offering for 2020.
Encore GX is offered with front- or all-wheel drive. The model lineup includes Preferred, Select and Essence. There's also a sport-themed Encore GX ST that based on the front-drive Essence and adds unique interior and exterior trim. Standard on all front-drive models is a turbocharged 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 137 horsepower. It's paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Standard on all-wheel-drive models and optional for front -drive Select and Essence trims is a turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder that makes 155 hp. This engine is paired to a CVT on front-drive models and a 9-speed automatic transmission on all-wheel-drive models.
Prices start as low as $25,095 and climb to more than $32,000 for the all-wheel-drive Essence. Standard equipment includes heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto integration, forward- collision warning with brake assist, lane-departure warning and assist and an onboard wi-fi hotspot. Available features include a wireless charging pad, hands-free power liftgate, magic rear-view mirror, sunroof and heated steering wheel.
In a never-ending quest to meet stricter fuel economy and emissions standards while still meeting customer expectations, Buick made an interesting decision to offer not one, but two 3-cylinder engines on its newest subcompact crossover. Given that the larger and more-powerful engine is only a $395 option, we'd suspect that most Encore GXs on dealer lots will come with the 1.3.
That's probably a good thing given that it barely provides enough motivation for the 3,100-pound Encore GX. Stomp the gas from a standstill and it takes 9 seconds to reach 60 MPH, perhaps the slowest vehicle in the class. Add to that the lazy shifting continuously variable transmission and plenty of 3-cylinder trash and you have a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, in routine driving the engine is reasonably powerful and the transmission unobtrusive. In fact, at times it actually feels peppy and energetic, thanks to a hearty 174 lb-of torque at a low 1,600 RPM.
For most buyers, front-wheel drive should suffice, but keep in mind that the all-wheel-drive system brings along with it the better-tempered 9-speed automatic. That said, the all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. Another plus of the all-wheel-drive system is that you don't have to deal with the front-drive torque steer, which can be a problem and the tires scramble for traction in hard acceleration.
According to EPA ratings, the 1.3-liter 3-cylinder is slightly more fuel efficient than the smaller engine. The front-drive 1.3 nets 30 MPG city and 32 MPG highway while the AWD numbers are 28/29 MPG. In reality, it's easy to average 30 MPG overall in routine commuting and some might see that average push up to 35 MPG with gentle highway cruising thrown in. Let's just say the EPA numbers are fairly conservative, and, unless you drive with a lead foot, you are likely to exceed them. Unlike most others in the class, Encore GX engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline and the 13.2-gallon fuel tank give the GX plenty of range.
Perhaps the best trait of the Encore GX is its on-road driving demeanor. The suspension does an excellent job of providing a smooth and comfortable ride without adding undue harshness or bounding. While most other players in this class are tuned for athletic handling -- to the detriment of ride quality -- the Encore GX somehow seems to avoid that trapping while still feeling moderately athletic. To a point ....
Handicapping the GX is imprecise steering that is vague on center and very slow to react to driver input. It's almost as if Buick intentionally built in some slop to prevent sudden steering inputs from upsetting the chassis. Although drivers will quickly adapt to the quirky steering, the lack of on-center feeling grows tiresome on the highway. Thankfully the brakes seem more than up to the task and can be easily modulated. Something that is commonly not the case among subcompact crossovers as they tend to feel a bit squirrely under hard braking.
Interior noise levels are a mixed bag. In gentle cruising around town or on the highway, Encore GX is very quiet. There's little wind or tire noise. However, when accelerating, the 3-cylinder engine grows thrashy and emits a growl that is not befitting of a $30,000 vehicle.
Inside, it's hard to fault the interior's functional and user-friendly design. However, some of the materials could use an upgrade -- especially in Essence trim. There is no faulting assembly quality, however, which is near perfect, impressive for a vehicle right out of the gate. In addition, the tall greenhouse and thin roof pillars provide excellent visibility to all directions and facilitate easy entry and exit.
The font seats provide a modicum of support but seem somewhat under sized and under stuffed for a traditional luxury vehicle. Still, there's good head and leg room and surprising hip and shoulder room. Rear-seat space is a mixed bag. While the seat is reasonably comfortable, the front seats must be pushed well forward to provide enough foot and knee space to accommodate large adults. This is the case in most subcompact crossovers, and it should be noted that the Encore GX offers more room than most.
GM gets kudos for nicely integrating technology and safety into all of its vehicles and the Encore GX is no exception. Drivers face traditional analog gauges (no fancy digital display here), are presented with a large infotainment screen that's operated by touch and will find simple and intuitive controls for the radio, climate control and windows/mirrors. There's no guessing or manual reading required -- praise the lord. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are seamlessly integrated. About the only quibble is a cheap-looking head-up display that projects onto a popup screen rather than the windshield.
As far as cargo space, the Encore GX impresses. Behind the rear seats it offers 23.5 cubic feet of storage. Flip the seats down and that grows to 50.2 cubes. Both numbers are impressive for the segment. Add to that a wide-opening, height-adjustable hatch, fold-flat front passenger seat and low cargo floor and the GX becomes a great Home Depot runner. Interior storage is pretty good for the class with lots of open and covered bins throughout and a nice storage bin below the armrest.
Bottom Line -- Where as the Encore was just a bit too small to become a best-seller the Encore GX may prove to be just the right size for empty nesters. However, it's not as luxurious or as refined as premium competitors and that might hurt overall sales. Priced a cut above mainstream subcompact crossovers and below traditional luxury players, the Encore GX is an intriguing offering that could find its fair share of buyers. Buick needs to clean up the sloppy steering and add a dollop of refinement to the underpowered engines for this vehicle to be seriously considered in the same breath as Audi and BMW.