Looking at the Encore, some probably see a small funny-looking crossover, while others might question why it has a Buick badge considering the automaker’s history of premium sedans. What many don’t know about this little crossover is that it’s Buick’s best-seller and a very global product built in South Korea. Making its debut for the 2013 model year, the Encore is one of the first modern subcompact crossovers to hit the market along with the Nissan Juke and Jeep Patriot. Since them, the subcompact crossover segment has become very hot because consumers seem to be buying them in pairs. Realizing the growing popularity of the segment, Mazda, Honda, and Toyota have entered the segment with their CX-3, HR-V, and C-HR crossovers, respectively. However, Buick is a premium brand that can be positioned against crossovers such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class and Audi Q3. Let’s see how the American cute ute stacks up against premium and nonpremium rivals.
The Buick Encore, also sold in China under the same nameplate, rides on GM’s Gamma II platform that underpins the Opel Mokka sold in Europe and the compact Chevrolet Trax, Spark, and Sonic. The little crossover first went on sale as a 2013 model and received its first refresh for 2017, mostly cosmetic. The front and rears fascia, headlights and taillights, grille, front fenders, and hood were all updated along with dashboard, center stack, and instrument panel. The Encore also received Apple CarPLay and Android Auto connectivity and a new 8.0-inch color touchscreen. An upgraded engine choice (a more powerful 1.4 turbo-four) was the biggest news. Buick is keeping is best-seller updated for the new competition.
With an appealing starting price of $23,915, cute styling, and premium features, no wonder the Encore has been a success. How did Buick make a premium crossover so affordable? Well, partly, the automaker took it easy on the premium aspects of the Buick. Standard features like leatherette-timed upholstery, the 8.0-inch color touchscreen, OnStar with a Wi-Fi hot spot, Buick’s QuietTuning, active noise cancellation, and the available Bose premium audio system all make for a very decent list of premium features on an entry-level model. However, they are offset by some not-so-premium qualities that include partially powered front seats (manual recline), lack of a front passenger armrest (driver gets one), an intrusive and annoying automatic start/stop that can’t be turned off, a rough-shifting transmission, and moaning engine. Not to mention the tiny rear seat that practically makes it a four-seater with adults as passengers.
Considering the small wheelbase, the Encore does ride very comfortably, but the rear torsion-beam suspension tends to get bouncy over rough pavement, failing to provide a smooth ride in those instances. Additionally, the rear seats do fold nice and flat, but they significantly reduce the amount the front seats can move and recline back if folded all the way down. At 6-feet tall, I was not able to fold the rear seat behind me all the way without being too close to the wheel and pedals. Not something you want in a crossover or in any vehicle.
The Buick’s cushy ride is great under normal circumstances, but the subcompact does not like to be pushed too hard, thanks to the high amount of body roll, making the Encore not very fun to drive. However, the crossover still fared well in our figure-eight handling test. It took the Encore 27.8 seconds to lap the Motor Trend’s figure eight, slower than the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic’s time of 27.0 seconds but faster than the 2016 Honda HR-V AWD’s 28.0 seconds. The 2013 Encore with the standard 138-hp engine took 28.2 seconds to lap the figure eight.
Equipped with the optional 153-hp, 177-lb-ft of torque turbo-four engine and standard front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is available), our Encore hit 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, 1.0-seconds faster than the 2013 Encore and 141-hp Honda HR-V AWD but much slower than the 208-hp GLA250 4Matic’s time of 6.9 seconds. Brake feel is good, and the stopping distance of 119 feet from 60 mph is respectable and shorter than the HR-V’s 127 feet but longer than the GLA250’s 110 feet.
Our Sport Touring trim tester has an EPA-rating of 27/33 mpg city/highway, besting the 24/33 mpg rating of the more powerful GLA250 (front-wheel drive) but slightly less than the HR-V’s 28/34 mpg (front-wheel drive). The standard 138-hp engine delivers 25/33 mpg with front-wheel drive. If you manage to fold the rear seats all the way down, the Encore provides a healthy 48.4 cubic feet of total cargo room, more than the GLA250’s 43.6 cubic feet but much smaller than the cavernous 58.8 cubic feet that the HR-V provides. For additional reference, the slightly smaller Mazda CX-3 crossover has 44.5 cubic feet of total cargo room while the Audi Q3 has 48.2 cubic feet.
The Buick did well in crash safety evaluations by receiving the highest rating of Good in all crash evaluations from the IIHS (small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats). The crossover received the lowest rating of Basic for the front crash prevention evaluation for alerting the driver of a possible collision. The Encore is not available with an emergency automatic braking feature. The HR-V struggled in IIHS testing and received the second highest score of Acceptable in the small overlap front and side crash tests but scored Good in the remaining three tests. The IIHS has yet to test the any GLA model, but a similar premium crossover, the Audi Q3, scored just as well as the Encore in all five crash tests and was not tested for front crash prevention because the technology is surprisingly unavailable (not even a warning). Unfortunately, the same goes for the HR-V on any trim level. In NHTSA testing, the Encore was issued the highest five-star rating, as was the HR-V, but the GLA250 nor the Q3 were tested.
Our front-wheel-drive tester came standard with fog lights, a roof rack, remote vehicle start, 18-inch aluminum wheels, a rear sport spoiler, and an 8.0-inch color touchscreen. Optional features include the more powerful 153-hp engine, the Bose premium audio system, Buick’s Intellilink radio and navigation, a safety package consisting of a blind-spot warning and rear-cross traffic alert system, the Winterberry Red Metallic exterior color, and dual-climate control. This comes out to a sticker price of $29,720 (and that’s not the top trim), almost $6,000 higher than the starting price of $23,915. The Honda HR-V starts at $20,405 but the range-topping EX-L Navi starts at $25,880. The Mercedes-Benz GLA tops all with a $34,325 starting price.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and Audi Q3 have starting prices in the low $30,000’s because those are true premium crossovers with plenty of luxury and performance. The Encore just isn’t. The nonpremium powertrain, aggressive start/stop that rattles the crossover, lack of fun handling dynamics, lack of standard leather upholstery and a front passenger armrest, and tiny rear seats that significantly diminish front seat room when folded down makes it a premium hard sell. However, the Encore’s fast and intuitive IntelliLink infotainment system, two USB ports, very quiet interior, good fuel economy, comfortable ride quality, nice outward visibility, urban-friendly dimensions, OnStar, and affordable price tag results in a very appealing package for the A-to-B driver that prefers a high-riding cute-ute with premium qualities. So if the Mercedes-Benz is too much and the HR-V’s luxury just doesn’t cut it, go for the Buick tweener.
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