Buick Encore — Small and attractive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Luxury in a small, fuel-efficient package is the new hot commodity in the automotive world and the Buick Encore certainly fills the bill. It’s stylish and seems to suit the tastes of those who expect luxury appointments, a quiet cabin, an excellent driving position, and the ability to carry four adults in relative comfort.

Built in Korea on a platform shared by the Chevrolet Trax might have you scratching your head and thinking, this is unlike any Buick in your memory — and you would be right. For example, at 168.5 inches in length and with a wheelbase of just 100.6 inches it is the smallest vehicle in Buick's storied history. Additionally the goal of Buick designers was obviously to give the Encore enough of the new Buick design language to make it part of the family. And for the most part they were successful.

For 2017 — its fifth model year — the little Buick was given a modest facelift that includes revised front-end styling, upgraded interior materials and a new technology interface that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

The weakest link in this rather tasty automotive treat has been the underperforming 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is a non-luxury-like 10 seconds from 0-to-60.

After driving on a series of winding, hilly roads and a drive on some local mountain passages we were convinced we could live with the little guy. It handled well and the view from the driver's seat is commanding. But while it makes an effort to use its 148 foot-pounds of torque to good advantage we found it challenging trying to pass on some hilly two-lanes that we had to carefully pick and choose the place to accomplish the task. The Buick can run out of breath quite quickly while merging and passing in the 45-55 mph range.

Thankfully Buick is now offering an alternative for 2017. A turbocharged 1.4-liter that makes 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque is available on all but the base trim level for a modest cost of $895. We strongly recommend this engine. Although it doesn't make the Encore a speed demon, it is a welcome improvement when merging and passing and when carrying a full load of people and cargo. By comparison, its 0-to-60 performance is improved to about 9 seconds.

If gas mileage is high on your list of desirables, the larger engine is nearly as fuel efficient as the base powerplant. The base engine is rated at 27 mpg city, 33-highway and 30-overall, while the bigger engine comes in at 25/33/28 on regular gas. Gas mileage falls off slightly with all-wheel drive, which is available on all but the base model for $1,500.

The interior layout is upscale and it comes with an impressive array of equipment including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rearview camera, and Buick's new voice activated IntelliLink system that includes a seven-inch full-color touchscreen incorporating satellite radio, Pandora and Stitcher internet radio and a USB/iPod interface. The dash is trimmed in faux wood with chrome accents — and it can be ordered with two-tone leather upholstery.

Front-seat comfort is good, and we like the high seating position that offers a great view of the road. In the rear two adults can ride in comfort with decent legroom and scads of head room. Despite its miniature size, there is room for 18.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the seats. This expands to 48.4 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

The Encore comes in five trim levels — Preferred, Sport Touring, Preferred II, Essence and Premium. Preferred starts at $25,290 including destination charge. Prices top out at $32,890 for a Premium trim with all-wheel drive. Check off all the available options on the Premium AWD and the MSRP can soar toward 40 grand.

Standard features across the lineup include 18-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, a six-way power driver's seat (manual recline), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a rearview camera, split-folding rear seats, fold-flat front passenger seat, and OnStar telematics with automatic crash notification.

Our front-wheel drive Sport Touring test vehicle carried a base price of $26,490 and a bottom line price of $29,720 after adding in several options including the bigger engine, Bose Premium audio system ($595), navigation package ($495) a safety package including blind spot alert ($495), and dual-zone climate control ($275). We think this package of features would work well for us while keeping the price under $30,000.

Base price: $25,290; as driven, $29,720
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 153 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 177 pound-feet @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 100.6 inches
Length: 168.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,237 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 18.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 48.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined
0-60: 9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3

The Good
• Buick-quiet interior
• Excellent fuel economy
• Impressive list of safety features
• Great parking lot maneuverability

The Bad
•  Cargo area on small side

The Ugly
• Lack-luster performance from base engine