2013 Buick Encore

ATLANTA — Luxury in a small, fuel-efficient package is the new hot commodity in the automotive world. We want our good stuff, but we want it in a tidy container that makes us feel good about saving precious resources and disposal income that otherwise would land in the pockets of big oil. In this vein, Buick is offering up for 2013 the very tidy and compact crossover Encore.

In fact, Buick has gone where it has never gone before and where virtually no other automaker has ventured. The Encore, a baby Enclave if you will, lives in a place where there is little or no direct competition.

A quick look at the Encore, built in Korea on a platform shared by the Chevrolet Sonic, might have you scratching your head and thinking, this is unlike any Buick in my memory. And, indeed, you would be right.

Here are the details. 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. And it's powered by the smallest engine in Buick's history, a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Encore is smaller than the smallest sub-compact luxury offerings, the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1.

It's quite a gamble for Buick, which has re-invented itself with well-made, stylish vehicles. But in this regard, the Encore is indeed a well made, stylish vehicle that should 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. So perhaps it is not so much of a gamble.

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, but in a quirky-looking sort of way. There is only so much they could do to make a diminutive vehicle look like a much larger vehicle, in this case the Enclave.

We found that the little Buick is more attractive in person than in pictures, but it's no ugly duckling either way.

The interior layout is upscale with considerable Buick touches. And it comes with an impressive array of standard equipment including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, seven-inch display screen, a rearview camera, and Buick's new IntelliLink system that incorporates satellite radio, Pandora and Stitcher internet radio. The dash is trimmed in faux wood with chrome accents — and it can be ordered with two-tone leather upholstery.

The Encore, which starts at an affordable and well-equipped price of $24,950 and climbs through four trim levels to $28,940, should be an attractive vehicle for the empty nesters who no longer need a big vehicle, but still want the versatility of carrying cargo (48 cubic feet with the rear seats folded), and also the ability to carry their friends to dinner in relative comfort. And with the efficiency afforded by the small engine, 25 mpg city and 33 highway in front-wheel drive and 23/30 in optional all-wheel.

After driving on a series of winding, hilly roads around in the Atlanta area we were convinced we could live with the little guy. It handled well and the view from the driver's seat is commanding.

If the Encore stumbles out of the sales blocks, it will be due to its little engine. In normal driving, it does well using its 148 foot-pounds of torque to good advantage. But we found while 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 merging and passing in the 45-55 mph range.

The Encore offers no off-roading or trailer-towing, but it does offer a very rewarding — and frugal — experience for the daily commute and for trips both short and long.

The Encore should reach Buick dealers by February.

— Jim Meachen