Buick Encore — Driving small in style

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We were skeptical when Buick introduced the 2013 Encore mini-crossover. We openly wondered if such a diminutive vehicle — even in the exploding small entry-level luxury crossover segment — would go over with the Buick crowd who were accustomed to much larger offerings. Much of our skepticism was erased when we first drove the Encore, which we discovered a very appealing piece of work.

The Encore, which evolved from the Euro-market Opel Mokka, is built in Korea and at just 168.5 inches in length and with a wheelbase of just 100.6 inches is the smallest vehicle in Buick's storied history. Key competitors are the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA250, and on the mainstream side of the equation, the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.

It has received incremental updates throughout the years and for 2019 gets a more sophisticated safety package (top trims only) that includes rain sense wipers, front and rear park assist, front collision alert, lane departure warning and an air ionizer. Option packages are many and very desirable and can provide the little utility with most everything people want in their vehicles. A top-trim-level Encore with a variety of options can push towards $35,000. On the other hand, you can get the little guy's endearing looks and utility for as little as $24,195.

The weakest link in Encore is 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.

Thankfully, Buick now offers an optional turbocharged version of the 1.4-liter that delivers 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque mated to the 6-speed. It is available on the Sport Touring and Essence trim levels 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.

The 138-horsepower engine simply is not up to graceful merging and passing, although it works well for scooting around town. While highway performance is not so much an issue with the extra horsepower and torque of the optional engine, the Encore is best serving as a city car easily maneuvering into parking spots not adequate for bigger vehicles. At the same time, you are afforded a higher driving position and better sight-lines than found in a small sedan.

While the Encore offers no off-road or trailer-towing packages it does offer a very rewarding — and frugal — experience. The bigger 1.4-liter is rated at 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined in all-wheel drive, which is a $1,500 option. In front-wheel drive gas mileage is EPA-rated at 25/33/28 on the less expensive regular gas.

The interior layout is upscale and it comes with an impressive array of equipment including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rearview camera, and Buick's voice activated IntelliLink system that includes a seven-inch full-color touchscreen incorporating satellite radio, Pandora and Stitcher internet radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and two USB ports. 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 liked 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 2019 Encore comes in four trim levels — 1SV (base), Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence. We recommend either the Sport Touring or Essence trims because of their long list of standard and safety features and the ability to move up to the bigger engine. Buick provides considerable standard features across the lineup including 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless ignition and entry, heated mirrors, roof rails, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, cruise control, and a power-adjustable driver's seat.
Every Encore receives Buick's QuietTuning treatment helping to give the crossover a luxury experience. This includes acoustic-laminated windshield and side glass, layers of sound-deadening material under thick carpet, and an assortment of smaller details to help keep the road and wind noise muted.

Our well-equipped all-wheel drive Essence trim test vehicle came with a couple of options including a nice-sounding Bose audio system and a power moonroof for a price of $34,875.

Base price: $24,195; as driven, $34,875
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 153 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 177 pound-feet @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 100,6 inches
Length: 168.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,358 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, 30 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 9 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda HR-V, BMW X1, Mazda CX-3

The Good
• Buick quiet interior
• Long list of safety features
• Parking lot maneuverability

The Bad
• Small cargo area

The Ugly
• Lackluster performance from base engine