Buick Encore GX — Attractive, but needs horsepower infusion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(May 6, 2021) We thought from the minute it hit the market in 2013 that the diminutive Buick Encore was too small to gain any kind of foothold in the entry level luxury ranks. We were wrong. It has become one of Buick's biggest success stories of the 21st Century. But we are not swayed — it's still a bit too small. What Buick should have introduced a decade ago was the Encore GX, which has effectively replaced the Encore having gained about an inch in wheelbase and three inches in length over its smaller sibling.

It doesn't sound like much, but now there's room for two adults in the second row — we know because we put two people back there without complaint for an evening out — and with enough room left over for a modicum of cargo measured at 23.5 cubic feet behind the seats compared to 18.8 cubic feet in the Encore.

This seems the ideal size for a sub-compact near-luxury crossover.  Others of similar size in the segment include the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and the Mini Countryman.

We were bedazzled by the Encore GX's stylish interior in a black and beige color scheme with its wide, flowing dashboard, stitched materials that are a noticeable step up from the Encore including leather upholstery, well laid-out and easy-to-use controls, and an eight-inch touchscreen integrated into the dashboard design.

Our top-trim Essence test car featured heated seats, heated steering wheel, navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, head-up display, an eight-way adjustable power driver's seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a 360-degree parking camera, and a digital rearview mirror, a wireless charging pad, and a 115-volt, household-style outlet. The cabin, which feels open and airy, was noticeably quiet at highway speeds.

The Encore GX offers a useful amount of up-front storage. The front door pockets will each hold a water bottle, and you can place small items in the front storage bin — where the wireless charging pad is housed — in the cubby aft of the cupholders, or in the narrow but deep under-arm storage. Back-seat space is a little more limited, but the door pockets will hold a water bottle.

Cargo space is relatively roomy, and the rear seats fold completely flat. And even if the front seat is pushed back for a tall driver, the rear seatbacks will lower without needing to move the front seat up. Also the front passenger seat folds flat, to hold extra-long items. 

The Encore GX has a choice of two engines — a turbocharged 1.2-liter three-cylinder making 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque and a turbocharged 1.3 liter three-cylinder making 155 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. The smaller engine gets a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the larger is mated to a 9-speed automatic with AWD, and gets the CVT in front drive. We recommend you avoid the smaller powerplant — decidedly slow and definitely non-luxury. Our pick is the 1.3-liter with AWD and the 9-speed.

Our 1.3-liter test car felt quite peppy around town with plenty of torque available for quick starts, but it ran out of breath when merging into the fast lane or when we had a need to quickly pass a slower vehicle on a two-lane road. For comparison purposes the 1.3-liter with FWD has been clocked in 9.3 seconds from 0-to-60.

It's the diminutive engines that let the Encore GX down when comparing the car to other vehicles in the segment. The Audi Q3 and BMW X1 for instance both have considerably more powerful base engines — the Q3 4-cylinder makes 228 horsepower and the BMW also comes in base form with 228 horsepower. Granted both German cars carry a higher price tag than the Buick.
We feel Buick could up its game considerably with the addition of a turbocharged four making around 200 horsepower and then making the current 1.3-liter its base engine.

On the upside the Encore GX had a smooth, pleasing ride and handled reasonably well on our usual winding road "test track." It felt light on its feet, easy to toss around, making it a likable companion.

The Encore GX comes in Preferred, Select and Essence trim levels starting at $27,255. Our front-wheel drive Essence carried a bottom line of $34,215 including a $995 destination charge. Edmunds.com suggests you pay $30,121 including destination charge for that model.

2021 Buick Encore GX


Base price: $27,255; as driven, $34,215
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged 3 cylinder
Horsepower: 155 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 174 pound-feet @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.2 inches
Length: 171.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,094 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 23.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 50.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 city, 32 highway, 31 combined
0-60: 9.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X1, Mini Cooper Countryman, Audi Q3

The Good
• Attractive styling
• Good ride quality
• More space inside than you think

The Bad
• Costs as much as some one-size up SUVs

The Ugly
• Underwhelming performance