The new 2013 Buick Encore is the automaker’s first small crossover vehicle. It comes with front-or all-wheel drive and has luxury, nimble handling, four-door hatchback versatility and decent fuel economy.
The Encore also has just adequate open-road acceleration from its small, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder 1.4-liter engine. It’s fairly heavy at 3,180-3,309 pounds, so Encore buyers shouldn’t expect it to be a fireball with its 138-horsepower engine. Rather, it’s meant to give miles per gallon, not mph.
Still, the Encore is fun to drive. It’s nimble, and my all-wheel-drive test Encore tenaciously gripped the road despite some body lean. The steering was quick, with decent road feel, and the turning circle was small. The ride was supple, and the brake pedal had a progressive action for smooth stops.
Buick feels it’s looking ahead with the Encore because it expects compact crossover sales to increase significantly by 2015. As of now, most Encore rivals don’t look as good or are costlier.
The Encore’s smooth engine moderately drones when pushed. It works with a six-speed automatic transmission that combines a short first gear with a long overdrive to improve initial acceleration and open-road fuel economy. It also provides lower engine noise at highway cruising speeds.
The transmission works efficiently, but has an awkward manual-shift feature controlled by pushing the top of the console shift lever. A driver pushes the “plus” sign for upshifts and the “minus” one for downshifts.
Estimated fuel economy is decent, but not terrific. It’s an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on highways with front-drive and 23 and 30 with the heavier all-wheel drive version.
The short, high 100.6-inch-wheelbase Encore is from South Korea and is based on Chevrolet’s small Sonic auto. This new Buick comes in various trim levels and has list prices ranging from $24,960 to $29,690.
I tested the $29,690 all-wheel-drive Encore with the Premium Group. It was loaded with luxury and convenience items. They included Bose Active Noise cancellation technology, which made the Encore as quiet as a big Buick luxury cruiser.
There also were power and heated leather front seats, heated tilt/telescopic wheel with controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose premium audio system with a color display radio screen, remote vehicle starter system and cruise control.
Some of these items, including forward collision alert, lane departure warning and front/rear park assist, are available for other Encores versions
Safety features for my test car included remote keyless entry, ten air bags, side curtains, a stability control system with traction control, all-disc anti-lock brakes, forward collision alert, lane departure warning and a rear back-up camera.
While all Encore’s have an upscale cabin and plenty of equipment, my test Encore’s accessories included shiny $995 chromed 18-inch aluminum wheels and a $795 audio system upgrade with a navigation system. This $29,695 all-wheel-drive model thus had a bottom-line price of $31,675, without the $750 destination charge.
The Encore is narrow, but there’s decent room for three tall adults and a shorter passenger behind the driver. Front occupants sit high for a good view of the road. Large power outside mirrors assist rear visibility and can be folded against the front windows to avoid parking lot damage.
Front seats provide decent side support, but could use more thigh support. (So could the rear seats.)
The cargo areas has room for six large grocery bags and such with the 60/40 split rear seatbacks in their normal position. Significantly more space is provided when they are folded forward. The front passenger seatback folds forward for extra-long objects. The hatch has a rather high opening, but an interior pull-down area to help close it.
Large chromed door handles facilitate entry, and the driver faces backlit gauges that can be easily read. A helplful digital speedometer accompanies the conventional one. But the dashboard is loaded with small control buttons.
There are plenty of cockpit storage areas, and front-console cupholders and rear ones in a fold-down armrest are easily reached.
I expected the hood to be held open with at least one hydraulic strut in such an upscale vehicle, but it’s kept open with an awkward prop rod. The four-cylinder looks small in the engine compartment. In most vehicles, that compartment has an engine that makes it overcrowded.
The Encore expands Buick’s portfolio and it’s hoped it will attract a more younger buyers. Older buyers in crowded urban areas also might find it appealing.
Pros: Sleek. Luxurious. Generally roomy. Fairly fuel efficient. Nimble. Front or all-wheel-drive.
Cons: So-so highway acceleration. Tight behind driver. Numerous small dashboard control buttons.
Bottom Line: Buick’s new compact crossover is generally a success.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for nearly 45 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.