A couple of months ago, I reviewed the Chevrolet Trax. I quite liked most of what I discovered. So when I got the opportunity to spend a week with its high-society cousin, the Encore, I was excited.
In terms of styling, the Encore has the Trax handily beat. Its tidy proportions are sculpted, but not overstyled – I like how they integrate the very slightly flared fenders. It has very short overhangs, front and rear, and the beltline is quite high, angling up even higher as it makes its way to the back. The Buick chrome waterfall grille shows up here, but in my opinion, it’s the best application of it yet.
I really liked the shiny, polished 18″ rims and the 215/55-sized rubber that might look a bit skinny on another ride looks just right on this smaller vehicle. The headlights are massive units, and have interesting details. The blue corona rim around the projector looks cool, and the foglights below are very nicely done. Front and rear fascias have “skidplates” on the bottom, giving it a hint of ruggedness – unnecessary, of course, but it’s not overdone. The tail lights sweep forward, blending into the character crease that makes its way back, following the lines of the door handles.
If there is an angle that could be called the Encore’s ugly side, I’d have to say it’s the rear profile. It’s a bit of a hunchback, and quite a narrow vehicle, giving it the appearance as though it’s nervous and is clenching its butt-cheeks together. But it’s not a terrible angle, and the rest of it appealed to anyone who came over to check it out and ask questions. They finished the back off with a classy oval exhaust tip.
I had a number of people (women and men alike) say that the Encore was probably styled for the female demographic. But everyone said they liked it – and I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a smart, stylish design that throws some elegance and some fun into the mix. It’s just a shame that they’re still hanging on to those silly faux portholes on the hood. Silly, I say!
Under the Hood
The diminutive engine that greets you when you pop the hood might remind you of a mouse peeking out of its hole in the wall. It’s that small. It looks like you could get another engine in there.
So what is it then, this mouse? It’s a 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder. The numbers aren’t astounding, but that’s not the whole story. It puts out 138 horsepower between 4900 and 6000 RPM, and makes its peak torque (148 lb.ft) available to you at a low 1850 RPM.
The power makes its way through a 6-speed automatic, to all four wheels using a front-wheel-drive-based all-wheel-drive system.
Fuel economy is rated at 8.9 L/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 6.7 L/100 km (35 mpg) on the highway. My week with it was typical for my reviews. Daily commuting, occasional heavy foot, no effort to conserve fuel and a few freeway/highway sprints. I averaged 10.3 L/100 km (23 mpg) which isn’t amazing for a small vehicle, but it’s actually pretty good. The fuel tank holds 53 litres and the Encore doesn’t require premium fuel.
The interior is crafted out of very nice materials. I’ve come to expect upper-crust interiors from Buicks, and this one didn’t disappoint. Fit and finish was pretty good, and you’ll find soft-touch plastics everywhere. Dash, door panels, you name it. This particular one had the dark interior, which gets a bit sombre. I’ve seen the lighter interior option in pictures, and it’s lovely.
The heated leather seats are very comfortable, and offer a surprising amount of bolstering. That’s a good thing! They are power-adjustable fore and aft, as well as for the lumbar support. The recline function, however, needs to be done manually. This had me scratching my head in the Trax as well. The driver’s side seat has a 2-position memory setting and a flip-down center armrest. Too bad, so sad for the passenger if they want to rest their left arm anywhere.
The manually-adjustable heated steering wheel is decent. It has controls for cruise, media, handsfree and phone functions. The Encore is started with a key – no push-button starter here. The key fob has remote lock/unlock functions, as well as a remote starter. I liked that last feature.
Ahead of you is a bin with the standard Buick gauges. I really like them, because they are easy to read and classy. The markings on the bezels make them look like a nice watch, rather than an automobile gauge. Between the two main gauges is GM’s standard driver information screen. It’s not pretty, with its crunchy green text and graphics, but functionally I have no complaints. It allows you to switch between timer, average fuel economy, fuel range, two trip meters and it always shows your gear selection, a compass and your odometer at the bottom.
The center of the dash has a hooded screen sticking out of it, running Buick’s Intellilink system. Although it works fine, the interface is starting to show its age. I much prefer the simpler, boiled-down approach I found in the Chevy Trax – the MyLink system is one of the simplest, most-effective I’ve used in a long time, and I hope it makes its way through GM’s products. Anyway, the screen here handles your media (sources are AM, FM, satellite radio, CD, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth streaming), your phone functions, the navigation system, some vehicle settings and the back-up camera. You navigate around it with a rotary dial, and by pushing the ring around it as an ENTER button. It takes a couple of tries, but it ends up making sense. Of course, you can also operate it through voice command, if you want to. Good luck with that. The screen is too far away and therefore there is no touch-screen function.
The BOSE system sounds really good, by the way.
On the center stack, below the screen on the dash, is an ungainly sea of same-coloured buttons. It would be impossible to use any of them without taking your eyes off the road – thankfully, you wouldn’t need to use them very often. Underneath that is a dual-zone automatic climate control system.
There isn’t really a center console, just a collection of things between the seats. Here you’ll find the gear selector, a traditional parking brake lever, two cupholders.
Overhead you’ll find a small powered tilt/slide sunroof.
Driver assistance tech is quite complete. You get lane-departure warning system, forward collision alerts and front and rear parking distance sensors with audible alerts (augmented by the back-up camera of course). The rain-sensing automatic wipers are a nice touch as well.
There are three rear seats – each has a seatbelt, and the outside two seats have headrests. The two outboard positions are very comfortable, but the middle one is very tight and barely usable for an adult. The fact that there is barely any foot room behind the center console doesn’t help either. The head room back there is good for my 5’10” frame, and the leg room is certainly acceptable for this size and class of vehicle.
There’s not a lot going on in terms of convenience. You get a 120V household plug at the back of the center console (a fantastic feature that should be standard in every vehicle!) and two seatback pockets – one mesh, one solid fabric. The door bins back there are shallow, but offer a bit of extra space. The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest, and it has two cupholders in it.
If you’re throwing kids in the back seats, and by throwing I mean gently placing, you’ll find good space for two of them. There are two sets of LATCH connectors for their seats. Our three kids actually felt cramped width-wise – it’s just not a very wide vehicle. But two of them would find it very roomy.
The standard glove box is a good size, and you also get an upper glove compartment in the dash. It is totally rubberized, and although it’s not huge, I find it a very useful space.
I liked the angled, rubberized open bin under the center stack. It’s perfect to drop things like a smart phone into, and it also has 12V, auxiliary and USB plugs.
The front door bins are quite useable, with little added sub-bins under the door grabs. The left underside of dash houses a pop-out bin and at the back of the center “console” there’s a scrolling lid, covering a small, rubberized storage bin.
The cargo area is quite big at 533 litres with the rear seats in use. Fold the seats down (they split 60/40) and you’re looking at a 1371 litre space, which affords you great utility. I found the load floor to be at a perfect height in terms of convenience, and there is a small storage bin on either side of the trunk as well.
The trunk space is covered by a removable hard tonneau cover that swings up and out of the way with the tail gate. This also adds a parcel shelf if you need every cubic foot available on a road trip or something like that.
I really liked the high driving position. It affords you an excellent view of the road ahead and around you. With that said, those rear flanks sweep up and join with those massive rear pillars, making it difficult to shoulder-check – especially on the passenger side.
It’s not a fast vehicle, that much is clear from the moment you start driving it. But that’s not the point. The driving experience is a lively one, and the chassis is dynamic enough to make it fun enough.
The power builds in a very linear manner, but it never feels as though it has a lot of jam under the hood. With that said, it’s plenty for everyday driving. You probably don’t want to pull out of a side street in front of a speeding car and passing someone on the highway requires a bit of planning and a few seconds longer than more vehicles need. But during the week I had it, I rarely wanted for more power.
The transmission is relatively smooth, although there is often a split-second of hesitation between shifts. The smoothness isn’t interrupted, but the power feels as though it is, albeit very, very briefly. I’m not sure if software retards the ignition momentarily between shifts, or what the story is. It’s not intrusive, and you get used to it after a couple of drives. The transmission seems to be mostly interested in saving fuel, and it hunts for higher gears right away. When you step on it to pass, it takes a couple of seconds to downshift to the right gear. You can also manually shift gears, using the top-mounted rocker on the gear selector. It’s not a great solution, but it’s better than the ones in some other vehicles. Namely the thumb-toggles on the left side of the gear selector which is my most disliked manual shifting option. Shifts here are pretty slow, and therefore I found little use for manual shifting. Let the auto-box do its job and you’ll be set.
The ride is firm, but in a sporty way, not a bad way. It remains comfortable and well-controlled. I thought the handling was quite good as well. The Encore actually has just under 8″ of ground clearance, which is respectable. That also raises the center of gravity, and you end up with quite a bit of body lean around corners. But it’s not alarming, and it hangs on tenaciously when you throw it into curves. It obviously prefers the straights, but it will do just fine in the twists too, considering it’s a small crossover.
The Encore weighs 3254 pounds in this trim. That makes it a relative feather-weight for an all-wheel drive crossover, and it’s certainly light enough to run around town with ease. It never feels heavy or bloated.
There is some minor road noise, but overall, it’s a quiet vehicle. Drivetrain and wind noise levels are very good, unless you’re really stepping on the gas. In that case, you’ll get a nice little snarl from under the hood, and then things get a bit buzzy over about 4000 RPM. But it’s not something that’s really intrusive.
The brakes are fine – nothing too powerful, but they always worked well. The all-wheel drive is slip-and-grip so you’ll always feel the front end trying to grab before it digs its heels in. But for most folks, it’s perfectly effective, and it did as good of a job on our crappy, snowy Edmonton streets as it did on our crappy dry, pot-holed Edmonton streets.
This is probably clear to most readers, but if you’re still wondering, towing is not recommended with the Encore.
Although the Encore comes well-equipped, if I had choices here, I’d very happily forgo something like lane-departure warning in exchange for a power liftgate. A power liftgate is a pretty big deal to many buyers, especially on a crossover. Especially in the premium segment.
I didn’t enjoy the extra step of having to tumble the rear seat bottoms forward before you can fold the seatbacks flat. It’s not a big deal, but it’s pretty unusual these days. A small annoyance.
I loved almost everything about the Encore. I really enjoyed the stylish exterior, and the high-quality interior. I felt the performance was fine for normal, everyday driving, and for a family of four, this vehicle would cover just about every need and want. There’s plenty of driver tech, plenty of comfort and plenty of luxury.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very, very high. She absolutely loved the styling, saying it was nearly perfect for a small crossover. She liked the way it drove, appreciating that it never felt big while on the road or making its way around a parking lot. She also commented on the cargo capacity, noting that she was able to easily fit a Saturday’s shopping in – which is quite a feat, I assure you. She did miss the lack of a power liftgate though.
There has to be a catch, right? There is. Encores start at $27,130. Why, that’s not bad at all, you exclaim! You’re right. But this one, the almost-loaded Premium trim with options, is the one I’d want. And I’m sad to say that it sneaks right up on 40 grand.
2013 Buick Encore Premium
Base price (of specific trim): $34,455
Options: $1100 express open sunroof; $995 white pearl tri-coat; $995 navigation/audio upgrade; $100 oil pan heater
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $39,295
I left the pricing until the end, because it was really the first thing that soured my outlook on what is otherwise an awesome vehicle. There’s little I’d change about the vehicle itself, and I think Buick did a bang-up job in taking the Chevy Trax and making it their own, putting their premium look and feel into this tiny crossover. Truthfully though, I’d have to consider the competition at the $40,000 price – and there’s plenty of good stuff available for that kind of money. If my mind was set on the Encore, and I can see why someone would be smitten with it, I could easily live without the options on this one, bringing it back down to around $34,000. Which is too bad, because it would be great to see this thing priced around $34,000 and include all these goodies. At that price, I’m guessing they’d be moving boatloads of them. It will be interesting to see how this pricing strategy works for Buick. ‘d love to see plenty of Encores on our streets, because all in all, they’re a great little vehicle – I’m just not convinced people are going to be willing to pony up that kind of dough for a loaded one.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Don Wheaton Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac.
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