Essentially based on an economy car, the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, Buick Encore is a small crossover SUV with premium features. When it debuted as a 2013 model, Encore was one of few small crossovers. Today, that niche has grown quite crowded.
The 2017 Buick Encore gets a fresh front end, revised interior with an 8-inch touchscreen and pushbutton start. Buick will offer its stronger engine in all trim levels, except the base model.
Standard engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, developing 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. It mates with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Considering Encore’s 3,200-pound weight, it’s no surprise that performance falls short of stimulating. Acceleration to 60 mph takes a sluggish nine seconds, while gas mileage isn’t so thrifty for a small vehicle.
Adding direct injection boosts output to 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet, which eases passing and merging. For good daily drivability, the optional four-cylinder makes more sense.
For what amounts to a tall wagon on a short wheelbase, handling is about as good as any rival’s. Optional all-wheel drive helps with harsh-weather traction.
Because the Encore is narrow, front passengers might bump elbows now and then. Headroom is more abundant, and average-size adults can fit comfortably into the back seat.
Despite its premium fittings, the Encore’s interior is more versatile and flexible than expected. Both the rear seat and the front passenger seat may be folded down. Bose noise cancellation helps keep the ride quiet, and information appears on a large central touchscreen.
Safety features and standard equipment are among the Encore’s primary attractions. All versions have 10 airbags, a rearview camera, OnStar’s 4G LTE data connection, and can run smartphone apps via Bluetooth, Apple Car Play, and Android Auto. Buyers can add leather upholstery, all-wheel drive, premium Bose audio, and safety options including lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, as well as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Making the rearview camera standard was wise, because over-the-shoulder and rearward visibility are dreadful. Some active-safety systems seem a little too cautious, but most warnings signal a valid concern.
Encores have scored well in crash-testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it five stars overall, rating five-star in every category except rollover. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated Encore Good in three tests, warranting a Top Safety Pick award.
The 2017 Buick Encore comes in one model, with front- or all-wheel drive, and a choice of four option packages.
Encore comes with an 8-inch touchscreen, power windows/locks and heated mirrors, cruise control, cloth upholstery with simulated-leather trim; power driver’s seat; ambient lighting; rearview camera; OnStar telematics, IntelliLink infotainment, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Convenience includes dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, blind-zone and rear cross-traffic alerts, and foglamps. Leather adds a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and leather-appointed seating. Premium features Bose audio, parking sensors, plus lane-departure and forward-collision warnings.
Sport Touring gets the direct-injected engine, a rear spoiler, stop/start technology, front/rear park assist, and special 18-inch alloy wheels.
Options include navigation and a sunroof.
The Encore is as much small hatchback as it is crossover SUV.
Revisions for 2017 give the front end a more appealing appearance. LED headlights and the hood has a cleaner look, while the latest grille abandons the previous waterfall-style bars, substituting a wing-shaped chrome strip. Portholes are gone, and the hood has a single line down its center. Lower air intakes aren’t as prominent now.
The rear half of the Encore looks less jaunty and more traditional than the front. An S-shaped curve extends through each door panel. A spoiler atop the tailgate extends the roofline slightly.
Despite its small size, with a cabin that feels narrow, space is fairly generous. Adding the new touchscreen for 2017 made the control layout more user-friendly, and the interior seems less cluttered.
Soft-touch surfaces and metal trim help impart an upscale, premium feel, complementing the comfortable seats. Active noise cancellation helps keep engine sounds in check, but some tire and wind noise enters the cabin. Still, the cabin stays way calmer than a typical subcompact.
Up front, passengers might feel a bit fenced-in by the narrow interior, but the driver gets a fine position, enjoying a commanding view past the short front end. A low dashboard and tall roof boost the sense of spaciousness, even though shoulder room is lacking and the wide central console might contact passenger knees.
Front seats are comfortable, helped by nicely shaped seatbacks, though bottom cushions are a bit short on support. The back seat can readily hold two adults, but a third is basically out of the question. Knee room is passable, helped by modest depressions formed in the front seatbacks. A folding armrest contains cupholders. Folding the back seat expands cargo capacity from 18.8 to nearly 50 cubic feet.
Driving an Encore is a pleasure. The standard engine strains to get the Encore underway, but the 153-horsepower version provides more appropriate vigor. Passing on two-lane roads and merging onto expressway is significantly easier.
Buick’s automatic transmission tends to upshift too soon. With the milder engine, in particular, accelerating at even a modest pace typically requires more than one downshift.
Despite relatively large wheels and a short wheelbase, the Encore delivers impressive ride comfort. Urban potholes and other trouble spots produce a little choppiness, but less than expected in such a small vehicle. Electric power steering does its job well, too.
Unlike some competitors, operation of Buick’s automatic Stop/Start system is barely noticeable. When accelerating hard, though, either engine emits troublesome booming noise. Optional all-wheel drive not only improves traction, but improves ride quality.
Fuel economy is about average: less thrifty than expected. With the base engine and front-drive, the 2016 Encore was EPA-rated at 25/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 23/30 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. With the optional engine, a front-drive model is EPA-rated at 28/34 mpg City/Highway, versus 26/32 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive.
Buick was something of a trailblazer when first introducing the Encore, which still doesn’t feel quite like a typical Buick. Well-equipped, with a quiet cabin, the Encore boasts some luxury-vehicle features, and is priced at premium level for its category. An attractive-looking small crossover/hatchback, the Encore promises substantially greater driving satisfaction with the more powerful optional engine.
Driving impressions by Kirk Bell, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.