Buick Encore is a subcompact crossover with premium features. When it was introduced for 2013 it was a trailblazer, but the segment has boomed since then. Today the Encore has a lot of serious competitors, for example the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, and the new Toyota C-HR.
Encore got a new nose, cabin, and infotainment for 2017, and a new engine before that, but it hasn’t been redesigned since 2013. Changes for 2018 aren’t big. The Premium model gets an ionizer in its cabin air filter, and every model gets a capless fuel intake.
Built on the platform of the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, Encore is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, for traction in winter, not off-roading.
Encore’s handling is pretty good, and the ride is impressively comfortable, for a tall wagon on a short wheelbase. It’s a narrow car, which makes the cabin snug, although two adults fit comfortably in the rear. It tries to be upscale, because that’s what Buicks are supposed to be.
Encore uses two engines, both of them 1.4-liter and turbocharged, but one has direct fuel injection, which efficiently sprays fuel into the combustion chambers. We recommend that one, which will be more common. It is significantly more responsive, making 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, compared to the standard engine’s 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Both use a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Standard features include 10 airbags, a rearview camera, 8.0-inch touchscreen, and OnStar’s 4G LTE data connection that can run smartphone apps via Bluetooth, Apple Car Play, and Android Auto. Options include leather, premium Bose audio, and safety options including lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, as well as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The engine with direct injection gets and EPA-rated 28 City and 34 Highway miles per gallon with front-wheel drive. The other engine is not only slower, it gets 3 less combined mpg.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Encore five stars for crash safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a Top Safety Pick.
The entry-level Encore ($22,900) comes with front-wheel drive and the standard engine. Standard equipment includes 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. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Convenience package 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.
Upgrading to the Direct Injection engine means stepping up to the Encore Sport Touring ($25,565) model, which includes rear spoiler, stop/start technology, front/rear park assist, and special 18-inch alloy wheels.
Options include navigation and a sunroof.
Buick Encore’s overall shape is cohesive, not too hippy and not too edgy. Subtle curves in the sheetmetal. It doesn’t shout anything, it just states class.
Encore looks as much like a small hatchback as it does a crossover. It got better looking with a facelift for 2017, although we’re not so sure about the chrome strip like a glider’s wings, added to the waterfall grille. With LED headlamps, the hood looks clean. Small spoiler over the liftgate looks right.
Being tall, the Encore offers good head room. Being narrow, it’s pinched on shoulder and elbow room, even in the front. And the wide center console might squeeze the front occupants’ knees. But the driver gets a fine position, enjoying a commanding view past the short front end. Although not over the shoulder, making that standard rearview camera a wise move. A low dashboard and tall roof bring back a sense of spaciousness.
The front seats are comfortable, with nicely shaped seatbacks, although the bottom cushions are short on support.
The back seat can easily carry two adults, and there are seatbelts for a third passenger in the rear; but it won’t be three adults. Knee room is livable, helped by slight scoops in the front seatbacks. There’s a folding armrest with cupholders, drops down to better the fill the space than a center passenger would.
Soft-touch surfaces and metal trim give the cabin a premium feel, while it is also versatile and flexible. Both the rear seat and the front passenger seat fold down. Folding the back seat expands cargo capacity from 18.8 to nearly 50 cubic feet.
Active noise cancellation keeps the engine noise down, and while some tire and wind noise comes in, and the info flashes on an 8-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash, the cabin stays surprisingly calm for a subcompact.
With the standard 1.4-liter turbo engine, without direction injection, it takes nine seconds to move the 3200-pound Encore up to sixty miles per hour, a lethargic performance. The engine strains to get the Encore underway, the transmission upshifts too soon so has to change its mind and downshift for more acceleration; and it doesn’t bring back such great fuel mileage.
The direct-injection engine gets 31 miles per gallon, while offering quicker performance. Its 153 horsepower provides more appropriate vigor. Passing on two-lane roads and merging onto the expressway is much easier and safer. It makes a worrisome booming noise under hard acceleration, however.
Despite the short wheelbase, even with large wheels, the Encore delivers a surprisingly and impressively comfortable ride. Small potholes and other such spots are still choppy, but less than you expect. Optional all-wheel drive not only improves traction, but improves the ride.
The electric power steering does its job well.
The automatic Stop/Start system is barely noticeable, bravo to Buick, as many manufacturers’ systems are intrusive.
Buick Encore is a comfortable small-family subcompact crossover, with premium equipment and a premium feel, for a fairly low price. The direct-injection engine is a smart upgrade.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.