Compact crossovers could not be hotter right now. They avoid the depressing drive experience of small sedans, no matter how tight they might be inside. The flipside is that carmakers can be tempted to overprice the mini-SUVs — with options taking the ultra small machines deep into real SUV territory. This is certainly the case with the $48k BMW X1 sDrive28i we tested last year. Or how about the $67k AMG GLA45?
Clearly the temptation of luxury features, equipment and options is powerful for both the brands and to buyers, though.
The compact SUV is therefore quite perplexing at times: compact efficiency and roominess, but occasional off-road and all-weather usage. Adding a Premium to the compact SUV descriptor would seem like a slippery slope of tiny size/jumbo price.
No compact crossover from a US automaker embodies this challenge like the Buick Encore.
Over a week of foot-on-the-floor drives, we came away deeply impressed by the Encoure’s cabin refinement, modern style and excellent road manners. A raft of recent competitors puts the Encore in perspective as we enter 2016: the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Nissan Rogue and even the Encore’s blood-brother, the Chevy Trax.
There are places the Encore demolishes its competitive set (handling, cabin refinement), and places it feels woefully behind the curve (infotech ease of use).
And what about the Encore’s image? Is the Buick triple-shield brand a selling point among the target market?
Let’s flesh out what makes the Encore a loveable mini truck, plus what areas it should up its game.
A 4K drive review that is fairly watchable, 50 all-new photos and section heads of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary are the structure of this HD Road Test Review.
The Encore is deceptively handsome. This is a cool little truck with a coherent design, premium appeal and distinctive poshness versus its Chevy sibling.
Quicksilver metallic is the shade of the test car, complemented by 18-inch monoblock five-spoke alloys and a wrap-around lower body molding.
From all sides, the Encore looks unique and special. Its nose is not quite as successful as the Chevy Trax, simply due to less overall brand synergy in the Buick range. It is clearly a much smaller machine than the Enclave seven-seater; with little shared style to leverage. The Trax makes the most of its Chevy roots with a 3D double grille element that faithfully recreates the Equinox and even Suburban (a bit.)
Take the brand concerns away from the Encore’s nose, and it is a classy piece. An upward-arcing black chrome waterfall grille is tasteful and premium in execution, as are the chrome-rimmed foglamps and bumper designs. What we don’t love about the Encore from up front is the high hoodline and narrow shoulders. Somehow, the Fiat 500X and Chevy Trax appear much more long-hooded. In your rear-view mirror, the Encore looks super narrow and super tall.
Other let-downs in front include the low-quality lighting: no LEDs whatsoever on this machine. Icky halogen fog and headlight bulbs are normal for the segment, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them. Same goes for the blue plastic ring around the low-beam projector. This is not fooling anyone, and makes us cringe when viewed up close. Screams fake like a Gukki purse.
Moving into profile view, the Encore starts to make its case. And feel more authentic.
The leaning-forward look of the glasshouse and proportions is an asset from the side angle. Very clean lines bring an upswept sill crease to the doors, while a strike of metal pinch originating in the tail forms the beltline through the doorhandles. It all gels together nicely.
We love how minimal the profile of the Encore is. A deeply sloping roofline plunges downward as it meets the tailgate spoiler. Nonexistant rear quarter windows emphasizes the Encore’s sporty drive credentials. The rear door windows are the last bit of side daylight opening, capped by thick D-pillars and a black wrap-around back glass. It all works.
Even the roof rails are integrated and very subtle and sophisticated in their execution. A bit of Audi cache here to the Encore’s Euro style — largely thanks to this car’s shared roots as an Opel in European car markets.
Around the tail of the Encore, the flowing lower plastic bodywork gets too aggressive — as on the nose. The entire rear bumper is unpainted, aside from a psuedo skid plate in the diffuser area. Euro reflectors in the bumper are kinda classy, but the bulb brakelights and pea-shooter tailpipe are certainly not.
2016 Encore Sport Touring
The Encore has some fresh style and extra power for 2016 in the form of a flagship Sport Touring model. Unique wheels, rear spoiler and cabin are subtle but helpful pushes upmarket. More power in the form of a revised 1.4T engine also delivers on the ST model: an 11-percent horsepower bump and 20-percent rise in torque versus the 2015 Encore “FWD Leather Group” test truck. Stop-start comes on the Sport Touring to increase efficiency even more. But the ST engine overall should deliver as-good or better mileage than the 25/33 city/highway of the 2015 tester.
Here is the Encore’s second-biggest strength over its compact crossover peers: the Encore glides silently down the road. Versus the Chevy Trax, there is a perceptible 5-decibel rduction at all times. Wind roar and tire grumble are constant Trax elements — but are quashed in the Buick.
Quiet-Tuning by Buick means a comprehensive insulation package befitting a true luxury car. This means huge door seals, GM-patented Quiet Steel for key pieces like the engine firewall, and even Bose Active noise cancellation tech as standard. The Quiet Steel is particularly interesting: instead of one thick steel stamping, Quiet Steel is two narrower metal pieces joined by molten rubber in between. This cuts any reverberation dramatically — and is very helpful to set the Encore apart from its noisy competitors. On the highway, the Encore is credibly posh at all speeds.
The 1.4-liter turbo does make itself heard on hard throttle, but it has a pleasant induction growl up the rev range. Just a six-speed automatic versus the 9-speeds in the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X means the Encore needs a heavy throttle to get it moving. But once on boil, the grunt felt good. Not objectively fast, but faster than the Jeep. The AWD models, it should be noted, are dramatically slower than the front-drivers: approximately 9.1-seconds for the FWD Encore easily beats the 10.0-seconds of the AWD.
Beyond the silence inside that befits a much posher vehicle, the Encore’s cabin is more plush and soft-touch everywhere than the Chevy Trax. The door skin, dashboard, armrests and steering wheel are all much plusher than the Chevy. Or the Renegade.
But they are not nearly as good as the Fiat 500X or Mazda CX-5 — both of which feel much wider, lower and less geeky to drive.
The Encore suffers the same upright and canted-forward drive position as the Chevy Trax. It is not bad in isolation — but limited seat travel and funky angles for the tilt/telescope steering column are all bizarre compared with most crossovers.
Visibility is just fine in the Encore, however, once you are sat up high and tight in the drivers seat. A backup camera is standard on all Encores, but the screen distance deep in the dash makes it hard to trust. The resolution of the backup camera is also pretty poor. In low light or rain, it becomes basically unusable.
So crank your neck around old-school style, and those missing rear quarter windows are a non-issue.
The Encore is easy to drive as a result, and extra easy to park on a dime. A tight turning radius makes the Encore a city street-parking hero.
So, about the infotainment. We demonstrate in the above video that one-touch operations take two or three button jabs, knob twists and knob pushes to do simple things. In this regard, the sunken 7-inch screen atop the dash is much less useful than the center-stack-mounted touchscreen in the Trax.
The Encore’s center stack is the downside of sharing with Germany’s Opel. It is like a jigsaw puzzle of identical grey buttons, all dumped out onto the floor. Some assembly and learning definitely required.
A central knob that twists to control most functions is a pain to use. Swapping up to the next SXM station should be a one-touch affair, but takes three unique steps in the Encore. Entering nav addresses or other complex operations? Best to learn parked in your driveway versus on the road.
Additionally, the wheel controls and gauge cluster displays are behind the times versus the very easy/advanced Fiat 500X Uconnect system. Even happy to accept the Fiat’s smaller 5-inch touchscreen because it is so much easier to use.
Roominess is not a big issue in the Encore, despite its city-friendly dimensions and chopped overhangs and roofline. 49-cubic-feet of storage space is possible with the back seats folded down, and even 19-cubes with them up. That is big. Bigger than the Tahoe with all its seats up, in fact.
Same goes for legroom and seat comfort in back. Very respectable, if upright, seating positions with plenty of keen, head and toe room. In back as well as up front, the Encore feels really tall and narrow for Average American body types. A classier driver armrest than the Trax still can’t hide that two big dudes would be rubbing shoulders across that slim center console.
So the dash controls in the Encore are an unhappy and unhelpful carryover from the Encore’s Euro (and S Korean) legacy.
But holy crap, the advantages of shared performance hardware with Euro models makes the Encore a sweet steer.
Firm and feelsome steering is easy in town, if a bit heavier than Nissan Rogue, and becomes a dream at speed. On the crazy-tight country roads around Charleston, SC, huge angel oak trees line the highway. These eight-foot-wide tree trunks pinch the road ever 50 feet or so. Less often, a memorial cross with someone’s name will mark the spot of a tragedy on those roads at night.
It takes a really solid chassis to inspire confidence on these roads. They are actually pretty nice test of new cars as a result.
Without confident steering and planted suspension, country lanes like this become terrifying. Even on a dry day. A wet night? Eek.
Despite 55-mph speed limit, the Jeep Renegade felt best at five under the speed limit.
In contrast, the Encore is happy at a normal 65 or 70-mph. Firm damping and cornering balance is a big, big asset for the Encore — even versus the Chevy Trax. The bigger brakes, tire contact patches and better tuning for the Encore suspension are very, very worth the money.
Dividends continue on wide highways, too. The Encore tracks like a champ at straight-ahead with cruise at 80-mph. Quiet, calm and confidence is the Buick handling mantra these days — without sacrificing ride comfort. What about Dynaride-style float and wallow? Not in the Buick’s we’ve driven this year. Planted high-speed excellence.
If the Encore is so good on the roads, easy on the eyes…. it must be really pricey.
Unfortunately, this is kinda true. Although better value than the $27k Trax LT FWD we testest this summer, the $29,965 as-delivered total for the Encore is still too pricey, in our opinion.
The FWD Leather Group 2015 Encore bases at $27,950 before destination. Just two options on the tester: Bose premium audio for $600 and Nav upgrade for $495. Neither seems worthwhile, if we’re honest. Nor does the leather trimline, regretfully. The Encore would be just as quiet and soft-touch inside without this cheap and overprocessed hide. The touchability of the seat-fronts in leather is barely better than the seat-backs in vinyl — which always means ‘skip the option’ to us.
New trimline descriptions and 2016 pricing below shows some great news: the Sport Touring is actually a mid-spec choice! All the below pricing is without the $925 destination charge — with AWD looking like a very steep $1500 option across the board.
The 2015 models will be discounted soon to make room for the new arrivals, so strike fast to get up to $3k off the below tallies on an identical (non-Sport-Touring) 2015 Encore.
2016 Buick Encore Pricing
Sport Touring AWD
Buick is back and ready for global action, folks. The Encore is rolling proof.
That’s not a Buick! will surely go down in advertising history as one of the most quirky, most effective lines of copy in history. It basically sums up the new range: Euro sporty drive manners, comfy and silent cabins, plus premium-ish design and brand appeal.
It all works really well for Buick as well as it does for car shoppers. We love the practicality and coolness of the Encore SUV — at pricing that even undercuts the Verano sedan in some trims.
The Sport Touring’s boost in power seems like the perfect tweak for just a bit more performance and pace in the Encore for 2016. We’d also suggest driving the Mazda CX-5 and Fiat 500X before deciding. Even versus those much-newer competitors, the Buick is deeply impressive across the board.
For econobox MPG ratings, luxury car cabin quietness, Audi-like handling … and even AWD confidence for snowy weather?
The Encore does it all!?
Pretty much! Just try to avoid the top price levels, and you’ll be all smiles on the road in the Buick Encore.
Check out the colors and book a test drive over here at the Buick configurator link.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.