We recently tested the new Buick Enclave, and found it to be an excellent blend of style, performance and luxury. What if you want all that, but something in a smaller package, perfect for running around the city as well as the open road?
Well then, how about the Buick Encore? Refreshed in 2017, the small SUV has proven to be exceptionally popular – it’s Buick best-selling model – and it shows how quickly the brand has moved from stodgy to hip and cool in a short time.
Not the urban lumberjack, Jack.
In the land of small SUV’s trying to be macho, the Buick avoids the “urban lumberjack” look, and instead looks crisp, with a sporty front end that was redone last year, including winged grille, Buick tri-color insignia and headlamps with LED signature lighting. From the front, it even looks aggressive.
But come around to the side, and you realize this is a smaller, SUV, with a rounded, friendly bubble shape. While it may be cute, it also looks upscale, thanks to our tester’s White Frost Tricoat and flashy chrome wheels. We found the looks had lots of appeal across age groups.
Living large … in a smaller package
Being small doesn’t you can’t be big on comfort. Along with the facelift last year, the Encore’s interior got a thorough going over, with new premium materials, a cockpit style design, featuring new gauges, 4.2-inch driver display, 8-inch color touchscreen, push button start, keyless entry, pushbutton start, eight-way power driver seat and more. There’s also an available heated steering wheel and new for 2018, interior air ionizer. All good stuff.
It’s a well thought out design, that looks and feels upscale, more Audi than Chevy, and we found the leather-covered seats to be supportive and comfy short trip or long. The tall, bubbly shape means loads of headroom front and rear, and also easy access. Rear legroom is average, but the spaciousness up top gives a light airy feeling.
Spacious as well is the cargo area. Dropping the rear seats takes a couple steps – you have to pull a tab to tumble forward the seat bottoms, then fold the seatbacks to create a flat floor. It’s not difficult, and you’re rewarded with a surprising amount of room when you do so. At 48 cubic feet, it’s a little larger than a Mazda CX-3 and a hair smaller than Kia Soul.
The nicest surprise is the big-SUV feel the Encore serves up. It starts with the choice of two 1.4L turbocharged engines. While the lower performance model gives 138 hp and 148 lb-feet of torque, our tester had the more muscular 153 hp, 177 lb-ft option, and it’s the one we’d go for. Combined with a responsive 6-speed automatic, the Encore feels peppy around town, and the turbo boost helps easily keeps up with traffic on the freeways.
The EPA rates the Encore at 25 mpg City, and 33 mpg Highway, we averaged around 27 mpg – not bad, considering we were enjoying turbo boost more than you’d probably want – if maximum fuel efficiency is your goal – which in our case, it wasn’t.
Our tester was a front-wheel drive model. All Wheel Drive is available, but the added weight would probably dim performance. We say drive both before you decide which you want.
Whichever you opt for, the Encore provides a plush ride – probably the nicest in its class. It’s also notably quiet in the day-to-day. Credit Buick for knowing how to make luxury happen, even in a small crossover.
A nice surprise, handling is also good. The softer suspension and tall height does mean you get some lean in the turns, but the steering feels precise, and the small dimensions let you zip around town with ease. And when you need to haul it down, the brakes have a good, strong progressive feel.
Safety equipment is class competitive, with available Side Blind Zone Alert, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
What size is the price?
That depends how luxo you want to roll.
You can get into an Encore for as little as $23,985, and you still get nice stuff like 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, Keyless Open and Start, 8-inch touchscreen system, rear vision camera, leather-wrapped steering wheel and 6-way power driver seat.
We’d probably at least pop for the Sport Touring model, which gives a little added sizzle with an integrated rear spoiler, unique 18” midnight silver aluminum alloy wheels, fog lamps, and more. Yours starting at $26,595. We’d also opt for the more powerful turbo engine, and additional $895.
At the other end of the spectrum was our Encore Premium. The top of the line, our leather-lined, slice of goodness starts at $30,515. Ours also had the Experience Buick Package ($2,390) which gives power moonroof, info-tainment with Bluetooth, OnStar, Navi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 18” Chromed alloy wheels.
That sexy White Frost Tricoat runs $995, the more powerful Turbo engine $895, and our tester also had an engine block heater $110. All totaled with destination, $35,420. If you want All Wheel Drive, figure an additional $2,000.
This means the Encore lives in the “Just Right” pricing point. A more mainstream Honda CR-V Touring 2WD is $32,750. The BMW X1 sounds tempting at $33,900 but comparably-equipped runs up to. $39,700. Same with Audi Q3 which rings the bell at $38,750 with similar goodies.
Buick continues to impress us with their latest offerings. And we think the Encore is such a smart product – smaller, city friendly, but with the luxurious feel, upscale looks and supple ride that says money well spent.
Time for a standing ovation.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.