Buick is now an all SUV brand. With the demise of the Regal and the slow selling Cascada convertible, the venerable luxury marque has now betted all of its chips on SUV and CUV models. A key part of this strategy is to do what rivals are doing, and try to find new niches or holes in the lineup to fill. In this instance, Buick had an opportunity to fill a hole in between the smaller Encore and the Envision models with the all new Encore GX. This model promises more luxury, capability, and the compact size that buyers still expect. But does the GX indeed succeed in this crucial category?
Bigger platform means a far more expressive canvas for Encore GX
When Buick decided to create the GX, they wanted to try and create a styling theme that not only linked it to its smaller corporate sibling, but also create a sportier looking entry. The smaller Encore looks like the sum of its parts, and that shows with a styling presence that is rather mundane and bland. Here, the GX aims to spice things up a bit, and the front fascia is a prime example of this, with designers giving it a sportier and more assertive face. Our Essence grade tester did not have the optional ST package, but in this instance, we didn’t think it needed it, especially with how the red paint contrasted nicely with the bigger grille and the slicker looking headlights. The side profile is the biggest giveaway to its Encore heritage, but that’s not a bad thing, with the roofline helping to create a sleek outline.
Arguably the biggest change is in the rear of the GX which breaks the mold of what we have come to expect in the CUV segment. Wheras many of its rivals tend to go for function at the expense of being bland, the GX actually tries to standout. The taillights are clearly inspired by some of the designs we have seen on Hyundai models, and they look very sharp for what they are. The liftgate itself is split into two sections via a well placed character line, and the Buick tri-shield is allowed to take center stage in the middle of the piece. It’s a pity that the rear bumper doesn’t quite follow the same script, though that’s partially resolved with the optional ST package. Against rivals, the Encore GX is in a very interesting place, with the Buick being ahead of the Hyundai Kona in styling, and is actually on par with select Lexus and BMW models.
Handsome interior features plenty of tech, cheap plastic
The 2020 Buick Encore GX shares its DNA with the Chevrolet Trailblazer, and while the exterior does an excellent job of hiding the familial link, the interior is more than eager to show off the family resemblance (for better or for worse.) The cabin itself has a handsome look, and there are even some occasional splashes of nice materials here and there but the dominant theme here is plastics and lots of it. Essence grade models like our tester come with a large infotainment screen, but the angled position it has can throw you off slightly on occasion, though it makes up for it by being very easy to use once your eyes get used to it. The screen also comes with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and even throws in all new Amazon Alexa software for better connectivity with certain smart technologies.
The GX also has a number of functional solutions embedded in its cabin design, with Buick designers wanting the CUV to trump many of its rivals in cargo space. It manages to achieve this by not only folding down the rear seats, but also the front passenger seat which has been designed to serve as an extension of the cargo area. This gives the GX the ability to swallow a wider swath of cargo items including kayaks, skis, and even a sheet of plywood. Buick reps are very proud of that particular feat, and we suspect small families will be too, especially those that like to travel or need to haul alot of things from place to place. The $1,790 Advanced Technology Package brings goodies such as a surround view rear backup camera, adaptive cruise control, and even a heads up display.
Performance where art thou?
With all the function and style that the Encore manages to pack into its platform, it’s a real pity that it shares the same problem as the smaller Encore, a lack of muscle. Buyers have the choice of either a 1.2 liter turbocharged three cylinder engine or an optional turbocharged 1.3 liter three banger. Our tester arrived with the latter engine, which is good for 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. This allowed our tester to have initial bursts of muscle when accelerating, but don’t be fooled, this three banger is more of a paper tiger, with that initial burst of confidence abruptly transforming into persistent laziness. The engine gets very wheezy at freeway speeds, and while passing in the Encore GX is very commendable, the lack of guts is still very evident, with our tester jogging its way to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, which is slightly slower than the smaller Encore’s bigger 1.4 liter engine.
The thrashy engine is paired to one of two transmissions depending on what configuration is selected. If it’s an all-wheel drive model then it gets a nine speed automatic, otherwise, it’s hooked up to a CVT which drones like a swarm of hornets, and has no problem bungling its way through gear ratios. All of this is paired up with a very sloppy steering rack that feels over-boosted, and offers erratic levels of response to the driver. Vagueness in the on center position immediately transitions to bouts of heaviness and as a result, it can be very hard getting to know the GX’s limits at times.
But while the GX will never be known as a track champion, there are a couple things that it still manages to get right. The first is refinement, with the GX offering a fairly commendable ride and quiet when you allow it to go through the motions at its own pace. Buick’s QuietTuning technology is on full display here, and it does a good job of silencing excess noise when you take the GX through city commutes. Fuel economy is also very good, with the 1.3 liter actually being more fuel efficient than the smaller 1.2 liter base engine, with the EPA rating front wheel drive like our example at 30 mpg city (a small bump over the other engine’s 26 mpg) and 32 mpg in freeway driving (a gain of 2 mpg.)
Pricing for the 2020 Buick Encore reflects the high levels of value that the brand is trying to bake into this particular entry, with a base Preferred model in front wheel drive guise starting at$25,095. The mid-range Select has a slightly higher MSRP of $26,695 and is also the trim where you get introduced to the GX’s safety equipment. Last but not least is the top of the line Essence trim, which starts at $29,495. Our tester arrived with $5,470 worth of optional extras which helped push the final price to $34,965.
That includes the $995 destination fee, and puts the Encore GX squarely in the running with others in the segment. Unfortunately, alot of these rivals have far better driving dynamics, with the BMW X1 and the Volvo XC40 all having more powerful engines and better transmissions to balance out their higher price tags. The Hyundai Kona has four cylinder engines across the board, and the optional 1.6 liter turbo has more power than the 155 horsepower 1.3 liter. The Kia Seltos also recently made its way onto the scene, and the spunky Kia not only has a cheaper price tag, but also has a better interior and performance.
In short, the 2020 Buick Encore GX is a very interesting CUV offering. It fills a noticeable niche for Buick, and it serves as the proverbial grey area between the smaller Encore and the Envision. But while the technology and the functionality it has on board are very impressive, it’s balanced out rather noticeably by its lazy performance manners. If your looking for something that can bring a decent amount of spunk to go along with its utility, the GX is not for you. But if you are willing to adjust to the GX, and let some of its advantages shine through, this Buick offering might be the perfect tool for your needs.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.