2013 Buick Encore HD Video Review
Let’s get the obvious cliché out of the way immediately; the big news at Buick is a small crossover. Not Honda CR-V small or even VW Tiguan sized. Think smaller. Seriously. The 2013 Encore is the same width as a Kia Soul, two inches higher and six inches longer. It’s one the most diminutive cars Buick has ever offered.
Considering the runaway success of big brother Enclave, Encore is the perfect name for a small follow-up performance (and you have to believe GM made sure the name isn’t owned by Chrysler, who bought AMC years ago). The question is- can Buick do small?
They Already Do
Enclave and LaCrosse are the only classic-sized models in the fleet these days, Regal and Verano sport European dimensions. Encore tips the balance toward the brand’s new compact approach to premium cars. Making Encore smaller than the others might even be a brilliant move to make Buick more appealing to younger shoppers.
Encore isn’t just different for Buick, it’s unique to the American market. The closest cross-shop competitors are MINI Countryman, VW Tiguan, or the upcoming (and more expensive and powerful) BMW X1 or Audi Q3. The Tri Shield folks have positioned their “fun-sized” ute in a slot with no real direct rivals.
At the press event in Atlanta, GA, the first glimpse of the car takes a second to get used to. It’s small but the tall stature and Buick design cues give it some visual heft. The waterfall grille and (nonfunctional) portholes are here. Wouldn’t be a Buick without those, huh? All Encores get contrasting color lower cladding.
It’s tough to do elegance on a small canvas but swoopy strakes on the lower rear door panel and D pillar give Encore some grace. Blue headlamp rings pop nicely on all paint colors and if you look closely, you’ll see the Buick logo in the reflector. It’s a fun car to look at, cuddly and upscale at the same time. The roof rack is standard, so is a rear-view camera. As long as I’m on safety, know that there are 10 airbags on board and loads of structural protection with 65 percent of the cabin made of high and ultra high-strength steel.
Encore is powered by the front wheels. Plunk down $1,500 for all-wheel drive. It’s an interesting Borg Warner system that always kicks into all-wheel mode when accelerating from a stand still. If sensors detect that traction is good, it immediately decouples the back drive wheels for better fuel economy. When conditions are slick, it can divvy up the power 50/50 depending on which tires have the most traction. It’s perfect for the dirt roads and snow day duty a Buick will see. With just over six inches of ground clearance, Encore is not a true off-roader. This should surprise no one.
Under the signature hood ventiports is a torquey 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. That’s not a typo, and please, no jokes that the Grand National had more oomph in its power windows. The engine is turbocharged and puts out 138 horsepower with 148 lb-ft of torque available at a low 1,850 rpm. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission, the manual shift operation is done on top of the console lever. Keyless push button start is not available.
You Were Expecting An NSX?
Weighing in at 3,190 pounds for a front-drive model the small turbo motor gets the baby Buick to sixty in a little over 10 seconds. It sounds smooth when pushed during on-ramp merging maneuvers but the engine is definitely heard working. Encore is more about fuel economy than power, front-drive models are EPA rated at 25 city, 33 highway. Of course AWD drops that to 23/30. Good news, it drinks standard grade gas.
The six-speed transmission is a smooth operator, good thing because it shifts often to keep the engine in the best power band when traveling the rolling backroads of Georgia. Dynamically, the engine is happiest bopping around urban habitats. It feels peppy when doing chores and it scores cramped parking spots that others utes can only dream about. In city situations Encore is fun to fling about with a 36.7 foot turning radius that’s less than a MINI Countryman.
Libraries Wish They Were Buick Quiet
Encore’s short wheelbase doesn’t hurt it when cruising the interstate, there’s little hopping and bucking. It’s easy to creep up past 80 miles an hour. Officer. This is due in part to Buick’s Quiet Tuning approach. Encore gets an acoustically laminated windshield, thicker side glass and lots of sound deadening material in the pillars, frame and instrument panel. There’s also an acoustically treated roof panel. The cherry on top is standard Bose active noise cancelation. Using tech from their ubiquitous headphones seen on airplanes throughout the world, three ceiling-mounted microphones sample the interior noise, processors create a reverse waveform and pump it out through the speakers to quiet the cabin.
With MacPherson struts up front and a rear torsion beam in back, Encore’s suspension provides a good blend of comfort and control. Really people, Buick did away with the floaty pillowy dynamic years ago. The view out the front is great, small windows block rearward visibility (probably why the rear-view camera is standard). Remember, Encore rides high so chucking it hard into curves is not overly rewarding. Electric power steering doesn’t help either. For a small vehicle though, it’s a great road trip car.
Encore uses 18” wheels on all four trim models. Using the same sized Continental low rolling resistance tires across the board makes it efficient for the engineers to dial in the precise ride quality they wanted. This Buick is assembled in Bupyeong, South Korea from a global platform that’s also used for the Chevy Trax crossover (a vehicle that, sadly, the US doesn’t get). Perhaps Buick wanted a model all to itself… There’s confusion that Encore is built on the same Gamma platform found under Chevy Sonic. It isn’t. It’s built on Gamma II.
Room Enough For Four
Generally, small vehicles mean big sacrifices in style, quality, and features. Encore’s upscale interior keeps empty nesters in their familiar accoutrements. The cabin feels roomier than you might imagine due to an instrument panel that curves away and a driving position that’s fairly high. Inside, Encore feels a size larger than it is. Soft touch materials look good, petroleum sourced wood trim is shiny. Available dual-zone climate control will keep couples happy. There are cubbies scattered everywhere including small dual gloveboxes. You might just loose stuff.
The leather seats on my tester are quite comfortable even after 170 miles of driving. Driver and passenger thrones get power operation with generous height adjustment, the pilot’s has a two-position memory. The seatback rake is adjusted manually though. The chairs are heated as expected, so is the steering wheel, a wonderful luxury for Northerners. Blind spot warning is not available but other safety tech such as forward collision warning and lane departure warning is part of the Premium package.
The center stack gets a cluster of buttons that rivals the confusion found on Honda products. Encore gets GMs IntelliLink user interface. The overall setup is easy to use, but with the screen located up closer to eye level, it is not a touchscreen. A small rotary knob has to be used to select the stuff you want. Connect a smart phone and its data plan lets you stream music from Pandora and Stitcher (hope you have unlimited data). It also allows you to check out the weather forecast, score low gas prices and find movie show times.
A Bose sound system is standard. Audiophiles will want to upgrade to the premium seven-speaker version. You can also take hands free calls and stream tunes over Bluetooth. As on all GM products, the terrific OnStar system is along for the ride.
The Back Seat Doesn’t Take A Back Seat To Comfort
Being a small car you might expect cramped rear quarter. There are belts for three, keep it to two adults and it’s surprisingly accommodating. Since Encore is vertically oriented, the high seat cushion helps to create decent foot and legroom. Headroom is generous too. I rode in the rear for 10 miles with no issues at all.
Storage in the door panels is handy, both seatbacks get pockets. A three-prong 110-volt power outlet in back makes computer charging on the way to work a snap. Nice touch. I’ll nit pick and grouse that the seat tracks could be better finished off.
No Baggage, Unless You Bring It
Since I’m on a press launch I can’t do the usual TP trunk test but using my luggage to judge scale I’d say it’s a three packer, maybe four. Buick claims six bags of groceries will fit back here. There’s a small storage cubbie and grocery bag hooks. The security cover gets it’s own storage slot if you need to haul something on the tall side. Not all cars get spare tires these days, Encore does.
The expected split rear seatbacks open up a generous 48.4 cubic feet of room (the cushion has to be raised up before the back drops flat). To help owners live with the smaller size, Buick added a folding front passenger seat. Hauling ladders or an eight-foot long rug can be done inside.
So, who’s going to buy Encore when it hits dealers in February? Couples without children are the obvious target. That can be older folks, or if recent history is any indication, they’ll be younger pre-kid professionals. Since 2007, conquest sales from brands other than GM have risen significantly and the demographic has dropped to the point of closing in on the average age for the industry. Who’d a thunk it? A base price of $24,950 with destination should help that trend. Well equipped it’s about 28 grand; check every option box and the price shoots up to 33.7.
Encore is a gutsy move for Buick but my gut believes it’s a bet that should pay off well. Would I like more power? Sure, but the petite size, original design and well-executed interior attracts a lot of attention and queries from the good people of Atlanta (frustrating when you have a very limited time for photography). Really, the expected move would have been to build something off the Equinox/Terrain platform and go after the Lexus RX players. Good to see them thinking outside the two-box segment.
It will be interesting to see how it does in the marketplace and what it does for Buick’s image. Apparently there are already a lot of hand raisers and Buick’s website is getting far more hits than expected. If you’re looking for quiet comfortable urban transportation with style, you can go straight to the Encore.
FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY BUICK. THE MOVIES WERE SHOT (QUICKLY) BY TOM.