2014 Buick Encore Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2014 Buick Encore

Ted West
© 2014 NewCarTestDrive.com

Buick Encore is an entry-luxury, compact crossover utility vehicle. Encore is a small vehicle, significantly shorter in overall length than the Ford Escape and just slightly longer than the Mini Countryman.

After climbing in, however, Encore feels so spacious and commodious that it’s hard to remember the smallness that’s so striking when looking at it from the outside. Encore offers 48.4 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded down, 18.8 cubic feet with those seats up.

The cabin feels upscale and luxurious, due its elegant design, fine instruments and high-quality switch-gear. Optional leather upholstery add to its beauty and richness and make it feel like a luxury crossover.

Its small size means the Encore will fit into countless environments and driving conditions. Its outside dimensions are so compact that whenever we came upon another Encore on the road, we were stunned at how diminutive it looked while moving through traffic. The Encore we were driving, identical to the one seen out the window, seemed sumptuous inside, a satisfying vehicle that suited all our needs. With smoke-and-mirrors design like that, the Buick stylists have shown themselves to be wizards of clever packaging.

Encore was designed to be a nimble, agile SUV that would be easy to park, maneuver, and have an excellent turning circle (a mere 36.7 feet). It should have available all-wheel drive, the plan said, extremely flexible stowage adaptability, carry five passengers, and provide advanced technology in combination with real luxury. The good news is, that’s the vehicle we tested on the urban and rural roads of Georgia.

But the good news continues: This little/big package showed very efficient over-the-road performance. Being physically small and light, at 3190 pounds for the front-wheel-drive model, the Buick Encore requires only an absolutely tiny 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine, coupled to a 6-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission, to deliver adequate local and Interstate performance. Even with the heavier 3309-pound all-wheel-drive model, the Encore delivers an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg City/Highway. The front-wheel drive Encore gets an estimate of 25/33 mpg City/Highway, which was claimed to be the highest fuel economy of any front-wheel-drive crossover.

Encore’s performance equation seems to be extremely well balanced. It delivers thrift and luxury in generous degrees, available for a very attractive price. Many starter families are likely to be enticed by this vehicle. But we suspect that just about as many empty-nesters, no longer needing their huge, now-empty Enclaves, will flock to this mini-Enclave, happy to have a familiar taste of their Enclave’s comfort and elegance.

Encore was launched as a 2013 model. Newly available safety equipment for the 2014 Encore includes Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert. An enhanced IntelliLink system gains text message support for 2014, as well as Siri Eyes Free, and smartphone voice-recognition pass-through.

Buick Encore can be cross shopped against the Ford Escape, Mini Countryman S, and Volkswagen Tiguan. Buick’s crossover, when equipped with front-wheel drive, beats all three of those rivals in fuel-economy estimates.

Model Lineup

Base Encore FWD ($24,160), Encore AWD ($25,660); Encore Convenience FWD ($25,785), Encore Convenience AWD ($27,285); Encore Leather FWD ($27,485), Encore Leather AWD ($28,895); Encore Premium FWD ($28,965), Encore Premium AWD ($30,465)

Walk Around

Buick Encore is the smallest luxury crossover utility vehicle on the market. Encore is 165 inches long, with a wheelbase of 100.6 inches, and a track of 60.6 inches (front and rear). That’s slightly longer overall than the Mini Countryman but significantly shorter than the Ford Escape.

And because the Encore is tall enough to make its occupants feel welcome, in pictures, its proportions make it look a little more like a Smart car than its designers might have wished.

In person, the Encore’s proportions are less startling. Its nose features the signature Buick waterfall grille, and its frontal view is muscular and attractive. The side view is unavoidably truncated and world-car-like. That will be a plus to many, while the wide, hungry tailgate in the rear is ready to take in a surprising amount of cargo: 48.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. Traditional Buick hood portholes are evident, along with chrome accents. Painted five-spoke aluminum wheels hold 18-inch tires.

As a bona fide crossover, the Encore’s duties will be almost entirely on pavement, and its flowing, curvaceous styling is well suited to those tasks. As a world car, it boasts an extremely clean 0.37 coefficient of drag, which is a snooty way of saying it is aerodynamically clean, helping it get optimum mileage at highway speeds. In fact, the closer you look at the Encore, the more keenly its qualities suit the tastes and tendencies of buyers who want to reduce their carbon footprint to a tippy-toe, yet not pay the high price premium of a buying a hybrid vehicle to do so. Achieving full five-passenger service and getting 30 mpg or so on the highway in a vehicle that pampers its occupants every mile of the way; for many, that’s worth considering.

Interior

Climbing into the Buick Encore is where the real sleight-of-hand begins. The textures and materials, plus the elegant layout of the cabin, immediately convince you that you’re in a luxurious, expensive, inevitably much bigger crossover.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the interior is the classic American dashboard. Buick has no interest in reinventing the wheel, as do so many offshore luxury-car builders. But at the same time, there is nothing dull or so-what about this Buick instrumentation. The displays are clean, bright, without affectation, and tell you what you want to know. If there was any complaint to be made, it’s that the numbers on the speedometer and tachometer are small and hard to read.

The center stack’s secondary controls, too, are exemplary. The standard rearview camera (a welcome provision in this family vehicle) reads well, and the screen provides easily manipulated controls for the Encore’s very flexible audio system. The screen on our test vehicle also served as home port for Buick’s full-color navigation system. This nav system continues to be winsomely simple to use, with excellent graphics.

But there were other lesser keynotes throughout the Encore that help to enhance its luxuriousness. All the switchgear has a sturdy firmness, confirm that its designers had taken their mission seriously. Even the soft-touch surfaces along the top of the dashboard and around the doors have an elegant compliance.

Our test car had leather seating, which was handsome and comfortable. The driver’s seat’s excellent lateral support had a fine snugness that we preferred over the larger, less-fitted seats in the bigger Buick Enclave. The saddle leather was of fine quality, providing first-class seating for five adults. Elegant woodgrain elements highlighted the dash and doors, and as in the Enclave, at night, the Encore’s ice-blue tinted interior ambient lighting made us feel like we’d arrived in a very special place indeed. A small moonroof was there to confirm the impression.

Driving Impressions

The business end of this little/big Buick Encore is, of course, what it’s like to drive. With its tiny turbo four-cylinder engine, can it really be luxurious? Or is it just a buzzy little four-cylinder people-box with nice seats?

We pointed the Encore onto an Interstate and floored it. Acceleration is roughly in the 9-second zero-to-60 range, adequate most of the time. But the most interesting quality of this little 1.4-liter turbo engine is that, while it surely thrashes furiously to accelerate, it doesn’t make the upsetting, graceless groan most little four-cylinders emit at full throttle. Engine noise is audible, but it’s civilized and not unsettling, a revelation for such an engine.

Helping the engine enjoy life, the 6-speed automatic Hydramatic transmission is very smooth-shifting, giving the Encore’s acceleration an altogether civilized and, dare we say, luxurious tone. Farther along the Interstate, when we wanted to accelerate and floored the throttle, the Hydramatic took a long time kicking-down two gears. However, when the gearshift button on the top of the shift lever was used, downshifting took place forthrightly. All doubts aside, the Encore drivetrain is far better than any description of it might suggest. It’s small, efficient, straightforward, and given those constraints, entirely competent.

But we can’t be sure how much of this Buick competence still isn’t smoke and mirrors. That’s because the Encore employs some extremely advanced measures to assure its creatures’ comfort. This is the first Buick to employ Bose’s active noise-cancellation technology. This system uses a microphone to take in the ambient sounds being generated in the Encore interior, analyzes those sounds to determine what opposite sounds will cancel them out, then broadcasts the latter.

It sounds improbable, if not impossible, but driving the Encore at highway speeds, it is uncannily hushed and pleasant. Some of this is surely due to good aerodynamics and the lack of wind noise around the windshield and outside mirrors. But the serene level of mechanical sounds in the Encore at speed is almost certainly thanks to the Bose system. Who can guess what this will mean for peace and quiet in cars of the future? For the present, every Encore has noise cancellation, standard. It’s a species of luxury few of us had expected.

Steering effort in the Buick Encore is firm, live, absolutely right. As we moved into the rural parts of our route, the vehicle’s cornering and lateral dynamics proved similarly firm and free of distracting roll. We found the brakes powerful and well controlled, allowing good modulation.

Buick Encore is the first in a new segment of small luxury crossovers. It has a lavish inventory of virtues, from a well-specified mechanical foundation to sumptuous creature conveniences to distinguished over-the-road comfort and agile dynamics. Encore sets a high standard for competitors to match, with excellent efficiency. In fact, it’s a one-of-a-kind in the small SUV market.

Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive report from New York.

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