The Buick Encore is a small crossover SUV that rivals the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 along with the more mainstream Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax.
Its tall and boxy profile is somewhat ameliorated by a steeply raked front end and oversize 18-inch wheels. Encore is unusually quiet, reasonably spacious, and amply equipped. Feeble performance detracts from its hoped-for status as a premium model. Encore is structurally related to the Chevrolet Sonic.
Only one powertrain is available: a 138-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder driving a 6-speed automatic transmission with Driver Shift Control. Front-wheel drive is standard, optional all-wheel drive is available for harsh-weather traction.
Little has changed for 2016, except for revised seven-spoke 18-inch wheels. New for 2016 is a Sport Touring trim level with special exterior trim and a turbocharged engine making 153 horsepower.
While the cabin feels somewhat narrow, the back holds two adults with a degree of comfort. Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, with a seven-inch touch-screen, can run smartphone apps via Bluetooth. OnStar 4G LTE telematics can create a WiFi network right in the car.
Fuel economy is good, but not thrifty enough for a vehicle in this category. The front-wheel-drive Encore is EPA-rated at 25/33 mpg City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 23/30 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined.
As for crash-testing, Encore has scored among the best small crossover SUVs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety made it a Top Safety Pick, rate Good in three tests. That was a considerable improvement over 2014, when Encore was deemed Poor in the small-overlap trial. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Encore five stars overall.
If Encore designers are guilty of anything, it might be trying too hard to achieve distinctive body sculpting. For a small car, there’s just too much going on with the body, though it does convey a certain presence when viewed from specific angles.
Generally speaking, the front half of this little crossover SUV flaunts a rakish stance. Further back, an Encore looks more like a traditional small, five-door hatchback. A spoiler atop the tailgate extends the roofline, helping Encore to appear slightly longer than its 168.4-inch dimension suggests. Chrome-surrounded simulated portholes atop the hood do nothing to improve appearance, serving mainly as reminder of Buick’s storied past.
Design details are more subdued inside the Encore, though interior trim possibilities stretch from all-black to multi-colored. The cabin conveys a premium feel. A tall roof and low dashboard combine to create a sense of space.
Headroom is good, but an Encore isn’t so accommodating otherwise. Relatively narrow dimensions result in somewhat constricted shoulder space. Still, an Encore easily conveys four average-size adults. Back-seat knee space is adequate, helped slightly by indentations in front seatbacks.
Not only does the driver get a good seating position, it’s accompanied by a commanding view past the short hood. Although the cabin is comparatively quiet, some wind and tire noise can be heard. Buick’s Active Noise Cancellation curtails most engine roar.
Passenger comfort is enhanced by nicely-shaped front seatbacks and cushions, though a little more support would be welcome. The back seat folds, to hold 48.4 cubic feet of cargo.
On the down side, the dashboard suffers from overabundant colors. The center stack is packed with switches and buttons. Many controls are nearly identical, identified by small symbols, thus distraction-prone. Conventional rotary knobs control audio volume and other adjustments.
Better make sure that rearview camera is ready, because side views and rear-quarter visibility are awful, due to thick pillars and a small back window.
Considering that an Encore weighs close to 3,200 pounds, sluggish performance isn’t exactly a surprise. That’s a lot of bulk to propel with 138 horsepower. Acceleration to 60 mph takes a leisurely nine seconds or more (10 seconds with all-wheel drive). With a couple of passengers seated, the AWD edition really does feel lackadaisical, making advanced planning essential when you expect to merge.
Performance also is hindered by an automatic transmission that tends to upshift prematurely. During even modest acceleration, the transmission typically downshifts twice. Acceleration should quicken significantly with the new Sport Touring, whose 153-hp engine develops 177 pound-feet of torque.
Handling is good for a tall, heavy wagon on a short (100.6-inch) wheelbase, with what amounts to an econocar-type suspension. Good electric power steering provides a satisfying blend of on-center operation and simulated driver feedback.
Under nearly all road conditions, an Encore rides quite well. However, some light choppiness may appear when rolling over expansion joints or potholes. All-wheel-drive models seem more smooth-riding. Well-cushioned seats help keep passengers contented.
Though on the sluggish side with the standard engine, any Encore provides a pleasant road experience. You get luxury-car features at a premium price; but underneath, it’s basically a small hatchback. Shoppers seeking more energetic performance might prefer to look for the new Sport Touring edition.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.