2013 Buick Encore: First Drive

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Americans have traditionally had a unique perspective on small cars: They were cheap and economical, and Americans drove them because they had to, not because they wanted to.  The Mini brand largely began to change that kind of thinking in the U.S., suddenly proving that small did not necessarily mean cheap, and Americans bought into it.

Now that small no longer equals cheap in the U.S., more high-end brands are adding compact offerings. Mini now sells a four-door Countryman compact crossover; Fiat's bringing the new 500L stateside later this year, and BMW's X1 is finding buyers as well. Now Buick comes in with this, the new 2013 Encore.

It's a small crossover, based loosely on the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, but with some beefier components and an available all-wheel-drive system thrown in. The result is a tall subcompact crossover rather unlike anything on the market today, in the U.S. at least.

Peppy Pocket Crossover
One of the components shared with the Sonic is the Encore's powertrain — GM's turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder. It makes 138 horsepower here and it's enough to move the Encore through urban settings with decent pep, with a torque curve that favors low-speed, stop-and-go driving. There's enough power for highway speeds and on-ramp merging, but you'll need to plan ahead if you're overtaking a semitrailer on a two-lane highway.

Noise under full throttle is well-managed with Buick's first use of active noise cancellation specifically to mitigate undesirable engine sounds. The Encore is no pocket rocket, but it doesn't feel underpowered thanks to a well-tuned standard six-speed automatic transmission that never has to hunt for the right gear.

That little four-cylinder enables the front-wheel-drive version to achieve the best fuel economy of any domestic compact crossover, according to Buick, with an EPA-rated 25/33 mpg city/highway, 28 mpg combined. Of course, there is one Japanese competitors that does best it in efficiency, the Nissan Juke rated at 27/32 mpg city highway and 29 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive Encore's fuel economy drops to 23/30 mpg, which is less respectable in these days of 40 mpg subcompact cars.

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Agile, But No Athlete

Buick engineers frankly have created a surprisingly comfortable little trucklet; bumps and broken Detroit pavement barely upset the Encore. There also isn't any bucking or bobbing common in cars with short wheelbases. Instead, it's smooth, well-controlled and quiet. That ride quality is all the more impressive given the Encore's standard 18-inch alloy wheels.

Handling is light, with electric power steering providing fairly decent feel through the massive dinner plate-sized steering wheel, but body roll is fairly prominent in fast, sweeping twisties. This is not an athletically inclined crossover — it's more at home buzzing around town than blasting through canyons. Straight line stability on the highway is fine, with enough on-center feel in the electronically boosted steering to keep you planted in your lane, not pogoing back and forth like previous generations of GM electric power steering.

The only real weak link in the vehicle dynamics department is the brakes. They're soft and spongy, with a fairly long pedal travel before they get some grip. They inspire absolutely no confidence in stopping the Encore, even at around-town speeds and certainly aren't as well-executed as the rest of the Encore.

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Buick, Inside and Out

The Encore's styling elicits a love-it-or-hate-it response from passers-by. The short overall length sometimes limits what designers can do aesthetically, but Buick has managed to pack a lot of styling into a small footprint. The face is unmistakably Buick; the signature waterfall grille and blue-ringed headlamps link it to every other Buick in the stable. Details in the side profile resemble the much larger Enclave, and the black body inserts appear to extend the size of the rear window, adding some distinctiveness. The Encore looks better in person than it does in pictures, where it comes off as a little awkward and ungainly.

Inside, material and assembly quality is high, and buyers should have no remorse for spending at least $25,000 on the entry-level Encore. Optional leather of good quality covers the small but comfortable seats and doors, with premium plastics on the instrument panel and real metal trim on many bits that the driver touches, such as the shift lever. Buick's signature ice-blue ambient lighting has been designed into the instrument panel, lending it a high-tech "Tron" look when it lights up at night. A touch-screen is mounted high in the instrument panel so the driver spends less time taking their eyes off the road. Buick's IntelliLink system is standard, one of the better functioning multimedia systems on the market today, offering a full range of connectivity apps, streaming music, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio, and more. Navigation is optional.

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One major downside to the interior is the cluttered center stack; it features no fewer than 35 buttons, four rotary knobs and a four-way selector, all in matte black. Better organization would help drivers find necessary buttons more easily and quickly.

The rear seats fold nearly flat, offering up a good amount of cargo room. Long items can also be accommodated when the front passenger seatback folds flat. With the rear seats up, the Encore technically offers seating for five, but more accurately offers seat belts for five.

Safety
Small cars often bring questions about safety, but Buick tries to address the issue with 10 standard airbags. There are front knee bags as well as front and rear side-impact and side curtain airbags. The Encore has a standard backup camera, the requisite antilock brakes and electronic stability control, and an optional forward collision alert and lane departure warning system using an advanced radar and camera system. That's fairly unusual for a car in this price class and may signal the start of that feature filtering down to less-expensive models. What it does not have is a blind spot warning system.

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Appealing to a New Audience

The Encore will come quite well-equipped as a base model with options mostly arranged into packages, with a few standalone features that can be added across the various trim levels. The base front-wheel- drive Encore comes with most of the aforementioned safety equipment, plus cloth seats with leatherette trim, power driver's seat, 7-inch touch-screen with USB port and Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and 18-inch wheels. It starts at $24,950, including a $750 destination charge. All-wheel drive is an additional $1,500. Click here for a full trim level and pricing breakdown.

With that starting price of $24,950, the Encore starts a full $2,250 higher than a base Mini Countryman. However, it does have more equipment at that price. Adding 18-inch wheels, an automatic transmission and satellite radio (all standard on the Encore) brings the price of the Countryman up to $24,950, but it still lacks the Encore's standard features such as a backup camera, three additional airbags and a more powerful four-cylinder engine. The upper end of the spectrum would encompass the BMW X1, but starting as it does at $31,695 including an $895 destination charge, the X1 seemingly only competes with the upper end of the Encore range. Given that the X1 has a considerably more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 240 hp, it is hard to lump it into the Encore's competitor set.

Which brings us to the big question for Encore: Who is going to buy this thing? Buick says that it is targeting two groups: young professionals looking to upgrade from their first car and empty-nesters looking to downsize but still maintain a certain level of luxury. The introduction of the Buick Verano compact has done amazing things for Buick, both in growing the brand's conquest sales and dropping the average age of its buyers by nearly seven years. Truth is, despite market research and focus groups, Buick is just as curious as the rest of us as to who will pony up for a new Encore. It truly is an experiment, a car largely designed for foreign markets, dropped into the U.S. market in a segment that doesn't exist just yet. To its credit, there's a lot to like about the Encore, and it will be interesting to see just who ends up taking one home.

Related
2013 Buick Encore at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show
2013 Buick Encore to Start at $24,950
More Buick News on Cars.com

Comments 

sheth

The review says "of course" Japanese competitors top the Encore in mileage as if that is a foregone conclusion because this isn't a Japanese branded CUV. It would've been nice to name the competitors being described. Juke? Honda nor Toyota really has a direct competitor to this vehicle. Some may consider the Soul a competitor. Juke is rated at 27/32 with auto (slightly better) and the Kia is rated at 25/30 with its base engine- not exactly better than the Encore. I doubt there is really any doubt about which of the 3 has the nicest interior.

NH

I found this statement, "Of course, Japanese competitors do best it in efficiency," rather awkwardly positioned and without backing. I expected the next line to be about one or two of those competitors and their EPA mileage numbers. None was forthcoming, and instead the article shifts back to talking about the Encore AWD's mileage estimates. Seems like the statement about more efficient competitors should come after? On top of that, I find myself scratching my head because the "of course" makes it sound like I should obviously know what vehicles these are.

I added that line in the editing process because it read as Buick stated it had best in class efficiency for domestic small crossovers. Well, that's half the segment and not representative of the reality of car shoppers. In fact, besides the Ford Escape there really isn't a compact domestic crossover that competes.

The Juke does best it. But the Mazda CX-5 doesn't best it with the automatic trans. The Mini Countryman also comes close.

Perhaps I could strike the entire claim by Buick. It's an automaker claim that we might not report but since it was in the original I felt adding the retort would also work.

jd

Please bear in mind this vehicle is made in Korea.

Also, it's MINI - not Mini.

Just like it's BMW (and not Bmw).

sheth

What Japanese competitors (plural) are you talking about? The Juke is one that BARELY tops the Encore. I'm not even aware of another Japanese competitor. The Mini countryman isn't Japanese nor does it top the mileage of the Encore. As far as I can tell the FWD model is one of the most efficient vehicles of this type so I'm not understanding how the mileage is being treated as disappointing. There aren't many competitors from Detroit or abroad for this vehicle so suggesting that Buick is trying to ignore "half" the competition makes no sense. The most popular smallish CUV type product is the Soul which isn't more efficient.

sheth

And another point, why is the AWD Encore mileage being compared to "40mpg subcompacts"? None of these small CUVs with AWD can match the mileage of a FWD subcompact sedan or hatch with an ECO package. The phrase makes it sound like the Encore stands out in this regard. It's heavier, more luxurious, larger and it has more driven wheels that cars like the Sonic or Fiesta so naturally it's not as efficient. And honestly, few subcompacts even get 40mpg highway.

sheth

Soul FWD 25/30
Juke AWD 25/30
Countryman 25/30
Countryman Cooper S AWD- 23/30
Tuscon 4wd- 20/27

Encore mileage may be low compared to subcompact cars, but its not low compared to other small AWD CUVs- which is kind of who it's aiming at in the market.

Lance

The CX-5 is a much better value than this underpowerd, cramped, who will buy it oddball. The CX-5 is larger, more horsepower, cheaper and gets better MPG and I'm sure it drives better as well. Heck, it only weighs about 100 lbs more than the Encore. GM still hasn't invested in weight saving high strength steel and cutting edge engineering to get the fat out.

AWD Grand Tour CX-5 = 25/31
AWD Encore Premium = 23/30

The GT CX-5 has almost twice the storage space behind the rear seats and comes standard with a sunroof all for about $29k. The Encore is $30k before you add the sunroof.

One can argue that they don't compete because they are a different size but I think they are close enough in size and price to be crossshopped. If so, the CX-5 would come out way ahead.

sheth

lance:

im not even an Encore fan but the CX-5 (and mazdas in general) are not luxurious on the inside. Considering the fact that the Encore has a lot of torque down low I wouldnt expect it to be any slower than the slow CX-5. I know you are obligated by contract to trash anything American branded on this site, we got the message. The CX-5 is really aimed at the mainstream compact crossovers like escape, CR-V and RAV4 which explains it's size advantage over this tiny buick.

BTW, the Encore isn't heavy considering its content and drivetrain. Not that facts matter to you.

J

Too bad that even Canada gets the Chevy version while we in the US does not.
Is GM a Canadian company or US company?

Parrots

sheth,

Could you please just stop it? You're not really helping yourself or anyone else by nitpicking every single thing that is remotely incorrect people say against a GM product. Just let it go after you have said it the first time. It's just the Internet. You'll be happier. Start focusing on more positive things for a change. Thank you.

Lance

And what contract would that be??? Your full of it again sheth. You're so in bed with GM and get so incensed when any GM product is critisized for any reason that you can't think clearly.

I happen to like several Fords and a few Chrysler products. A couple of GM products I would consider buying would be the Verano Turbo and the Corvette. I am partial to Japanese brands simply because I have had over 30 domestic cars and trucks from 1966 through 2003 until I switched. The difference in ownership costs, recall hassle, warranty repairs is just so night and day that it will take a lot to bring me back to domestic. I don't really consider German brands for some of the same reasons but add acquisition cost to the mix on those.

Look how many recalls the new Ford Fusion and Escape have had. Is that supposed to be fun taking your car back to the dealer all the time for repairs that should have been corrected prior to introduction?

Hope you have fun living in your little fantasyland.

sheth

lance:

I figured you had an axe to grind with american branded vehicles, most people like you have the same story. sorry about 30 years of low quality American cars. You should've swithced earlier. YOur personal history with american cars in the 60s through the 90s doesn't change any facts about the Encore. Besides, its built in Korea so I don't get your beef with it to be honest. I have had mixed history with the vehicles Ive owned (all but one wasn't Japanese) but I can say that your claims of high maintenance costs are not supported by my experience at all when it comes to domestics. In fact, domestic vehicles tend to have longer service intervals and reasonable prices. The 100k mile tune up and the oil life monitor are two maintenance related items that the Japanese were slow to adopt. Not exactly a sign that they were looking to save customers money. GM and MB were the first to debut the oil life monitors in the late 90s. Escapes are a questionable way to measure quality- and considering all the Honda and Toyota recalls in recent years I don't think you want to go there.

Parrots:

Read my comments before jumping to conclusions, I said clearly that I'm not a major fan of the Encore. Its just too small and Buick should offer an optional engine with more power. That said, it needs to be judged against its closest competitors, not vehicles that are in totally different segments.

Lance

No, I do not have an axe to grind. GM or Ford didn't screw me or anything like that. I just switched due to the actual product being bad. My last two GM products, a 1993 Buick LaSabre Ltd. and a 1995 Chevy S-10 were good examples. I liked both vehicles and kept them for a good long time. I kept a file on each and when I traded the S-10 and gave the Buick to Kars for Kids I reviewed those files. It was unbelievable the number of times I had that Buick in for warranty work, recalls and repairs. I guess it didn't bother me that much at the time because the Buick dealer was right down the street from my office and it wasn't too big a hassle to take it in. The S-10 was a little better but still had a lot of repairs that added up to several thousand dollars over the years. I decided to try a Japanese product again after having a bad experience with a 1974 Toyota. Like I said, night and day. Now I have three Japanese vehicles and have had absolutely great experience with each after 95k, 75k and 2k.

BTW, where a car is made has no bearing on if I buy it or not. Why should I like a car because it made in Korea. Do you like cars only because they are made in the US? In fact my current three Japanese vehicles were built in Texas, Michigan and Ohio. They are more domestic than many of Ford and GM's offerings.

It's not the bells and whistles like oil life monitors that make a car good. It's the quality of parts, labor and manufacturing process itself. That is the real difference.

The S-10 was a little better but still had a lot of repairs that added up to several thousand dollars over the years. I decided to try a Japanese product again after having a bad experience with a 1974 Toyota. Like I said, night and day. Now I have three Japanese vehicles and have had absolutely great experience with each after 95k, 75k and 2k. http://www.zehrabebek.com
http://www.hastanedeyim.com

RDog

Got 2 MINIs, the newest one is quick, but like all new Bimmers it's a total pile. It has had more very-major repairs under & out of recall then every other new car combined, that I've owned in all of 40 years!
The Rav4 is a rattle trap & cheap inside, as is the Mazda & CRV!
I test drove the Encore, it's miles & miles ahead in interior & exterior look's, & at least as good in fit & finish & it's Quiet!
It seams new owners are Avg 28 & 29 mpg, as good as my Clubman S manual, with a ton more room.
If your being paid to be bias in your reveiw's, just admit it?
Because you have Not driven any of the above car's CUV's, side by side or you just have an agenda?
By the way the Juke is way uglier then an Aztec, even though it's over 10 yrs newer!

dasdomestic cars and trucks from 1966 through 2003 until I switched. The difference in ownership costs, recall hassle, warranty repairs is just so night and day that it will take a lot to bring me back to domestic. I don't really consider German brands

asdhed. The difference in ownership costs, recall hassle, warranty repairs is just so night and day that it will take a lot to bring me back to domestic. I don't really consider German brands

Steve-O

I was just watching MotorWeek on TV while reading this blog...they were test driving the new Buick Encore on the show..and showed the crash tests done by NHTSA. For a brand new, and I assume state-of-the-art designed vehicle the Encore didn't do well at all in the drivr side offset barrier test. Test Dummy of the driver missed the steering wheel air bag completly and planted it's face on the bare left side of the dashboard. Ouch! Plus 144 of the brand new Encores have already been recalled by the NHTSA. It's made at a GM automobile factory in Bupyeong , South Korea.
Good effort by GM...needs a few little adjustment sna refinements and it will be a fine value.

With the rear seats up, the Encore technically offers seating for five, but more accurately offers seat belts for five.

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