Buick seeks to broaden its customer base and has introduced cars that appeal to driving enthusiasts, such as the Regal GS, and to younger drivers, such as the new Encore. This small crossover SUV looks like anything but a traditional Buick, and that's a good thing.
Appearance: The Encore is built in South Korea and that makes visual sense, because it looks like one of that country's automakers' stylish SUVs, with a curvy profile, sculpted body lines and lots of chrome trim. (It's also built on the same continent as China, where Buicks are popular.) The only touches that read Buick are the signature waterfall grille and faux portholes on the hood. The Encore's blue, translucent projector-beam headlamps are a design feature themselves, imparting a modern look to the small crossover that shares a platform with the Chevy Sonic. Our tester was set off by 18-inch polished wheels, sculpted taillights and chrome exhaust tips.
Performance: The 1.4-liter 138-horsepower Ecotec turbo won't wow you, except for its quietness at idle. Still, it's adequate to move the little Encore on the highway, and is peppy under acceleration, with the six-speed automatic going through the gears smoothly on upshifts. The engine will get loud and revvy under hard acceleration, but that's to be expected. The Encore sits higher than a small hatchback yet there is little body lean, and it imparts a confident feel in corners. The mini-utility drives more like a car than an SUV, but because of its small size and firm suspension, the ride can get choppy on bumps or uneven pavement. We both liked the electronic power steering's light but composed feel.
Interior: The first thing you notice about the interior is what's not there: noise. The Encore's interior is testament to the sound-proofing job Buick has done, using acoustic laminated glass and an active noise-cancellation system. There's not a lot of elbow room and the footwells are narrow, but the Encore does boast a surprising amount of headroom. The rear-seat room isn't as constricted as you might imagine and the passenger room is fine for city driving — even for adults. The Encore's cabin is attractive with a lot of bells and whistles with the premium package: There is lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert, which can annoy some drivers. One glaring omission: Why no blind-spot warning system? The tiny wide-angle mirrors within the small side mirrors are a poor substitute, especially given the Encore's limited visibility. A rearview camera and parking assist help. Overall, we found the two-tone interior attractive and well put together, with a textured dash and wood-panel accents. Some of the dials and buttons seemed more budget than luxury, but this is a problem across all of GM's vehicles. Our 3 favorites
Double glove boxes: Along with nooks in the doors, they offer storage space in a small cabin.
Child locks: The control is placed front and center on the console.
Folding seats: The 60/40 rear seats fold flat and easily.
Mini-SUV segment: Not everyone needs a large people/stuff hauler. Good for small families.
Price: Luxury entry-level prices start at $24,200.
Color: Cocoa Silver Metallic is rich and classy.
The bottom line: The Encore makes for a comfortable and stylish commuter — it seems more city car than SUV — and it should appeal to the younger buyers that Buick covets.