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The 2013 Buick Encore defies tidy explanation. Mostly hatchback, a little bit crossover, it's officially dubbed a premium subcompact crossover vehicle--a niche where few others exist, save for the BMW X1 and MINI Countryman. The idea? To deliver an upscale tall wagon with all-weather traction, one with great gas mileage and city-friendly handling and size.
If that long ride down the flowchart finds you here, the Encore probably will square up nicely with expectations, in most ways save maybe for one.
Conceived at about the same time as Chevy's Sonic, but sharing only minor pieces like seat frames, the Buick Encore is built in South Korea, and fits the same subcompact class. It's small and tall--and that means it can looks compressed and overstyled. It needs to be "aggressive" to pull off any connotation of sporty-utility, and that leads to the squat front end, and the thick stack of headlamps, grille, wheel well, and big 18-inch wheels in front. Pull to the side and around back, and it goes non sequitir S-curved, pinched. The cockpit's either all-black and sedate, or it's a wild night at Starbucks, with cocoa-colored leather and two-tone brown trim (there are other shades) that lend a jazzy buzz.
The second act we're waiting to see with this Encore is, no doubt, more power. The Sonic donates its turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic to the effort, and effort is what you'll take away. The nearly 3200-pound Encore taps every available erg, and has a tough time finishing 0-60 mph runs in 9 seconds. Add all-wheel drive, and you're up to ten seconds and into remedial highway-merging lessons. The Encore handles as well as any short-wheelbase tall wagon can--and vexingly, the added weight of all-wheel drive seems to smooth out the occasional road chop even more.
The cabin's a quieter place to sit, thanks to active noise cancellation, though tire and wind noise aren't nixed. You'll still hear conversations intimately, because the Encore excels at head room, not shoulder room. Your passengers? They're right there, at elbow's distance. The Encore is narrow across but expansive up and over, and that extends to the back seat, which flips and folds while the front passenger seat folds down. The Encore is open to all sorts of unconventional arrangements, and that's its real talent: going from runabout to expandable backpack in nothing flat.
With ten airbags, a standard rearview camera and Bluetooth-driven smartphone apps, the Encore's a safe and infotaining place to be. From about $25,000 base, you can add leather seats, a lane-departure and forward-collision warning system, all-wheel drive, and Bose audio, and still keep the price to under $31,000. It's not teeming with power or space, but if you've seen the explosive pricetags on some of the competition, you'll know that pricetag is one dimension that works purely in the Buick Encore's favor.
- More back-seat room than expected
- Quiet at almost any speed
- Lots of standard features, including IntelliLink
- Mod two-tone interior options
- Good cargo space, in any configuration
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- Styled in two acts
- Narrow interior space
- Sluggish, even before AWD
- EPA figures just on par with bigger utes