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The 2014 Buick Encore is one of just a few subcompact crossovers (or tall hatchbacks, depending on which way you see it); and it's one of the smallest crossover on the market that's positioned as a premium entry. In some respects, it's in a niche of one.
From certain angles, the Encore has enough presence to justify its pricetag--which can reach past $30,000 with a heavy hand on the options list. But it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the Encore competes with. On the lower end, the MINI Countryman and Fiat 500L are smaller, quirkier, and have entirely different personalities than the littlest Buick. Among traditional luxury brands, only BMW offers an all-wheel-drive crossover even closer to the Encore in size--and we're skeptical that BMW X1 shoppers even know where their local Buick-GMC dealer is located. Among tall wagons that aim for good gas mileage in a practical, city-friendly size, the Buick stands alone in its more traditional approach to luxury.
Buyers who want a small but luxurious car that mixes elements of hatchback and crossover, and offers all-wheel drive may find the Encore one of the few options on the market. While sales are nowhere near that of Buick's mainstay larger Enclave crossover or LaCrosse sedan, the little Encore takes the brand to a new and younger audience--and may prove to have pioneered a new market segment.
The Buick Encore shares some components and underpinnings with the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, but you'd never know it inside or out. Its optional all-wheel drive isn't available on the Sonic either--though the system is tuned for bad-weather traction, rather than off-roading or rocky country tracks. Overall, the shape of the Encore tries to convey a tougher look to disguises its tall boxy shape. The front end is steeply raked, it rides on huge 18-inch wheels, and some of the body sculpting can appear as if the designers were simply trying too hard.
Accommodations are good in certain dimensions--height, particularly--and tighter in others. The Encore is a narrow vehicle, so front-seat passengers can touch elbows occasionally. Its real forte is the flexible interior configuration: The back seat flips and folds down, and even the front passenger seat can fold too. That makes it far more useful as a small hatchback than you might expect from the premium trappings, adding some Honda Fit flexibility to the Buick Verano compact luxury overtones.
Inside, the cockpits of our test cars were either trimmed in all-black materials or a multi-tone palette of cocoa-colored leather and two-tone brown trim that lend a jazzy buzz. There are other color combos too. Befitting the near-luxury Buick brand, the cabin is relatively quiet--though not entirely hushed, since some wind and tire noise still comes through. Active noise cancellation does keep engine roar mostly muted, however.
There's currently just one engine and transmission combination, the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the Sonic mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. (All-wheel drive is optional.) But the Encore verges on 3,200 pounds, which is a lot of mass to move with just 138 horsepower. Even without the added weight of optional all-wheel drive, the 0-to-60-mph run takes around 9 seconds, and if you add the extra weight to drive all the wheels, you'll take 10 seconds and learn to plan your on-ramps and merges well ahead of time.
Handling is as good as you'll get in a tall, heavy wagon with a short wheelbase. All-wheel drive models seem to ride more smoothly than front-drivers, perhaps due to the added weight down low.
Safety and equipment are where the Encore's pricetag starts to make more sense. The base vehicle is around $25,000, on top of which you can add leather seats, all-wheel drive, a premium Bose audio system, and safety options like lane-departure and forward-collision-warning systems. And all models come standard with 10 airbags, a rearview camera, and the ability to run selected smartphone apps via Bluetooth. A loaded Encore comes in at around $33,000--less than the BMW X1, but a level that Buick believes puts the Encore within reach of its audience.
- Interior quiet and calm
- Well equipped, including IntelliLink
- Roomy back seat, ample headroom
- Flexible interior for good cargo space
- Handsome two-tone interior trim
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- Overstyled to some eyes
- Narrow cabin
- Marginal performance, AWD especially
- Gas mileage not all that good