- Well equipped, including IntelliLink
- Interior quiet and calm
- Roomy back seat, ample headroom
- Handsome two-tone interior trim
- Flexible interior for good cargo space
- Marginal performance, AWD especially
- Gas mileage not all that good
- Overstyled to some eyes
- Narrow cabin
The 2015 Buick Encore could use a little power, but it's otherwise a mostly solid entry into a very small segment.
Two years ago, the 2015 Buick Encore—now in its third model year—represented a segment of one. Now there are new entries both at the affordable end—the Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, and Jeep Renegade—and from luxury marques—Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
The burgeoning competition makes the littlest Buick look like a trailblazer, albeit one with somewhat unusual lines and proportions. Still, it's not entirely clear where the 2015 Encore fits into the market. It offers good gas mileage in a practical, city-friendly size, but the Buick stands alone in its traditional approach to luxury, and its price can reach well beyond $30,000 with a heavy hand on the options list.
The MINI Countryman and upcoming Fiat 500X are smaller, quirkier, and have younger, more modern personalities. Among traditional luxury brands, only BMW and Mercedes offer all-wheel-drive crossovers even close to the Encore's small size--and we're skeptical that BMW X1 or Mercedes GLA shoppers would be hard-pressed even to locate their local Buick-GMC dealer. That puts Buick in the middle: It's a brand that's more upmarket than mass but nowhere near competing with the Germans.
Overall, the shape of the Encore tries to convey a tougher look that 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. From certain angles, the Encore has enough presence to justify its price tag.
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.
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.
Although you'd likely never guess it, the Encore shares some underpinnings with the humble Chevy Sonic subcompact. But the Buick's optional all-wheel drive isn't offered on that Chevy--even if it's tuned more for bad-weather traction, rather than off-roading or rocky country tracks. There's a single engine and transmission combination, the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the Sonic mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
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.
The Encore is also mostly unchanged for 2015, with the exception of OnStar's new 4G LTE data connection, and the ability to create a WiFi network inside the car.