Tall like a crossover, but stubby and narrow like a subcompact, the 2013 Buick Encore does an impressive job of carving out adult-size niches for four passengers, with just a compromise here and there.
First, some numbers. The Encore is 168.4 inches long, with a wheelbase of 100.6 inches, which puts it about ten inches shorter than a Ford Escape and about a half-foot shorter in wheelbase. A MINI Countryman is more than six inches slighter at 161.8 inches long, but still outspans the Encore in wheelbase, at 102.2 inches.
Step inside--not in and down, like in some petite hatchbacks--and the taller Encore shows why it nudges barely into the crossover bin. The driving position is taller and the view forward commanding. The dash lays low toward the glass, creating more of a sense of space than a more vertical design would, and headroom is more abundant that expected, even with the sunroof option installed. What's not abundant, is the amount of knee room: driver and front passenger are hemmed in by a console that's not very wide, and by door panels that aren't very thick. The front seatbacks are bolstered thoughtfully, while the bottom cushions feel a little flat.
Sit for a stint in the back seat, and the Encore comes into better focus. It seems too small to be useful at first look, but the back seat's really adult-sized, particularly in head room. Knee space is more than adequate, and even though you'll be rubbing elbows with two big passengers across the back bench, it's not at all the penalty-box experience you'd anticipate from a subcompact.
There's a fold-down armrest with its own cupholders--but more often, we think, the rear seats will be folded forward, turning their 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space into 48.4 cubic feet. In that two-seat configuration, it's the perfect city warrior for errand runs--especially if you also flip the front passenger seat down. You'll be able to fit a Little Giant ladder in the Encore at that point; time to clear off the to-do list.
With its four-cylinder powertrain and wagon body at this price point, there's immense potential for a noisy, less-than-premium cabin in the Encore. Active noise cancellation cuts down on the former: it uses microphones and white noise generation to negate the worst frequencies, leaving just some low-speed engine sounds and some wind and tire noise to cut into conversation. It's quiet, not remarkably so for a luxury car. The dash has a premium mix of colors and lines, but some of the plastics are done up in hard-grain materials. And at some point, the collection of buttons on the dash to run secondary controls clutters the Encore's tight visual space. There's no MINI chaos or zany Juke nonsense here, but the fifth automotive taste--richness--is missing, too.