2014 Buick Encore Comfort & Quality

On Comfort & Quality

Given its subcompact footprint, the tall but narrow 2014 Buick Encore manages to provide space for four adult-sized humans and their gear with just a few compromises.

Dimensionally, the Encore is 168.4 inches in length, riding on a 100.6-inch wheelbase. That's about 10 inches shorter than a Ford Escape, but more than 6 inches longer than a MINI Countryman--though you might not be able to tell by looking at the two cars.

A nice, high driving position and headroom are offset by the narrow cabin, though the Encore's flexible seats make it a useful hauler.

Inside, the driver sits high, with a commanding view and good visibility out over the stubby hood. The dashboard is low, and the roof is high, which increases the sense of interior space. Even with the optional sunroof specified, there's plenty of headroom in an Encore. But the narrow cabin limits knee and shoulder room, and even though the console's not that wide, it hems in front-seat passengers--whose elbows may touch. Some may find the bottom cushions of the front seats a little flat, but the backs are nicely shaped and well bolstered.

In the rear, the back seat doesn't look spacious, but it will actually accommodate two adults (don't even think about trying for a third). Kneeroom is adequate, with slight hollows in the backs of the front seats, and although wide people may rub shoulders, it's surprisingly accommodating in the rear. A fold-down armrest containing its own cupholders is a nice touch not found in many cars this small.

But the Buick Encore has a second personality, as a hauler for two people and their stuff. With the back seat folded down, the 18.8-cubic-foot load bay expands to a shade under 50 cubic feet. That makes it the perfect urban errand car--and if there's only the driver, even the front passenger seat can be folded down to fit ladders, long boxes, or a whole lot of peat moss into the five-door Buick.

It'll still carry cargo with refinement, though: Buick uses active noise cancellation to block out engine noises, generating white noise (or, technically, anti-noise) to eliminate the worst frequencies. There's still tire and wind noise at speed, but the cabin remains calm and soothing under circumstances that would have cheaper subcompacts howling.

Less refined is the dashboard design, a welter of mixed colors, lines, and plastics. Many of the plastics are hard, but the worst aspect is the array of buttons, knobs, and other controls in the center stack. We counted 33 separate controls, many of them near-identical rectangular black buttons with small symbols on them. It's a recipe for driver distraction--or, alternatively, drivers finding the five controls they use most often and ignoring everything else the car offers. At least Buick gets points for using old-fashioned rotary knobs for things like audio volume. But the whole design hardly continues the "premium" feel conveyed by the leather upholstery and comfortable seats.

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