- 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
- Styled in two acts
- Narrow interior space
- Sluggish, even before AWD
- EPA figures just on par with bigger utes
The 2013 Buick Encore does nearly everything a pint-sized premium crossover should do--minus a few dozen horsepower, that is.
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.
2013 Buick Encore
Bulldog up front, guppy in back: the Buick Encore looks best from head-on, or from inside its cosmopolitan cockpit.
The Regal and Enclave set some high benchmarks for modern Buick style, but they're bigger cars with more room to play with conflicting design needs. There's not enough sheetmetal on the 2013 Encore to do the same, and it struggles to come off as effortless and detailed at the same time.
It's more of a two-piece combo, one that starts off tough, and tacks up trimly at its tail. The nose has a bulldog's stance, its big tires knuckled down to the ground, with eyes and nose all at about the same height. Chrome-rimmed portholes lay on the hood, almost out of sight from many angles, a good placement.
At the back edge of the front doors, the Encore morphs into something nearly completely its own opposite, something more aquilinear. Follow the S-curve stamped through the door panels, up and around the rear glass, and the Encore picks up Mazda cues, even some traces of the old Honda Insight. Then it reverts to a rugged imprint: the tailgate plays up vertical elements in the taillamps, and a small spoiler keeps the roofline going even when the real space beneath has petered out.
The cabin offers a break from the eyework, so long as you stick with a monochrome treatment. In all-black, it's a subdued place, with twin shields on the steering wheel and the center stack, studded with black switches and knobs and buttons, a slight wedge of faux-wood trim, and some metallic-painted trim. It's a new austerity you'll appreciate. Either that, or you'll stray off into interior treatments like the straight-outta-Starbucks two-tone brown that'll have you searching the cockpit for this month's special grind and a WiFi access code. We'd swap its blue ambient lighting for pure-white LEDs, for a softer and richer effect.
2013 Buick Encore
With only 138 horsepower, the Encore's curb weight overwhelms its turbo four and mutes its grippy handling.
Alert steering and a pliant ride escort the 2013 Buick Encore a long way into premium crossover territory. They'd take it further if the Encore had a more lively powertrain.
The only source of oomph offered with the 2013 Encore is the same one you'll find in the extraordinarily likable Chevy Sonic--a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, here with 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Peak power's available through a six-speed automatic from below 2000 rpm to almost 5000 rpm.
A few things conspire against the turbo four to keep it from percolating it into the interesting category, alongside crossovers like the Countryman and Escape. For its overall size, the Encore is chunky, at 3,190 pounds, before adding on people, gas, and options like the desirable all-wheel-drive system. Its six-speed automatic shifts cleanly, but upshifts very quickly, hunting down the quickest route to a 33-mpg EPA highway rating.
Keeping it light--front-drive, a passenger or two--keeps the Encore's straight-line performance under the ten-second 0-60 mph bogey. Checking the option box for all-wheel drive (AWD) adds roughly 150 pounds, but the extra traction and slight ride improvement might be worth the tax it exacts on acceleration of at least a second.
The AWD system, while we're on it, is a distinctive piece of hardware. It's set up to engage the rear wheels with every launch, gradually releasing them from traction duties as it senses good road conditions, until it hits 37 mph--where an all-clear puts all the power to the front wheels.
All Encores ride on 18-inch wheels and tires. And despite the big rolling stock, the short wheelbase, and the compact front strut/torsion-beam rear suspension design, the Encore has a well-controlled ride in almost all situations, with just some light chop caused by typical city street shortcomings--steel plates, pavement joinings, and potholes. Its electric steering takes the hint quickly, too, without deflecting or wandering too much on some vulnerable types of highways.
There are subtle differences with the front- and all-wheel-drive models, ones that'll sway only a handful of shoppers. We've driven both extremes, a solo and the other, a fully laden AWD version with three aged-out linebackers on board. The added weight taps out the Encore's energy reserves completely, but it also damps out more of those rough patches--putting even more Buick in the Encore's road feel.
2013 Buick Encore
Comfort & Quality
Headroom's a cinch in the Encore, and the driving position is good and high, but back-seat shoulder space gets tight.
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.
2013 Buick Encore
Standard Bluetooth and a rearview camera add to the Encore's safety, but no crash scores are in yet.
The Encore may be on the petite side, but it packs in most of GM's latest safety technologies, including ten airbags, stability control, and a standard rearview camera and standard Bluetooth connectivity.
The combination of mandatory and market-driven safety gear should prove itself out when the Encore undergoes crash tests. But as of yet, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has put the compact five-door through its regimen.
Aside from those standard features, the Encore can be optioned up with more layers of protection, some valuable more in slushy states (all-wheel drive, for $1,500) and some more valuable in urban forays. That'd be the camera-based lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems, which keep a radar eye on the road ahead, and beep at you if you cross the pavement lines or if you're approaching the vehicle ahead too quickly. The downfall of some of these systems is too frequent alerts: aside from a stray beep at rapidly rising roads and a lack of warnings over faded double-yellow stripes, the Encore's setup wasn't so annoying that we'd avoid the features bundled with it (parking sensors and Bose audio).
The Encore also includes OnStar, with six months' worth of Directions and Connections service, and access to a mobile app that enables destination programming, remote start, and other convenient features. It has semi-spooky ones, too, like the ability to track family members in the car, on an opt-in basis. One day, we hope, it'll start the car and pre-set all the radio stations back to our favorites--as far away from the smooth-jazz band as possible.
Visibility to the front is excellent, but the Encore's very size puts its wide door pillars right in the blind spot, making it very tough to see passing vehicles on the lane to the left. The rear hatch glass is pretty small, too.
2013 Buick Encore
IntelliLink is mobile connectivity made simple; noise cancellation keeps the cabin quiet enough for Bose audio to pay off.
The Buick Encore comes as a single model with plenty of standard features, an option for all-wheel drive ($1,500), and a set of packages with more luxury touches that ratchet up its base price from $24,950 to just past the $30,000 mark.
Each 2013 Encore comes with standard power windows, locks, and power heated mirrors; cloth upholstery with faux-leather trim; cruise cruise control; 18-inch wheels; a cargo cover; a power driver seat; ambient lighting; active noise cancellation; OnStar; and a rearview camera.
Also standard is Buick's IntelliLink, a Bluetooth-mediated system that uses voice commands or a 7.0-inch LCD screen and a controller knob to run mobile phone functions, the optional navigation system, and audio from a variety of sources--Bluetooth streaming, mobile apps like Pandora, USB, or satellite radio, all standard.
Packages include a Convenience group with remote start, automatic climate control, and fog lamps; Leather, with hides plus a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, memory functions, and a power front passenger seat; and a Premium package with Bose audio, parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system and a forward-collision alert system--both camera-based.
The Bose audio system is an option on Convenience- and Leather-equipped vehicles; a navigation system is offered on all but the base version, as is a sunroof.
2013 Buick Encore
The Encore's gas mileage reads well on the page, but it's just on par with much more roomy crossovers.
It's a stretch to call it a crossover vehicle, we think, but Buick says the 2013 Encore earns the best fuel economy numbers of any crossover from a domestic automaker.
At 25 miles per gallon city, 33 miles per gallon highway, and 28 mpg combined, the front-wheel drive model of the Encore does beat out some of the higher-rated domestics--including GM's own 32-mpg-highway Chevy Equinox. Add all-wheel drive, however, and the ratings fall to 26 mpg combined, made up of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.
The 2013 Ford Escape is rated as high as 26 mpg combined with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine--and offers significantly more interior space--but an all-wheel-drive Escape with the same engine loses 1 mpg, falling to 25 mpg combined.
The Chevy Sonic, which shares the Encore's powertrain but weighs in a few hundred pounds lighter, is rated by the EPA at 31 mpg combined with the same engine and transmission as the Encore.
Buick points out other competitors such as the MINI Countryman, at 25/32 mpg, and the VW Tiguan, at 21/26 mpg. We'd also add the Nissan Juke to the pile, at 27/32 mpg, or 29 mpg combined--better in most measures than the Encore, and more or less similarly sized, if not really the premium experience promised by the Encore.