2016 Buick Encore Review

Consumer Reviews
3 Reviews
2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
March 6, 2016

Buying tip

Performance will certainly be more sluggish with the all-wheel-drive system, but for resale value, it's a smart bet in the Encore.

The 2016 Buick Encore masks its economy-car roots well, but tepid performance keeps its from earning a premium label.

As a whole, the shape of the 2016 Buick Encore tries to convey a tougher look that disguises its tall, boxy shape. The front fascia 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 other angles, the Encore has enough presence to justify its price tag.

The Encore has a battle on its hands. When it was first introduced all the way back in 2013, it stood essentially alone in the market as one of few small crossovers SUVs. Today, it is a far more crowded niche, packed with pricey, prestigious rivals along the lines of the the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA, not to mention affordable models like the Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, and Honda HR-V.

It has been something of a trailblazer, yet the Encore remains a crossover that is at odds with its Buick stablemates in some ways. Priced on the high side, with luxo-grade features, it remains fitted around a tidy hatchback shape, and saddled with tepid performance (though Buick promises more power on tap for a new Encore Sport Touring model coming soon).

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Inside, the cockpits of our test cars have been trimmed either 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 almost luxury Buick label, the interior is fairly quiet, if not totally hushed, since a modicum of wind and road noise nonetheless penetrates the cabin. Active noise canceling does keep engine rumble mostly silenced, however.

Although you'd probably never guess it, underneath the Encore sits some underpinnings shared with the humble Chevy Sonic hatchback. But the Chevy can't be ordered with all-wheel drive like the Buick can. There's a single engine/transmission combination on offer, the turbocharged 1.4-liter 4 engine from the Sonic teamed with a 6-speed automatic.

The Encore tips the scales at around 3,200 pounds, which is a lot of metal to motivate with a mere 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Even minus the added weight of its optional all-wheel drive system, the 0-to-60-mph run is a leisurely 9 seconds. All-wheel drive models push that to more like 10 seconds, meaning some planning is necessary for two-lane road passing.

But there's something of a fix this year: A direct-injected version of the 4-cylinder with 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque that offers more getup and go in any situation. It doesn't transform the Encore into a sports car, but all models handle fairly well for a tall, heavy wagon-like vehicle with a short wheelbase. We think that the all-wheel drive versions ride a little better perhaps because of their added weight.

Accommodations are excellent in certain aspects but rather more confining in others. The Encore's tall roofline gives it good headroom, but it's narrow. Three abreast in the rear seat isn't feasible and even front seat passengers may bump elbows. But its interior remains hugely flexible with a high degree of versatility thanks to the folding second row and even a passenger seat that flops down to accommodate longer objects like ladders.

Where the Encore's price point begins to make more sense is its safety and equipment specifications. The base model stickers for about $25,000 and includes 10 airbags, a backup camera, and even a WiFi hotspot with a 4G LTE antenna. From there, it's possible to add leather trim, Bose audio, and forward collision alerts. Tick every box and the Encore comes in at about $33,000, which still comes under some rivals but is a lot of coin for not a lot of metal. 

6

2016 Buick Encore

Styling

The Encore has too much design on its petite body; the interior's a little calmer.

The Encore features Buick's portholes, but it doesn't quite pull off the bulbous corporate look to the same degree as some of the division's larger offerings like its LaCrosse four-door and the Enclave large crossover.

The front end of the Encore shows off Buick's toothy grille, a tough look standing on large 18-inch wheels. There's some bulldog in the nose, along with chrome-trimmed portholes laying inconspicuously on the flat top of the hood sides (a good thing).

But from the center of the crossover backwards, the rakish, broad-shouldered stance begins to morph into a simpler five-door compact hatchback. An S-curve runs through the door panels and up around the rear glass. The rear-quarter view doesn't say “Buick” at all, but then the large, molded rear bumper shield ladles on more toughness again—and a spoiler mounted to the top of its tailgate stretches its roofline to help make this short crossover look a hair longer.

The Encore's small size means there isn't much sheet metal for designers to worth with if they're going to stretch Buick's look onto a diminutive canvas. But its interior more succesfully delivers an upmarket feel hidden in a compact package.

The instrument panel is plastered with myriad switches, knobs, and buttons—we counted 33 of them—a bit of fake “wood” trim with some metallic accents to brighten things up. At least Buick installed conventional rotary knobs to control the audio system. Calming ambient interior lighting is courtesy of blue LEDs, but Buick does not offer Ford's trick of changing interior hues. You'll get blue and you'll like it.

If you dig the monochrome style, you can order an Encore with an interior covered in black leather. At the other end of the scale sits a two-tone brown  treatment with cocoa-dyed hides that will have you making a bee-line for your local coffee shop for a cup of joe. Its understated elegance fits the Encore's nearly calming interior better than the rather austere black. 

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6

2016 Buick Encore

Performance

The struggle is real: the Encore's 138-hp four isn't enough, but the new Sport Touring model's higher output engine solves that problem.

The Encore's size pays off in a few performance dimensions, but in general it's up against a weighty challenge: its weight.

Power comes from a turbocharged 1.4-liter four, the same unit that's an option on the Chevy Sonic. It's teamed only with a six-speed automatic gearbox. Until this year, it's only been offered in one version, with output of 138 horsepower plus 148 pound-feet of torque.

This year, Buick has added an uprated version to the Sport Touring model. It adds direct injection to the 1.4 and the result is 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque.

While the Encore is a pleasant vehicle to drive, the base engine sorely needs more power. It's capable of accelerating to 60 mph from a standstill in about nine seconds, but that's a best-case scenario: no options, no all-wheel drive, one passenger aboard. Add in more passengers and all-wheel drive and the base Encore starts to feel slow.

The problem here is that even the daintiest Encore comes in at almost 3,200 pounds. The pint-sized turbo 4-cylinder has a tremendous amount on its plate. Its struggle is real, and is made more pronounced by an automatic that's tuned to upshift quickly. To get even moderate movement, it has to shift down not once, but twice. Adding the available all-wheel drive, and its commensurate 150 pounds, only makes the problem worse.

The new direct-injected engine on the Encore Sport Touring makes merging and passing easier and offers more pickup from a stop as well. It also comes with an automatic stop/start feature that cuts out the engine at stop lights to reduce fuel consumpetion and  is largely transparent. This engine is the clear choice for everyday drivability, but the pricing for Sport Touring may tempt buyers to move up a class.

Opting for all-wheel drive actually improves the Encore's ride quality in addition to improving inclement weather traction. That  system is programmed to deliver power to the rear immediately before shifting  power increasingly forward (if there is traction) up to 37 mph. At higher speeds, the Encore is effectively front-wheel drive to save fuel.

Underneath the Encore sits a suspension (struts up front and a torsion beam out back) shared with the economy grade Sonic, but it mostly feels like a properly upmarket little crossover. Overall, the Encore absorbs bumps with aplomb and is only unsettled by the worst urban hazards like deep potholes. Its electric power steering balances highway speed centering and some degree of feedback, but it's definitely not a sports car with a tall body.

Conclusion The struggle is real: the Encore's 138-hp four isn't enough, but the new Sport Touring model's higher output engine solves that problem.

QUALITY | 7 out of 10

The Buick Encore may be small—it's somewhat related to the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact—but in terms of interior space, it'll easily carry four adults, with just a little give and take required between front- and back-seat passengers.

By the numbers, the Encore rides on a 100.6-inch wheelbase, and checks in at a total length of 168.4 inches. The tape measure and spec sheet put that about a half-foot longer than a MINI Countryman, but nearly a foot shorter than a Ford Escape.

Front passengers won't notice the shrunken length so much as they will miss the extra width of the next-class-bigger SUVs. The Encore provides an upright driving position, with a terrific view over the admittedly short hood. The feeling of available space inside the cockpit is good too, thanks to the high roof and low dash. Where the Encore skimps is in shoulder room: it's a narrow vehicle, and the center console seems too wide for the size. Front passengers will touch elbows (whether they want to or not) and the console will be in constant contact with front-seat knees.

The front seats themselves are comfortable, with well-shaped seatbacks and bottom cushions that could use just a bit more support; they're pretty flat.

The second row is more spacious than it looks, with enough room for a pair of adults. A third isn't a great idea, so instead you'll be happy to know that there's a flop-down armrest that contains a pair of cupholders.

As a two-person (and their stuff) hauler, the Encore excels. Fold the back seat down and you'll find up to 50 cubic feet of cargo space. With the second row upright, that shrinks to a tight 18.8 cubes. Even the passenger's seat can fold up front to allow for loading long objects like fly fishing gear or a ladder.

No matter how many people or fishing rods are on board, the Encore is pretty quiet. Its active noise cancelling tech blocks out engine noise, but there is a little road rumble and wind comes in around the side mirrors at higher speeds.

One demerit is that the Encore's dashboard mixes a welter of colors, materials, and shapes. Its materials aren't exactly luxury grade, but our biggest complaint is the 33 different controls, many of which appear identical at first glance. They're distracting and, frankly, some drivers may nto even seek out some of the Encore's more advanced functions because they get lost in the sea of buttons. But, hey, at least Buick included a rotary knob for volume. That's something some rivals have forgotten about.

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7

2016 Buick Encore

Comfort & Quality

There's more passenger space in the Encore than seems possible; some decluttering should be on the future product agenda.

The Buick Encore may be small—it's somewhat related to the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact—but in terms of interior space, it'll easily carry four adults, with just a little give and take required between front- and back-seat passengers.

By the numbers, the Encore rides on a 100.6-inch wheelbase, and checks in at a total length of 168.4 inches. The tape measure and spec sheet put that about a half-foot longer than a MINI Countryman, but nearly a foot shorter than a Ford Escape.

Front passengers won't notice the shrunken length so much as they will miss the extra width of the next-class-bigger SUVs. The Encore provides an upright driving position, with a terrific view over the admittedly short hood. The feeling of available space inside the cockpit is good too, thanks to the high roof and low dash. Where the Encore skimps is in shoulder room: it's a narrow vehicle, and the center console seems too wide for the size. Front passengers will touch elbows (whether they want to or not) and the console will be in constant contact with front-seat knees.

The front seats themselves are comfortable, with well-shaped seatbacks and bottom cushions that could use just a bit more support; they're pretty flat.

The second row is more spacious than it looks, with enough room for a pair of adults. A third isn't a great idea, so instead you'll be happy to know that there's a flop-down armrest that contains a pair of cupholders.

As a two-person (and their stuff) hauler, the Encore excels. Fold the back seat down and you'll find up to 50 cubic feet of cargo space. With the second row upright, that shrinks to a tight 18.8 cubes. Even the passenger's seat can fold up front to allow for loading long objects like fly fishing gear or a ladder.

No matter how many people or fishing rods are on board, the Encore is pretty quiet. Its active noise cancelling tech blocks out engine noise, but there is a little road rumble and wind comes in around the side mirrors at higher speeds.

One demerit is that the Encore's dashboard mixes a welter of colors, materials, and shapes. Its materials aren't exactly luxury grade, but our biggest complaint is the 33 different controls, many of which appear identical at first glance. They're distracting and, frankly, some drivers may not even seek out some of the Encore's more advanced functions because they get lost in the sea of buttons. But, hey, at least Buick included a rotary knob for volume. That's something some rivals have forgotten about. 

Review continues below
9

2016 Buick Encore

Safety

The Encore performs well in crash tests, and a rearview camera and Bluetooth are standard.

The Encore's crash-test results have improved over time; it's one of the safer small crossover SUVs to be tested by both major agencies.

The IIHS gives the Encore its highest rating of “Good” for the moderate-overlap front crash, side impact, and roof strength tests. That's an improvement over its scores from 2014, when it earned a “Poor” score in the new small-overlap test. The Encore has improved its score to “Good” in that as well, which earns it a Top Safety Pick award. (The Encore's front crash prevention system earns only a “Basic” nod and fails to elevate the Encore to the Top Safety Pick+ list.)

The NHTSA gives the Encore five stars out of five overall.

All versions of the Encore thankfully include a rearview camera, a necessity given its less-than-stellar visibility. Big roof pillars and a tall belt line look good outside but make over-the-shoulder visibility challenging inside.

We applaud Buick for fitting the Encore with Bluetooth connectivity, but the brand really surpasses competitors thanks to its OnStar telematics. Six months of free Directions and Connections service is included and there is a smartphone app that allows drivers to pre-program a destination or even unlock their car from miles away. On an opt-in basis, the Encore includes vehicle tracking that may be helpful for families with young drivers. 

Optional equipment includes all-wheel drive—about $1,500—blind-spot monitors, and a slew of safety tech that watch the lane markings to alert the driver when they begin to drift out of a lane or close too quickly. We found the systems to be effective if a little overly cautious. Those systems are bundled with Bose speakers and parking sensors that supplement the backup camera.

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2016 Buick Encore

Features

From the IntelliLink interface to Bose noise cancellation, the Encore adds a tasteful luxury layer to its tidy hatchback body.

Buick's added a new model to the Encore lineup, but it hasn't substantially changed the standard or optional features it offers on the crossover SUV.

Every Encore comes with power windows, door locks, and heated outside mirrors; 18-inch alloy wheels; cruise control; a power driver's seat; ambient interior lighting; a rearview camera; cloth seating surfaces with mock-leather trim; the OnStar telematics system; active noise cancellation; and a cargo cover.

OnStar now bundles 4G LTE connectivity, free for a short period and available for a subscription following that. It allows the vehicle to create a wi-fi network, too.

Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system is also standard. It uses voice commands or a controller knob and a seven-inch dash screen to manage audio from multiple sources—Bluetooth streaming, mobile apps, satellite radio, or USB-connected devices. It also operates mobile-phone functions and the optional navigation system.

On the optional features list, a Convenience Group  adds remote start, automatic climate control, as well as fog lamps. The Premium group offers a Bose sound system, parking sensors, and a pair of camera-based safety features: lane-departure warnings and forward-collision warning. Finally, a Leather package includes a heated steering wheel, heated seats up front, and the rear flip-fold bench seat in animal hides.

Standalone options include navigation and a sunroof, neither of which can be had on a base Encore. There's also a Bose sound system, which can be had in a few of the available packages, too.

The new 2016 Encore Sport Touring gets an uprated engine with 153 horsepower, and also adds a rear spoiler, its own 18-inch wheels, and stop/start. 

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7

2016 Buick Encore

Fuel Economy

It's small, and fuel economy is good in the Buick Encore--it's just not as good as some mid-size sedans.

The Buick Encore may be small, but it's chunky and depends on a hard-working turbocharged four-cylinder engine for its propulsion. The combination pushes its fuel economy into a middling territory, where it's easily bested by most mid-size family sedans.

Buick claims some of the best fuel-economy numbers for the growing class of small crossover SUVs, at least compared with the rivals it chooses.

The Encore is rated at 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined in its standard front-wheel-drive configuration. Add all-wheel drive, however, and that falls to 23/30/26 mpg.

The competition that doesn't quite match up? The Volkswagen Tiguan at 23 mpg combined, or the MINI Countryman, at 27 mpg combined.

Those figures leave out the Subaru XV Crosstrek, which ties the Buick with its combined rating of 28 mpg. We'd also check out the Nissan Juke, rated at 29 mpg combined, or 27 mpg with all-wheel drive—even though our real-world drives have turned in mileage a lot lower than official estimates. In real-world Encore drives, we've hit the EPA combined number of 28 mpg. 

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May 13, 2018
2016 Buick Encore AWD 4-Door Leather

I hate my Buick.

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I don't like my Buick, didn't like it after the first week-end I drove it. I took it to Ford and over the week-end, I would have lost 5,000. on it, so I kept it. It's way too small, however, my gas mileage is... + More »
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April 26, 2016
For 2016 Buick Encore

Love my car

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I have 2014 it has class, and rides so nice I get a lot of compliments the chrome wheels, this is my 4th Buick I have owned and looking forward to the others to come.
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March 9, 2016
2016 Buick Encore FWD 4-Door Leather

Great Small SUV

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After driving Large Buicks and Chrysler 300, we are totally amazed with the style and comfort of this smaller SUV. It is quiet, comfortable and great looking. One could spend a lot more for less. It's a great... + More »
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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 9
Features 9
Fuel Economy 7
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