SEATTLE, September 10, 2013 — The compact SUV market has exploded, and it seems most every automaker has a stake in it. Buick decided to enter the fray with its 2013 Encore, totally compact and totally Buick. Taking obvious design cues from its much larger sibling, the Enclave, Buick looked to address a demographic that didn’t need a seven-passenger SUV yet still wanted many of the desired elements of owning one.
Its engine is the smallest ever to power a Buick at only 1.4-Liters. Its turbocharged horsepower is rated at 138 and torque comes in at 148lb-feet, and unfortunately it’s completely underwhelming. Frankly, the 3200lb curb weight and low power ratings make this anything but an inspiring SUV to drive. It’s not bad if you have one or two passengers. But even then, passing up a mountain pass can be a daunting task, not one that’s suitable for the impatient driver at all.
Fortunately, the six-speed automatic transmission works rather well and seems to be a good pairing. It never had to hunt for gears, shifted rather smoothly and offers a manual mode for those who seek that thrill.
Of course its small displacement also helps the Encore earn an EPA rating of 25mpg in the city and 33mpg on the highway for a combined average of 28mpg on the front-wheel –drive model. If you opt for all-wheel-drive, the figures drop a bit to 23/20/26 respectively.
This five passenger vehicle has all the trimmings one would expect to see from the Buick brand, including leather seats, leather trim, heated steering wheel, a premium BOSE audio system, on-board navigation, power seats and even an AC power outlet.
While it might be easy to get lost in all the buttons that span the middle part of the dash, the overall control placement and usability is pretty good. Buick uses a large 7-inch touch screen infotainment system which has great visibility and is rather easy to master.
At the Seattle Auto Show last December, Buick touted the BOSE audio system. However, it certainly leaves a great deal to be desired to the discerning ear. It doesn’t have very good low frequency response, the mid-frequencies can be a bit muddy and the highs come across a bit harsh.
However, what many drivers will appreciate is the noise-cancelling technology BOSE incorporated into the sound-system. This means that overall noise levels inside the cabin are rather faint, a hallmark of what Buick has always been known for.
In addition to the audio system itself, there is a wide choice of audio input sources such as XM Satellite, AM/FM, CD, mp3/wma-encoded CDs, Pandora and Bluetooth audio as well.
Front seat comfort is good but not incredible. Rear leg room isn’t too great but that’s to be expected in a compact vehicle of any kind. Kids in their teens will fit in the back with no complaints. For some grown adults, it can be a bit cramped in terms of width. Rear cargo volume is a mere 18.8 cubic feet of space, whereas if you fold down the rear seats it expands to 48.4 cubic feet.
An area that Buick tends to be known for by its fan base is ride quality and the Encore doesn’t disappoint in this department. In fact, the car rides much larger than it is, bumps on the road are barely felt and overall handling, while extremely predictable, is good. It has a very nice stance on the road, feels very stable, and with the available all-wheel-drive would make a good vehicle for those weekend ski trips into the snowy mountains.
It’s unfortunate that Buick opted for such a gutless wonder of an engine. But this might be an acceptable trade-off for drivers particularly concerned about gas mileage.
Pricewise, the Encore starts at just under $25,000 and can get into the low 30s should you opt for the Premium package with the all-wheel-drive.
In the end, Buick did accomplish what it set out to do by offering a luxurious compact SUV for around the $25k price point. Despite its obvious shortcomings in the power category, Encore does deliver in other areas such as comfort, ride quality and creature comforts that are traditionally a major part of the hallmark Buick experience.