Buick is faithfully searching for the fountain of youth with its new products as it tries to shed the “old man” image.
|1. One engine is available, a turbocharged 1.4L 4-cylinder making 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 25/33 mpg (city/hwy) for front-drive models and 23/30 mpg for AWD models.
3. 10 airbags come standard.
4. Priced in the range of $24,950 to $28,940 add $750 for destination and an extra $1,500 if you want AWD.
But losing that might be more difficult than shedding the spare tire stomachs so many of its customers carry to their bridge games. Meet the 2013 Encore: Its latest stab at attracting a new demographic buyers looking for something other than boat-like cars.
A compact crossover without a specific segment to call it’s own, the Encore is similar to a hermit crab in more than its stubby shape. GM says the car doesn’t have any direct competition, but compares it most closely to the MINI Countryman and the Volkswagen Tiguan.
That might be a problem, though, when factors like style, brand image and performance come into play – as they always do.
UNFORTUNATE EXTERIOR PROPORTIONS
Buick’s design language is anything but ugly. In fact, on cars like the Regal, Enclave and even Verano, it’s quite handsome. Little accents like the faux chrome hood vents and the imposing grille full of vertical bars add a touch of class to the General Motors portfolio that, while not particularly inspired, offers a degree of distinction.
Unfortunately, the Encore looks like an Enclave puppy that hasn’t grown into its paws, or in this case, headlights. That’s too bad, especially because Buick is right to recognize the burgeoning compact crossover market.
They aren’t as nice as the optional chrome rims, but they’re more than passable. Similarly, projector beam headlights are standard and the blue accents surrounding them distract your glance from the car’s body.
INTERIOR MORE APPEALING THAN IT LOOKS
Anyone with five minutes of seat time in a Buick vehicle, or recent General Motors product for that matter, will find the Encore cabin familiar. That’s neither a good or bad thing, but more a question of preference.
Soft touch materials cover the dashboard, while the center stack’s buttons and dials are easy to understand. A seven-inch LCD display peers out from under a small dash hood.
It isn’t a touch screen, but Buick was clever enough to keep it out of easy reach. That means fewer smudge marks from the occasional ignoramus who touches first and asks later.
A six-way adjustable driver’s seat is standard on all models and offers lumbar support that will extend to meet even the most concave of postures.
The seats aren’t bad, but it’s hard not to feel a little jilted when you realize that the high back is still manually adjusted. Not only that, but all the buttons serve as reminders that GM recycles cabin materials across the board.
With the rear seats sitting upright, you’ll only get 18.8 cubic feet of storage. While that expands to 48.4 with those folded, a little perspective is important here. A Hyundai Elantra GT (also a five-door compact) offers 23 cubic feet with the seats up. The two vehicles don’t compete, (by Buick’s own admission the Encore doesn’t directly compete with anything at all) but this utility vehicle is light on cargo room.
SMALL, MANEUVERABLE COMPACT CROSSOVER
Buick says the Encore is aimed at 30 to 35-year-old buyers who are educated and mostly urban dwelling. That’s because it marries the tall, all-weather capability of a crossover with the maneuverability of a compact car.
That’s certainly the case. Narrow streets are no problem thanks to the car’s skinny body. For reference, the Encore is actually almost an inch slimmer than the Chevrolet Cruze it shares an engine with.
Maneuverability might be good when you’re driving through a tight spot, but it’s a different story if you’re trying to park in one.
The car’s steep, sloping front end makes it difficult to judge where the bumper sits. Similarly, the small rear window sits high on the liftgate. That in tandem with the car’s tallish stance means seeing out the back is a bit of a chore.
Speaking of assets, the car comes with a little convex section on the exterior mirrors. It’s a wise little touch that helps deal with the car’s quirky shape.
Other available safety features include Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert.
TINY ENGINE BEST LEFT IN THE CITY
Small touches can go a long way, but in the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine’s case a bigger touch would have been better.Weighing in at 3,190 lbs for the front-wheel drive and 3,309 lbs with the all-wheel drive model, this Buick begs for more power.
Acceleration around town is acceptable, especially in the standard six-speed automatic’s manual mode. Not so on the highway though.
Given the small turbocharged engine, it’s disappointing that GM didn’t massage a little more power out of its motor.
You can try using the manual mode, but shifting means using a plus-minus button mounted on top of the shift lever. It’s the same system used in the Malibu and one that’s hopelessly awkward to reach.
That’s disappointing because the shifts themselves are smooth and quick, but you’ll rarely want to play with it.
While extra power would make for a more inspiring drive, it would also suck down more gas. As is, the car gets an EPA estimated 25/33 mpg city/highway. That isn’t terribly impressive in today’s world of cars with 40 mpg or higher, but it isn’t bad either.
WHAT YOU PAY, WHAT YOU GET
Buick suggests a $25,700 starting price for the base model including delivery. That version of the car comes a standard rearview camera, 18-inch alloy wheels, and active noise cancellation through the car’s speakers: a first for the brand.
The top-trimmed “Premium Group” version rings in above $31,000 including delivery for the front-wheel drive model. Opting for all-wheel drive costs an extra $1,500.
All four wheels are powered from dead stops. Power is redirected exclusively to the front wheels almost immediately if the car isn’t slipping and returns to the rears as needed. Cold weather climate drivers might be tempted to pay that premium, but skip it if you can. The engine is taxed enough as it is, and powering all four wheels, not to mention the added weight, further slows the car.
It’s true that the 2013 Encore stands in a segment all its own, but it’s hard to see that as a good thing, especially with numerous compact crossover options that offer more power, better fuel economy, added practicality and style.