Auto review: Small crossover charts a new course for Buick – The Herald Bulletin

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2017

Buick uses self-deprecating humor to poke fun at its transformation in TV ads.

“That’s a Buick?”

In the case of the Encore, the trope works perfectly.

Few vehicles show how much Buick has changed itself for a younger generation like this miniature SUV. It’s so far removed from the brand’s tired stereotype — big, floaty, four-door sedans for gray-haired people — that it wouldn’t have fit in Buick’s lineup a decade ago, much less in generations past.

For one thing, its small footprint is a major departure for a brand that prides itself on roomy luxury. Its overall shape evokes the idea of a big, brawny SUV, but it’s actually just 168 inches long, even shorter than the Chevy Cruze.

The Encore makes good use of its limited space, though, especially in the front seat, where I found it pleasant and comfortable on the highway.

A smooth ride and relatively quiet cabin help to make it a competent freeway cruiser, although I didn’t find it quite as cushy as the Lincoln MKC.

Granted, with a $9,000 difference in pricing for the base models, the Lincoln might only be a competitor for people who load up their Encore with lots of options. The Encore starts under $24,000, compared with $33,000 for the base MKC. My Encore Premium tester with leather seats and a long list of upgrades rang up around $34,000.

If I could wave my magic wand, I’d add power so the Encore drives like a more premium product. While I wouldn’t say it struggles on highway on-ramps, I did find myself wishing for an extra dollop of grunt from the 1.4-liter turbo engine on my tester at times.

The fuel economy numbers, though, make me want to stay content. The Encore is rated for 25 mpg in city driving and 33 on the highway, not bad at all for a vehicle that feels this comfy.

Like all vehicles in the white-hot crossover market, General Motors is making continuous changes to keep the Encore competitive, including a noticeable style and content upgrade for 2017.

The whole front end design has been overhauled to look more contemporary. LED signature lighting, new headlights, a fresh hood and front fenders make it look more sculpted overall.

The cabin gets a similar upgrade in style and feel. Materials are softer and smoother this year, while chrome accents and contrasting color stitching give it an upscale look.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available now, along with push-button start, a remote start function using the key fob, and three new paint colors: Ebony Twilight Metallic, White Frost Metallic and Black Cherry Metallic.

For those who need the traction, the Encore is also available with all-wheel drive that helps on wet or icy roads.

To me, its standout feature is the silence in the cabin. Buick calls it QuietTuning, the process of eliminating wind and road noise to make the cabin more serene, and it’s noticeable. The Encore is quieter than most cars its size.

It’s helped by noise-canceling technology from Bose, the same company that invented brilliant headphones for airplane trips. It uses microphones and speakers to actively cancel out unwanted noise that infiltrates the vehicle.


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