On Buick Encore: We spend time in the baby Buick crossover

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

Print Friendly
2014 Buick Encore Photo Shoot 011

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

The Buick Encore occupies a strange space in the market. It’s the size of a Nissan Juke or its platform-mate, the Chevrolet Sonic — and like those two, it features a small, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unlike those two, it makes no sporty sales proposition. Will it resonate with shoppers of small crossovers? I can’t say. What I can say is this: It’s growing on me.

I wasn’t crazy about the Buick Encore at first blush. Our tester’s Brilliant Blue Metallic paint over gray plastic lower body cladding was attractive enough, but the proportions of the car took some getting used to. It’s nearly as tall as it is wide, standing 65.2 inches on a horizontal base of 69.9 inches. Its short 168 inch total length rides on a 100.6-inch wheelbase. It’s an odd overall shape on which to spy a Buick Tri-Shield, in my opinion.

Out of that small footprint, however Buick did a good job making the interior feel spacious for front occupants. I had plenty of head-, leg-, and hip room — and thanks to the manual tilt-and-telescope steering wheel adjustment, I was able to find a comfortable reach and angle in seconds. That’s something many compact vehicles of all kinds lack, in my experience, and it’s something that drives long-legged, short-armed me crazy. Kudos to Buick for getting steering wheel adjustment right. The seats’ leather upholstery looked sporty in gray-and-black livery, and the front buckets proved supportive to the point my wife didn’t like them. Blame her daily driving a soft-seated Nissan cube. I actually liked the seats quite well once I had the driver’s chair adjusted to suit me.

2014 Buick Encore photo shoot 012

The rear-seat legroom of the 2014 Buick Encore is not prodigious. Then again, neither is it a major selling point of any other crossover in this small-footprint size class. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

That chair-adjusting took a while, in my case. The thing about a crossover that’s short in length, yet tall in stature is rear legroom is not prodigious. In the Buick Encore’s case, it rings in at a few tenths less than 36 inches. Six-footers of the world, a club in which I myself belong, will not be comfortable back there for long stretches unless, perhaps, the front-seat occupants are members of the Less Than Five Feet Tall Club. The other thing about such a crossover is that in order to give front-seat occupants plenty of legroom, the seats scoot back past the B pillar. This made some things awkward in the Encore, from pulling out into traffic to using the drive-up window at the bank. For that reason, it took me a couple of days to get comfortable with my seat positioning.

Thankfully, the Buick Encore had an excellent blind spot monitoring system and parking sensors, so the fact that my left peripheral vision was slightly obscured by the B pillar was not a safety issue while underway. Those sensors were part of the Encore’s extensive safety systems that included frontal, knee, side, and head curtain airbags for front occupants and side and head curtain airbags for rear passengers. Also on offer were Buick’s Stabilitrak stability control system with traction control — something I gave quick a workout when I goosed the throttle making a 90-degree turn into traffic — four-wheel disk brakes, forward collision alert, lane departure warning system, tire pressure monitoring system, a rear vision camera, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic headlamps.

For a car based on the Chevrolet Sonic, itself the second-cheapest car in the cheapest brand of the General Motors Universe, the Buick Encore’s chassis felt impressively tight and quiet. With the radio off, conversation between front occupants could be maintained at a very quiet level not unlike what you might use in a hushed restaurant. The doors and door pulls were light at-hand, but action felt positive and doors closed with a reassuring solidity. The build sheet for the Encore said it features Buick’s “Quiet Tuning,” and I’d believe it after spending a week with it. The 1.4-liter Ecotec direct-injected turbocharged engine is sometimes noted as being harsh sounding in reviews of the Sonic, but in the Buick, it was barely audible unless I got aggressive with the throttle.

2014 Buick Encore photo shoot 013

The 2014 Buick Encore has GM’s 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged direct-injected gasoline engine. That’s the same mill you’ll find in some other GM products, including the Chevrolet Sonic RS. It’s not as rorty in the Encore as in the Sonic RS, no doubt. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

That engine, at just 138 horsepower at 4,900 RPM and 148 ft-lbs of torque at a low 1,850 RPM, will not set anyone’s pants on fire in combination with the six-speed automatic that was tuned, seemingly, to favor quietness and low-RPM cruising attitude. However, the combo does yeoman’s work in the Buick Encore and returns decent fuel economy for something so tall, height-wise, yet short, length-wise — one of the worst combos for fuel economy. Don’t believe us? Ask the folks at smart.

In the first three days of testing, I was not falling in love with the Buick Encore. I was ready to call it a respectable effort that I didn’t quite “get.” But at the end of Day Three, I was starting to find kinship between the Encore and the Nissan cube that resides in my driveway. The secret? Taking a trip into the next town along a four-lane divided highway. The Encore takes on a character much larger than itself when you hit the highway and set the cruise control. It is not high-strung or buzzy at 70 MPH. Rather, it turns just over 2,000 RPM at those speeds and remains confidently planted, soaking up road noise and eating up the miles while returning some impressive fuel economy estimates (more on fuel economy later). With my boy dawdling off to sleep in his forward-facing seat in the rear row and my wife doing the head-bob in the passenger seat, I realized the Buick Encore’s got a good gimmick going.

2014 Buick Encore photo shoot 014

The 2014 Buick Encore’s short overall length combined with an oversquare height-vs-width equation took some time for me to get used to looking at, but I came around to eventually liking it pretty well. I think it was just the shock of seeing the Buick emblem on something so…un-Buick that I had to overcome. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

To explain that, I have to get all pro-wrestling geeky on you for a second. In pro wrestling, a gimmick is something a wrestler takes on to get “over” with the fans as either a favored “babyface” or a booed “heel.” If the comparisons I made in the beginning of this piece were pro wrestlers, the Nissan Juke NISMO would be the athletic super-heel fans love to hate — dominant, quick between the ropes, and a relentless bully. The Chevrolet Sonic would be the young upstart babyface making a meteoric rise into the mid-card — a favorite of fans for its high-flying, quick action, but not quite established enough to be a main-eventer. The Buick Encore, meanwhile, would be the comfortable veteran hero who doesn’t win every fight, but is loved by fans for its ability to hang in there — the quiet, predictable, understated type. Let’s say the Buick Encore is the Arn Anderson to the Nissan Juke NISMO’s Brian Pillman.

You know, I always liked Arn Anderson.

Disclosure: Buick provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

Media Gallery

Print Friendly