Buick built its reputation early on with big, burly, luxurious sedans, known back in the day as “banker’s cars.”
A couple steps up from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, more restrained than Pontiac, but not quite as ostentatious as Cadillac, Buicks nonetheless whispered to its owners that they had arrived.
In the wake of General Motors’ financial meltdown and federal rescue in the past decade, GM seriously downsized, axing Oldsmobile, Saturn and Pontiac. Thanks in part to the marque’s popularity in, of all places, China, the General left Buick, the oldest active American make, to soldier on as the sole mid-level division.
Buick’s latest offering is anything but a chip off the old block. It’s neither big nor burly. It’s not a sedan. It is, however, rather luxurious.
Say hello to the Encore, a South Korean-built, U.S.-designed, compact crossover meant to compete in the burgeoning premium small-SUV segment where it will face off with the likes of BMW’s X1, Mini Cooper Countryman, Volkswagen’s Tiguan and Audi’s proposed Q1. It also could be cross-shopped with high-end models of Ford’s hot Escape and Acura’s RDX, although both those models are considerably larger.
Encore brings some formidable ammunition to the battle, wrapped around a well-designed and -equipped cabin. Our Premium-level Encore came packed with high-end features, including deluxe materials, comfortable seating, an easy-to-use Intellilink infotainment system and a suite of safety nannies such as forward collision alert and lane departure warning.
Encore surprises with its over-the-road manners. The optimally tuned chassis manages to deliver flat, grippy cornering as well as a supple highway ride, while the electronic steering is precise (but rather lifeless).
Notable too are the brakes, which respond in a linear fashion to pressure on the solid-feeling pedal.
Under way, the vehicle is remarkably calm, thanks to Buick’s so-called Quiet Tuning regimen including active noise cancellation circuitry, insulating glass, foam-filled pillars and thicker carpets.
All Encores are powered by a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine of modest size and power output paired with a six-speed autobox. A mere 138 horsepower might seem a low for a 3,200-pound vehicle, but with 148 pound-feet of torque the willing little motor does a decent job of motivation. Only on long inclines (or with a full load of passengers and luggage) does the power seem marginal.
Fuel economy is a palatable 23 town, 30 highway, and that’s with (optional) all-wheel drive.
In all, the Encore delivers sprightly, solid performance with generous doses of luxury and comfort, while its wee size is perfect for urban settings. Kudos to Buick for thinking outside the box.