Buick’s Encore Creates a New Class of Compact SUV

buick

The Buick Encore has a tough job ahead of it. With such fierce competition, it would be hard for the Encore to stand out in thecompact-SUV category. So Buick didn’t stick to formula, and the result is that the Encore is a compact-SUV with a little extra.

Mechanically, the Encore is pretty straight forward. Power comes from a turbocharged version of GM’s global 1.4-liter DOHC four, which provides 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s far from overwhelmed in the smallest Buick since 1975. The best thing about the engine is that — unlike many turbos — there’s no wait for power. Since peak torque begins at 1,850 rpm and lasts until 4,900 rpm, the Encore can comfortably zip around city traffic and pass semis on the highway with ease. The six-speed automatic — that thankfully comes with a manual mode — is geared to handle low-end acceleration and deliver strong highway fuel economy.

It’s available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive models. I’d recommend the all-wheel drive if you have to deal with inclement weather on a regular basis. It saves fuel by acting as a front-drive until it senses a need for extra grip. It’s easy to become smitten with the Encore’s handling. Although there’s nothing really revolutionary in the technology, it’s all put together well and the Encore is as nimble as a sports sedan, without any skittishness. It has a strong ability to stay on center that puts me in mind of a much larger vehicle.

And it’s that feeling that separates the Encore from the rest of its class. Small, nimble, fuel efficient and inexpensive as it might be, it does not radiate the cheap-and-cheerful vibe its competitors present. The cabin is nicely appointed with premium materials, and the overall design of the interior is tasteful with metal accents, large, easy-to-read gauges and entertainment/communications features not found in many vehicles in its price range.

buick2But what gets me is the ride. Buick has given the Encore its own niche within the compact-SUV segment by filling it not just with cues and accents of a more expensive vehicle, but also the steady ride and the sound deadening materials that give it a credible claim to being the only luxury compact SUV. While the rest of the class does its best not to appear outright cheap, the Encore goes further, making a claim to transcend its weight class.

So while the compact-SUV class is teeming with reasonably efficient and sensible options, Buick has gone out on a limb and actually made one that’s pleasant to spend time in.