I'm sure you've seen the commercial. A girl is sitting in an Encore and tells her friend she is waiting outside in the Buick, but her friend can't find her. Humourous perhaps, even moreso when it happens in real life. Waiting for a friend at the Toyota dealer, I texted him and said I was in the Buick.
He pulls in, drives right by me and texts me that he can't find me. I text him back – "It's blue", and he finds it, and it wasn't that he didn't see the vehicle, he said he looked right at the Camry that was beside it, but this little vehicle didn't look like a Buick – we had a good laugh.
I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not though – I understand Buick's intended message here and it works for the sedans, but for the Encore I feel the message is reversed. The Encore is basically a tarted-up Chevrolet Trax, it is tiny and it looks like a little jellybean – it really doesn't portray that upscale look Buick is trying to move towards.
My tester is a 4WD Premium model and the value seems reasonable at first glance. Heated seats, heated steering wheel, dual zone climate control, navigation, sunroof, leather seating, blind spot detection and collision alert and more, all offered for just over $35,000. That said this certainly is a small vehicle.
Pricing: 2015 Buick Encore 4WD Premium
Base Price (4WD Premium): $34,920
Options: Experience Buick Package -- $1,895; Package Discount -- -$1,100
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $37,465
Despite the interior of the Encore being, well... extremely small, it is well appointed and it does look the part of a luxury vehicle. I have to say, the Encore is a little funny in that despite its diminutive size, it feels larger on the inside than the outside would suggest, at least from the driver's seat.
The leather seats, dash and switchgear are all upscale and equivalent to any higher priced Buick, so there certainly is no complaint there. The Navigation and infotainment system screen is mounted high on the dash, but with the integrated dome it seems to be out of the sun and doesn't look too tacked on like some manufacturers are doing.
The screen being mounted up on the dash is excellent for the back-up camera and perfectly placed for the navigation system, but it cannot be reached so it is not a touchscreen. That brings me to the controls, which are usable but not really ergonomically friendly and a little awkward and slow to use if I'm honest. The control is a knob in the centre of the radio controls on the dash – a centre console knob or other control would work better.
The second row seats do flip and fold easily enough, although you do have to flip the bottom part of the seat up and out before the top part folds down flat in a 60/40 split fashion.
I keep testing them and I keep trying, but I still can't wrap my head around this class of vehicle. It's a compact car on stilts, not much more. It gets worse fuel economy, has worse acceleration and handling and is more expensive than said compact/subcompact car. But hey, you get to say you drive an SUV or CUV, something people seem to covet now... for some reason.
I do see one advantage: the all-wheel drive. If you would like a small vehicle but want all-wheel drive you are not left with much choice but something in this segment. So there is an argument there, except that it seems most people buying these vehicles (in the sub-compact crossover class) aren't buying the all-wheel-drive versions anyways, oh my head hurts.
But let's try to review this car on its own merit. I went out to lunch with co-workers today, and comments were positive overall. However, the backseats were tight headroom-wise, so the scalloped roof needs to be moved forward and rear passengers also complained that they couldn't get their feet under the front seats.
Surprisingly for a small vehicle, though, the Encore is both quiet and comfortable. Out on the highway the Encore is smooth and even with the short wheelbase it does not crash over bumps and handles really well. Last week I complained profusely about the brakes on the Camry and I'm glad to report the Encore's brakes perform as expected with easy to control pressure that stops the vehicle predictably.
But where I praised the Camry for its ultra smooth V6 I have to be honest about the 1.4-litre turbocharged powerplant in the Encore. It just is not up to the task to get this vehicle moving with any urgency and even if you are not in a hurry you better like hearing your engine scream in agony every time you want to accelerate. Load up the Encore with four people and you can bury that throttle into the firewall and eventually you might make it up to highway speeds. A luxury or near luxury car needs to have an engine that can move it comfortably and effortlessly and the Encore fails miserably in this regard.
Well I'm not in love with this car as you may have probably guessed. It is not that it is bad, but it doesn't really excel in any aspect to make me praise it. The engine really lets the car down and that is my major gripe with it to be honest.
I suppose I should mention that this car does have the LTE WiFi hotspot in it, so you can tether your tablet or phone to it and surf the web. I suppose if you have kids this is a good thing, but you could typically use a phone with tethering enabled as well so I'm not sure the extra expense is worth it.
Fuel consumption for the week was mediocre. I averaged 9.0 L/100 km with a lot of highway driving, it was hovering around 9.4 on the onboard computer display until I zipped up to Arnprior and back adding another 60 km of highway to the trip. The engine is just too small for the weight of this vehicle equipped with all-wheel drive. I will give it praise for using regular fuel instead of premium, but that's a minor consolation.