I do not envy anyone out to buy a subcompact crossover without a solid idea of what features and characteristics they want. Because without that knowledge, it’s easy to drown in the flooded market.
If funky styling is a priority, there’s the Toyota CH-R, the Mini Cooper Countryman, Lexus UX or the Fiat 500X. For saving at the pumps, there is the Kia Niro or a choice of hybrid options.
If you want an American badge, there’s the GMC Terrain, Jeep Renegade, Ford EcoSport or the Chevrolet Trax, or a bevy of options from Japanese, Korean and European manufacturers if you don’t.
For many in the subcompact market, though, it comes down to price range. But that does not mean the searching will get any easier if you enter the market with naivety.
There are sub-$20,000 offerings that are well-equipped and some for the same price that are not. Those looking to enter the luxury side of things also have a plethora of options from manufacturers such as BMW, Volvo, Infiniti and Land Rover.
For those who want a bit of luxury without breaking the bank there is the Buick Encore, which stands nicely in the middle of the overwhelming subcompact market.
The Encore provides the comfort, standard tech and driving characteristics to be expected in the luxury market but stands below the price point of its counterparts. The Encore is fairly well-appointed with a base price of under $24,000. Going for the top-trim Essence brings ups the price to $30,800.
The full-loaded Encore I tested came with $3,000 in options, including Buick’s Safety Package II, Bose audio and a power moonroof, which rang in at just a few hundred dollars more than a base BMW X1, Volvo XC40 or Mercedes-Benz GLA.
The Encore will not blow the doors off the competition with its turbo-four’s 138-horsepower, about 100-less than the X1 and XC40, but it still is relatively sprightly and has enough get-up-and-go for highway merging with 148 torques. A 153-horspower turbo-four is also available in Sport Touring and Essence trims. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic.
Steering feel is appropriately weighted — loose enough for slow-speed maneuverability while taught enough to give confidence at speed.
Those looking for a sporty ride may want to look elsewhere in the subcompact market, but the Encore makes up for its uninspiring engine output with comfort.
The Buick’s supple ride kept me relaxed throughout an 8-hour trek to middle Florida along with comfortable and supportive leather-appointed seats. The Essence trim comes with heated front seats as standard, but considering my backside was just as swampy as middle Florida, I didn’t employ the feature.
The seats are also 6-way adjustable and come with manual recline. The manual recline was unfortunate for my wife, who just a moment after commenting on the comfort of the seats, adjusted the back of her seat from a low droop without putting weight on the back. This caused the seat to, as we put it, “slap her with luxury.” This occurred at least three more times on our mini-vacation despite the fact my wife is an intelligent woman.
Other creature comforts include dual-zone, automatic climate control, GM’s instinctual infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, 4G hotspot and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
While the Encore’s interior gives it an upmarket, luxury feel, it is a bit hindered by noise at highway speeds. While the cabin is quiet around the city, wind and tire noise is prevalent over 60 mph.
Plenty of highway driving allowed me to empty the Encore’s 14-gallon tank on multiple occasions, and I averaged 28 mpg, two less than the EPA highway estimate thanks to my heavy foot. Combined, the Encore gets 27 mpg.
Just under 19-cubic feet is available in the cargo area which is on par for most subcompact crossovers and provided enough room for what turned out to be a ridiculous amount of luggage for our three-day trip. Cargo space is supplemented with a small tray under the rear deck.
While we did not bring any Hellions to what I consider to be Hell on Earth, Orlando, the 60/40 rear seats provide adequate head and legroom for adults.
The base encore is lacking in standard active safety features, but options such as side blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert at available in the Safety Package I, which comes standard in Essence trim.
Safety Package II ($940) adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear park assist, forward collision alert and lane departure warning.
All trims come with a rear-view camera and OnStar connectivity.
These features are all packed into the visual profile of what I can only describe as a toad. Sure, I don’t envy any automotive engineer that has to create stunning lines, head and legroom and cargo space on a subcompact crossover, but the Buick does take on a particularly frog-like stance.
That’s not to say the Encore is particularly unattractive. Buick’s relatively new front end is handsome while the roofline has an undramatic but pleasing slope to the rear.
Overall, the Encore lends itself well to the subcompact crossover market, with a healthy amount of tech and safety features if you go for a few options, and provides a luxury feel without breaking the bank.
Hopefully that helps you tread water in the ever-rising stream of small crossovers.