Friday, September 20, 2013

First Drive: 2013 Buick Encore

At the 2012 North American International Auto Show, General Motors debuted a subcompact SUV, called the Buick Encore. At the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, General Motors unveiled the Opel Mokka, which the Buick Encore is based on. In the United Kingdom, the Mokka is marketed as a Vauxhall. Opel, a German subsidiary of General Motors, engineered the vehicle. Yet the Encore is built in South Korea. Since the Opel brand is not sold in the United States, Canada, or China. General Motors rebrands Opel cars as Buicks in these markets. The fifth generation Buick Regal is a rebadged Opel Insignia. The Encore is a front-engine subcompact SUV that comes with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. I first saw the Buick Encore at the 2013 Houston Encore. During a Wednesday in August 2013, I stopped by the local Buick delearship and took one for a test drive. The Encore is available with one transmission, a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. The version I drove came with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 option.

The Buick Encore is very small. It is one of the smallest SUV sold in the United States. It has a wheelbase of 100.6 inches and an overall length of 168.5 inches. It has an exterior styling that I can only describe as unique. It is not pretty, but it is not ugly either. It does not look like any other car on the road and will stand out. It lacks that the extended wheel arches found on the Nissan Juke, which hurts the Juke's styling. The Encore comes with 18 inch wheels. The version I drove came with 18 inch chromed aluminum wheels, a $995 option. The Encore I drove came with the premium trim level and came with saddle leather seats. It also came with a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a remote vehicle starter system, heated front and passenger seats, front and rear park assist, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning. The screen in the middle of the dashboard serves as both a screen for the backup camera and the navigation. The leather and wood trim gives the Encore a luxurious feel, even in a vehicle as small as the Encore. The seats are comfortable. I had good headroom and legroom behind the wheel. The premium trim level cost $3,900 more than the base trim level.

The Buick Encore is powered by a turbocharged 1.4L I4 engine that produces 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. It goes from 0 to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds and reaches a top speed of 110 mph. The Encore feels slow. I notice a little bit of turbo lag coming from the engine. Despite the subpar performance, the Encore has a smooth and quiet ride. The vehicle responds well when I turn the wheel. Prices for the Buick Encore starts at $24,950, including a $750 destination fee. The version I test drove costs $31,475. A full loaded all-wheel drive Encore goes for over $33,000. For the size of the car, it is a little bit pricey.

Overall, the Encore is average. It has a luxurious feel when equipped with the leather and premium trims. But with the base and convenience trims, you do not get a lot, especially for a vehicle starting around $25,000. The Encore is small and underpowered. The Encore could have benefited from either a turbocharged 2.0L I4 engine available in the Buick Regal and Cadillac ATS. Hopefully, General Motors will offer more engine options with the Encore. The turbocharged 1.4L I4 engine ruins the driving experience for the Encore. That engine provides 4 more hp than a Toyota Prius. The engine is not powerful enough for a vehicle that weighs 2,850 pounds. The Encore needs a more powerful engine. It is just too slow and small to cost $25,000. If the Encore started at $20,000, then I could recommend it. But there are much better cars and SUVs out there than the Encore that cost around $25,000.

Photo was taken by a camera phone.
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