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2015 Buick Encore AWD Premium Review With 2016 Update by Carey Russ


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2016 Buick Encore

Buick Encore combines comfort and style

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Buick Research and Buyers Guide


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2016 Buick Encore

Car buyers of a certain age might equate Buick with their grandparents. On the other hand, younger potential entry-luxury customers are less likely to have that baggage, and so be more open-minded to Buick when a combination of comfort, convenience, and a bit of cachet are desired. Being younger, their budget is likely to be smaller. And living in an urban or suburban setting where traffic and parking are daily concerns, a smaller vehicle could be more desirable. Grandpa's Roadmaster won't fit. But a Buick Encore will.

New for 2013 and evolving since then, the Encore gives Buick a presence in the small luxury crossover market. It provides the quiet comfort expected of a Buick with nearly all of the contemporary electronic entertainment, convenience, and safety systems standard or available in a small-outside, not-so-small-inside package. And then uses the latest drivetrain technology for good fuel economy and reasonable performance.

Monospec from an engine and chassis perspective, all Encores have a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that drives the front or all wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. With 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque in a 3400-pound vehicle (in AWD trim), it won't be racing any surviving GNXes for pink slips, but its EPA-rated 25 mpg city, 33 highway for FWD or 23/30 with AWD make it one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers.

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2016 Buick Encore

Trim levels are Encore, Encore Convenience, Encore Leather, and Encore Premium. All have Buick's QuietTuning noise-reduction technology, which includes Bose® Active Noise Cancellation, possibly familiar from headphones. Electronic cruise control, ambient interior lighting, a seven-inch high-resolution color display interface for audio and infotainment systems, carpeting, roof rails, and more are standard in all, with blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, remote starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seating, seat and steering wheel heating, Rainsense wipers, upscale audio, sonar park assist, and forward collision and lane-departure warning systems as the trim level goes higher. Premium audio and navigation systems are available.

A 2015 Encore Premium AWD has been my test car for the past week. It has all of the expected entry-luxury amenities and then some, in a usefully compact, quiet, comfortable package. No, it wasn't blisteringly quick, and some planning was necessary for passing maneuvers -- in common with any other low-powered vehicle -- but I did see 25 mpg for the week. Parking was a breeze, and I even had a chance to test the Rainsense wipers! (drought of epic proportion here, so that's unusual, even a modest drizzle is news) Five large adults would be stretching capacity and friendliness, but two grownups and three kids should work -- with room left over behind the rear seat for whatever cargo is necessary.

2016 update: Consumer electronics evolve more more quickly that cars. The major change for 2015 was OnStar with 4G LTE and a built-in wifi hot spot. (be sure to password-protect if you use it, or any such) 2016 sees a new model, the Sport Touring -- and for sport it gets a new 1.4-liter turbo engine -- not a modification of the older one at all -- with direct fuel injection and 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft. That should rectify the current acceleration deficiency, and may not extract much of a fuel consumption penalty. Other models have no major changes.

APPEARANCE: In proportion, the tall, short, narrow Encore almost personifies the old description "sport-cute". It's too tall to be a hatchback, but too short to be an SUV. No macho offroad ruggedness here, it's civilized city and suburban transportation in a functional but stylish package. Its bright chrome waterfall grille with corporate badging brings immediate identification, and yes, there are portholes ("ventiports") or at least a styling facsimile thereof, at the edges of the hood. The angular lines also show coherence with other current Buicks, and cladding surrounding the lower perimeter and wheel arches gives a touch of SUV look and. more importantly, protection against rock chips and parking lot hazards. Those are not really skid plates at the front and rear, just metal-look plastic trim. But there is a fair amount of undertray, for aerodynamic management to improve fuel economy.

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2016 Buick Encore

COMFORT: Once inside, the first impression is that the Encore is tall. While not truck-tall, its 65.2-inch height allows an upright, high-eyepoint seating position. And means the front and rear seats can be closer together, improving legroom. Dark, textured soft-touch upper surfaces and bright trim around vents and instruments, and on the steering wheel and center stack, adds a luxury ambience. All models have a leather steering wheel rim, and manual tilt and reach adjustment of the wheel. Instruments are backlit, with a dot-matrix information display between the tach and speedometer and oil temperature and fuel level above. Cruise, audio, and phone controls are found on the steering wheel spokes. Information displayed in the screen at the center of the dash is manipulated by buttons and a knob-and-ring controller below. AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, jack and USB inputs, and streaming audio including Pandora and Stitcher provide the soundtrack. At Premium level, seating surfaces are leather. Both fronts have power-adjustable cushions, with the back angle adjustment is manual. Comfort is as expected for the class, and cushions are heatable. As mentioned, the rear seat may be a bit snug for large adults, but with a center armrest with cupholders and a 60/40 folding back, it's useful and versatile. The back side of front passenger seat is hard plastic -- a hint that it folds flat forward for long items. Add plenty of storage spaces around the cabin, including a second glove box above the usual, and this should be a useful and versatile family car. There's a space-saver spare, and a little more space, under the rear load floor.

SAFETY: The Encore's unibody structure uses safety cage and crumple zone construction for passenger protection. Ten airbags add more. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist and the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, which includes cornering brake control, add even more. A rearview camera is standard in all, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring and front and rear sonar park assist are standard in higher trim levels and optional in others.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Yes, the Encore is a Buick. But no, it's not your late grandfather's Roadmaster. Thankfully. The MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension is standard fare for the class, and here is tuned relatively softly, for comfort. But unlike overly-soft American suspensions of the past, spring and damping rates are matched correctly -- so it deals with the bump or hole, and that's it. No continued oscillation, no need for Dramamine. It's very European in that. Good soundproofing and active noise control keep road and wind noise down. Steering is electrically-assisted, and a bit light. Which is appropriate for a Buick.

PERFORMANCE: "Turbo" here means "power of a larger engine when needed, fuel economy of a smaller one when power isn't needed". The 1.4-liter (83 cubic inch) twincam four-cylinder engine makes 138 horsepower (at 4900 rpm) and 148 lb-ft of torque (at 1850 rpm) -- very good figures for its size. But it moves between 3250 (FWD) and 3400 (AWD) pounds of Encore, and gearing is optimized for fuel efficiency. So blistering acceleration is not in the program. Which is likely not a major issue with its market, and not necessarily slower than many competitors. It has enough power to deal with everyday life, and goes farther on a gallon of unleaded regular than other small crossovers. The 25mpg average I got for the week is good for a small crossover. The six-speed automatic does its job well. Manual shifting is possible using a rocker switch atop the shift lever, but not a necessity. If you like the Encore, but think a little more urge is necessary, check out the new Sport Touring model.

CONCLUSIONS: The Encore, Buick's smallest crossover, combines comfort and style.

SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Buick Encore AWD Premium

Base Price $ 30,935

Price As Tested $ 32,355

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with continuously-variable cam phasing

Engine Size 1.4 liters / 83 cu. in.

Horsepower 138 @ 4900 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 148 @ 1850 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 100.6 in. / 168.4 in.

Curb Weight 3358 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 24.3

Fuel Capacity 14 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P215/55R18 94H Continental Conti Pro Contact m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, TC, ESC with rollover mitigation standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle

Ground Clearance 6.3 inches

Drivetrain transverse front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 23 / 30 / 25

0 to 60 mph est 9.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Audio System With Navigation $ 495

Destination Charge $ 925