Capsule Review: 2015 Buick Encore

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
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capsule review 2015 buick encore

Against all odds, the Buick Encore has managed to sell in fairly decent numbers. Despite looking like a four-wheeled rollerskate, Buick’s trucklet moved nearly 49,000 units in 2014, up from roughly 31,000 during its debut in 2013. Part of the Encore’s success must be attributed to the fact that it was the first to show up to the party. The small CUV craze is only just heating up now in America, and the Encore is arguably the premiere (in terms of chronology, not quality) premium entrant in the segment. Demand is strong enough that GM has expanded production to two plants (Mexico and Spain as well as the initial Korean location) and will import 50 percent more units versus last year.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why. The Encore is one of the worst cars I’ve driven in a long time.

Ok, to be fair, there is a case to made for an Encore – a flimsy one – but it does exist. According to Automotive News, the Encore is a hit with empty-nesters who are between the ages of 45 and 65 and looking to downsize. This is right in the sweet spot for Buick’s demographic, and the Encore lets buyers have the comfort of a CUV (the ride height, the ease of entry and exit) in a compact package that’s easy to park and maneuver. Seriously, it’s not half bad to steer around, owing to its Chevy Sonic roots.

The steering is light but responsive and the chassis seemed, dare I say it, agile, while providing a comfortable, utterly silent ride. The Buick version of MyLink isn’t bad either. Not as good as UConnect, but so much better than Cadillac’s CUE system, and right around the same level as the new MyFord Touch system. And that’s about it. And really, that’s probably all that the target buyer is looking for. From any other perspective. The rest of the car is an absolute mess.

The Encore could very well be GM’s ugliest car since the Aztek. It’s difficult to make a vehicle with the proportions of a roller skate look attractive, but the Buick-appropriate levels of chrome (including the wheels, grille and ventiports) make the car look like a four-wheeled approximation of an apple-shaped, post-rehab Liza Minelli sashaying in a sequined evening gown. Inside isn’t much better. The materials and surfaces deserve some credit, but GM’s approach to the center stack appears to be “stick all of the buttons, everywhere”.

In concept, this isn’t a bad idea. Older buyers are more likely to gravitate to tactile controls rather than complicated touch screens. In execution, it rarely works (Acura is also guilty of this on the last generation TL, for example), since there are so many functions on modern cars that a button-based user interface ends up looking cluttered and haphazard. In the Encore, they don’t feel very good either. For a $32,000 car, it’s not much better than what you’d find in a $14,000 Sonic, and no amount of faux-stitching on the dashboard panels can make up for that.

The Encore’s chassis and 1.4T engine are worthy of merit on their own, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. With a curb weight of 3200 lbs, 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft is simply not going to cut it – especially when the power is delivered by GM’s 6-speed automatic. This unit, which appears on a wide range of transverse-layout cars, is a wretched one. Shifts occur in what seem to be geological ages, and it only serves to exacerbate what should be “plain old underpowered” into a situation where 60 mph comes up in over 10 seconds. It’s not particularly smooth or conducive to outstanding fuel economy either. While the EPA rates the Encore AWD at 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined, you’ll end up hammering the gas to make any reasonable forward progress – about the worst thing you can do for a turbo engine. Replacing the transmission would be one of the best things GM can do for its entire lineup, and would go a long way to redeem the Encore. Not even a Trifecta Tune can solve this problem. It looks like GM is considering a larger engine as well.

As a crossover, the Encore doesn’t hold up particularly well either. At 18.8 cubic feet of cargo room (48.4 cubic feet with the seats down), it’s not particularly spacious. Honda’s HR-V has 24.3 feet of space for stuff with the seats up, and an additional 10 feet over the Encore when the seats are down. At best, the Encore is built for four. You can forget about stuffing an adult in the rear middle seat, and anybody over 6 feet is going to have a miserable time on anything approaching a long trip.

Our tester, a fully loaded AWD model, stickered at $32,000. That’s big money for a tiny crossover with a barely premium badge and equipment that is shared with lesser GM models. If I were to invoke the hyperbolic prose that journalists tend to fall back on, I’d question why anyone bought this car (particularly when there’s the Jetta Sportwagen blah blah blah). But I get it. Even though it’s not very good at doing anything particularly well, there’s a growing demographic of older, affluent buyers who want something with the ride height of a CUV and the footprint of a smaller car and the soft, quiet driving experience of a luxury car. The Encore fills that niche. When placed in the wider context of the automotive market, it starts to look silly.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Klossfam Klossfam on Feb 08, 2015

    At the local auto show Friday night, we sat in a loaded Encore with a nearly $35k sticker and then immediately went and sat in an Audi Q3 that was approx $2k more (it was a Premium with Nav etc). I know the Q3 is slighty larger (we have the same-sized Tiguan) but who in their right mind would choose this Daewoo...I mean Buick...vs a Q3 or other far better choices???? The fact you see so many Encores is evidence than mindless zombies DO live among us...

  • Meza_wolf Meza_wolf on Apr 18, 2015

    I love my 2013. It now has 15k miles on it and has been over Snoqualmie pass over 2 dozen times. Everywhere I go I get compliments on the looks of my car. I think who ever wrote this review needs a new place to work because last time I checked this was called The Truth About Cars

  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.
  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.