2014 Buick Encore. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Mark Atkinson
It isn’t often that General Motors gets ahead of new market trends. The giant is usually left playing an expensive game of catch-up and the eventual product is rushed or half-assed. But when the recent boom in compact SUVs started getting serious, the company did something unexpected: it went straight to the smaller sub-compact arena, skipping over plenty of serious competitors in the process.
GM used the Sonic as its starting point, and not the larger Cruze as everyone might have expected. Few mainstream brands play in the tiddly end yet – the Mitsubishi RVR and Nissan Juke are two at which the resulting Chevrolet Trax is aimed – and even fewer of the more expensive brands. When Buick launched its Encore version a year ago, it caught plenty of people off guard. It even outperformed its larger, more established and freshly updated Enclave in sales by a few hundred units during its first model year. So after some maturation and a few minor updates for its sophomore season, it was time to take a look at one more closely.
The Encore doesn’t have an aggressive bone in its body, with an upright, curvy body, big guppy eyes and a small chrome Buick grille. Some of the detailing – the blue-ringed HID headlights – works well, while others – the diamond-shaped portholes – do not. Speaking of the portholes, they’ve been slowly migrating higher and higher as every new Buick is introduced, and now sit on the upper edge of the hood, angled towards the centre. Soon enough, they’ll creep towards the middle like a Pep Boys faux-hawk. The rear has some of the strangest-shaped taillights going, looking more like boomerangs than anything else. There’s also matte-grey skirting that’s supposed to give a sense of utility, but definitely looked lost on the plain ole’ silver tester I had.
Despite its teeny footprint, the Encore proved plenty spacious, helped by the relatively long wheelbase and equally decent rear legroom. Having a five-year-old daughter with ‘active’ legs means plenty of inadvertent kicks and shoves into my seatback, and this time proved less thumpy than usual… Despite the high window line, she was able to see outside more easily than I’d figured. Width can be an issue, though, especially in the cargo area where large plastic bulkheads intrude farther into the space than you’d imagine or want.
The rest of the cabin is pretty decent, and thankfully doesn’t share a ton with its Chevrolet cousin. The whole centre console and dashboard are unique to each, and the Buick’s is obviously the more expensive. The typical blue-green backlit buttons, dials and other controls are found in the Regal and Verano. And it takes a while to notice the dark-grey-stained wood trim, which doesn’t contrast with the black interior much, and is tastefully restrained to a couple minor slivers on the dash and door tops. Other niceties included dual-zone climate control, keyless ignition and auto-down windows, decent equipment for the price.
2014 Buick Encore dashboard. Click image to enlarge
My mid-level Leather trim tester came with, well, leather seats that were heated, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, also heated. The driver’s bucket has six-way power adjustment, along with a memory setting, which helped ease frustration immensely during driver changes on a 10-hour round-trip to Halifax. My wife and I are at opposite ends of the height spectrum, and both found the front buckets to be reasonably supportive, although they certainly weren’t perfect… Thankfully, those heated seats – like all GM vehicles – are seriously strong and stay on for what seems like hours without losing intensity.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the Encore and the Trax is that the 20-centimetre (seven-inch) display on the very top of the dash in the Buick, which is easier to see than the one in the Chevy. The Encore doesn’t have touch controls – Trax does – using the dash-mounted dials and buttons, and voice commands as the main source of input. The whole thing proved a little awkward to use, but is probably average in frustration level compared with similar systems.
2014 Buick Encore seating & cargo area. Click image to enlarge
The optional seven-speaker Bose audio system provided more-than-decent sounds, but also includes the bonus feature of standard active noise cancellation. That, combined with the acoustic laminated side-glass and windshield that are thicker than the Chevy’s, more sound-deadening material in the cabin and in the unibody openings, aerodynamic tweaks and more are all aimed at providing a more hushed environment. While not tomb quiet, it did mean I wasn’t having to shout to be heard in the back seat.
The Encore does come well equipped, with a standard back-up camera, handy given the large D-pillars and small rear window. Also handy were the blind-spot alert and new-for-2014 cross-traffic alert when exiting unfamiliar parking lots, standard on mid-level models and up… And like other vehicles it shares its greasy bits with, the wee Buick gets 10 airbags standard.