If you think what the world needs is a compact, tall-riding mini-SUV with cute-but-slightly-gawky styling, a “bring on the tech” approach to luxury, and a price tag somewhere in between its bigger mainstream competitors and its comparably sized premium rivals, the Buick Encore is perhaps the perfect SUV for you.

On the other hand, if you don’t think the world needs a small, tall-riding, ventiported, gizmo-loaded SUV that’s neither particularly affordable nor especially luxurious, well, you might just ask what the heck the Encore is trying to accomplish.

First, let’s get the basics out of the way: the Encore, which is based on Europe’s Opel Mokka and is sibling to the less-expensive Chevrolet Trax, shares its Gamma II architecture with the Chevrolet Sonic. Its wheelbase is stretched by 30 mm compared to the Sonic, and its overall length extended by 240 mm versus the Sonic hatchback (it’s still 120 mm shorter than the Sonic Sedan). It gets a taller ride height than the Sonic and an available slip-and-grip front-wheel-biased AWD system, but the turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder Ecotec engine is pure Sonic, developing the same 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. The suspension setup is also essentially the same as the Sonic, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion-beam axle in the back.

As a small, versatile runabout, the Encore works fine. The front seats offer reasonable room and so do the back seats – it may look a little cramped back there, but I had my brother sitting behind me when I was driving (he’s 5’11” just like me) and I later had my son behind me when I was passenger (he’s 6’2″) and neither of them had any complaints. Luggage space is limited to 532 L with the rear seats up (I reckon that would be without the cargo cover in place), and with the cargo cover in place it was still adequate to keep all my gear hidden for a three-day work trip and to later carry home several days’ worth of groceries. Fold the rear seatbacks (a bit of a bother since you first have to flip up the seat squabs) and you get a decent 1,371 L worth of space.

The engine keeps fairly busy hauling the 1,523 kg SUV around town, and it’s no drag race champ at 9.8 seconds from 0-100 km/h, but the Encore is spritely enough where it really counts in the city-oriented 0-60 km/h zone, and it manages fine on the highway too (I didn’t try hauling four people up a mountain road, but with just myself aboard the Encore accomplished highway passing maneuvers reasonably well and cruised happily at 120 km/h on Vancouver Island’s Inland Highway). Fuel economy is rated at 10.2/8.0 L/100 km for AWD models, and my not-yet-fully-broken-in tester averaged 10.5 L/100 km over a week of driving, with the interesting aside that it didn’t actually seem to care much whether it was cruising the highway at 120 km/h or squirting around town, it returned almost the same economy.

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