Under the Hood: 2018 Buick Encore

The Buick Encore was one of the early pioneers of the subcompact crossover SUV sector and has become one of the brand’s biggest sellers. But a lot has changed since the car first took a bow in 2012 as this is a seriously competitive sector these days.

Buick is known as a big car specialist and the true talent was bringing the big car feel, in terms of equipment, features, and interior space, to a much cheaper and more compact platform. The 2018 Buick Encore starts at just $22,990 and it feels like a grown-up SUV, especially with the optional power glass roof.

This is a premium car with a budget price tag, which is a blessing and a curse. It means that Buick has put out an impressive small car, but it also means that it goes head-to-head with some of the most accomplished masters of the class.

In this world, saving a few bucks will only get you so far and there’s always a manufacturer ready to cut a deal. So how does the 2018 Buick Encore fit into this complex and competitive landscape?

Performance Specifications

You get a choice of two engines and they’re both 1.4-liter turbos, which is confusing. The base engine has a slightly smaller displacement and port injection, rather than direct fuel injection. The end result is an entry-level car with 138 bhp and 148 lb/ft of torque and another with 153 bhp and 177 lb/ft of torque.

Of course, Buick has made things more complex and tied the engine power to the trim level. So, you can’t order the beefy engine with the base model or the sparsely-appointed Preferred line. You have to go for the Sport Touring Trim, Preferred II, Essence, or Premium to really feel the force and they mix and match two and four-wheel drivetrains and varying levels of equipment.

Neither engine is particularly fast, but the base model’s 0-60 mph time of 8.4 seconds is really slow in the modern world. That comes with a payoff, though, as this is an economical car for its considerable size and you’ll save money at the gas station.

Fuel Efficiency

Stop-start technology and the direct fuel injection on the “premium” engine contribute to improved fuel economy.

The front-wheel-drive base model hits 33 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city, while the more advanced and more powerful model matches it with four-wheel-drive and a few more horses.

So, if you can afford to spend a little more when you buy the car then it might well be good business to upgrade and get the safety benefits of four-wheel-drive without paying a price at the pumps. That four-wheel-drive system is never going to take you off-roading, but it’ll keep you safe in ice and snow.

Safety and Entertainment Features

You get a five-star crash rating and 10 airbags, so this car should take care of you if the worst happens.

Before then, optional all-wheel-drive, blind spot alert, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, a reversing camera that’s fitted with cross traffic alert, and more all combine to keep you out of trouble.

You get OnStar that provides an automatic crash response and will call the emergency services, provide diagnostic services and you’ll also get hands-free calling.

The entertainment is focused on a 4.2-inch touchscreen in the base models and an eight-inch touchscreen that comes with an inbuilt Wi-Fi hotspot as you go up the ladder. It’s satellite radio ready, you get ApplePlay integration with Siri Eyes Free, full smartphone connectivity with the MyBuick app, and a sophisticated Buick QuietTuning system that helps cancel the engine and road noise out.

For a car in this class, the Encore is seriously kitted out. You can also hit the options list hard and turn this into a properly expensive car if you’re not big on self-control. You have been warned.

How It Stacks Up Against the Competition

This is where things get difficult because this sector is overloaded with great cars. The subcompact crossover sector is a serious cash cow and that means the big guns are there in force.

Competitors are lined up around the block and they include the Ford Escape, Jeep Renegade, Honda CR-V, Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-5, and MINI Cooper Paceman. Perhaps the biggest competitor is the cut-price version of the same car: the Chevy Trax.

Now, the Encore is an elegant machine with small overhangs and a raked shoulder that hides its mass. The interior is spacious and there really are five proper seats, which is a relative rarity in this sector. The fit and finish is strong, and the Buick always scores well in the JD Power reliability surveys.

It rides well, too. Buick has brought that big car comfort to the small car sector. Inevitably that means it isn’t the sharpest at the apex, but that’s a logical trade. You don’t really buy a compact SUV crossover for circuit driving.

The engine is weak, but again that isn’t a total deal breaker in this sector and Buick has nailed its flag to the comfort cross. It is one of those cars that could handle a long journey and it behaves like a much bigger car on the open road. Just don’t expect it to win too many traffic light Grands Prix.

The Encore really doesn’t do anything wrong. But does it do enough to stand out? The Nissan, Jeep, and Kia offerings all come with bags more character, and power if you want to spend a little more. The MINI is a smile on wheels and you could also opt for the FIAT 500X.

The car-like Mazda has it beaten on track and Ford’s Escape is a better all-round package. So, you’ve really got to want the Buick to go ahead with this many choices on the table.

Pros

  • Big car comfort in a small car.
  • Great fuel economy.
  • Classy interior.
  • Optional infotainment system is a powerhouse.

Cons

  • Engine is seriously weak.
  • It faces serious competition and great cars.
  • Cheaper Chevy is almost the same car.
  • Options can get out of hand.

Image via AutosDuty

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