published Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Test Drive: Buick Encore ready to take a bow

The new Buick Encore is a small SUV with a big assortment of amenities.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The new Buick Encore is a small SUV with a big assortment of amenities. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Buick Encore

Exterior color: Carbon Black Metallic

Interior color: Gray and black

Engine: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbo

Horsepower: 138

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city

Dealer: Integrity Automotive Group

Price (as tested): $28,650

Buick's new Encore small SUV is a jewel box.

That's the trend today: full-featured SUVs on smaller wheel-bases; witness the popular BMW X1 and VW Tiguan.

If you've ever admired the sumptuous curves of Buick's full-size Enclave SUV -- but you don't need, or want, a 5,000-pound vehicle -- the Encore is a nearly-perfect three-fifths scale copy.

Full disclosure: This is no family hauler, unless your family consists of a spouse, a toddler and a Chihuahua. The Encore's small wheelbase and modest powerplant -- which is more suited to singles and couples -- is designed for comfort more than cargo. Still, it's the perfect starter SUV for young upscale buyers, and an attractive down-size option for baby boomers whose babies have left the nest.

Encores have just started arriving at Integrity Buick in Chattanooga, and we snagged a Carbon Black Metallic copy with the midtrim Leather Group package. There were three Encores on the ground there earlier this week.

I tell import buyers all the time, "Take a look at Buick." And the Encore could be Exhibit A in this line of reasoning.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The Encore is a show-stopper when it comes to styling. On a sunny day, our shimmering black test car was bouncing light around like an onyx disco ball.

I've always been a sucker for a black car, and the Encore wears the color well. Buick's signature waterfall grille and tri-shield emblem give the little SUV a regal face.

There are nice touches everywhere on the Encore's exterior: smoothly integrated roof rails, chrome embellished door handles, and gleaming seven-spoke chrome rims (a $995 option). The body has attractive character lines and undulations which trigger the aforementioned light show.

Inside, the Encore is all modern Buick, which is to say futuristic and fun. A beefy, leather-covered steering wheel frames an analog speedometer and tachometer.

Electronic functions are controlled from a cluster of buttons and dials on the lower dash -- think Blackberry, not iPad -- and displayed on a 7-inch color display. The leather-trimmed seats in our test SUV were comfortable and tastefully stitched. Front leg- and head-room is adequate, although back-seat space is modest by compact-SUV standards.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Encore is powered by a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which squeezes 138 horsepower out of its tiny displacement. Mated to a slick, six-speed transmission, the turbo spools up quickly and delivers adequate pace off the mark.

The Encore manages to return 33 miles per gallon highway and 25 miles per gallon city -- or roughly equivalent to a midsize sedan.

Unlike some small SUVs, which suffer from vibration and body lean, the Encore feels solid and trustworthy. During a test drive on secondary roads around Chickamaugua Lake, it was fun to toss around the Encore, which remained sure-footed and quiet.

BOTTOM LINE

Our test car stickers for $28,650, but looks more expensive. Interestingly, the Encore is assembled in Korea. Buick is among the top names in the auto business now in product quality, and the Encore is one of those cars you really need to see to fully appreciate. It offers incredible design bang for the buck.

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