Improvements make the Buick Encore competitive

SHARE Improvements make the Buick Encore competitive

Buick’s Encore is in its first encore. Launched in 2013, the Encore basically pioneered the small luxury crossover niche. The problem is, other competitors took note and improved on the concept. Today, Buick is trying to work Encore back into a tight circle that includes entries from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz (and soon, from Cadillac).

An update this year gives Encore a fresher look inside and out. The exterior features a revised front end complete with a new grille that ditches the classic Buick waterfall and goes for a stylized, chrome winged look. The LED headlights are narrower and are topped by a less fussy hood design. The rear doesn’t have the elegant look of the nose. Overall, Encore incorporates some of Buick’s new styling cues, but on the hatchback body style they conspire to give Encore a short, portly look.

GM launched Encore first and then shared its overall body design and most of its underpinnings with Chevrolet for the Trax. My Encore Sport’s engine was a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 177 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic.

Inside, the premium appointments don’t appear forced. My tester came with a large touch screen that worked well for basic controls, infotainment and as rear-view camera screen. Encore provides owners with the ability to run some smartphone apps via Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You’ll appreciate OnStar’s 4G LTE data connection on long trips, as it facilitates an interior Wi-Fi network. This time around, the soft-touch surfaces, metal trim and new blue ambient lighting look and feel premium. The leather seats, standard power features and Bose audio system enhance the experience.

A few more things about Encore’s interior: it’s a narrow vehicle, so front-seat passenger space is not roomy. A plus is the reconfigurable interior, as the back seat flips and folds and the front passenger seat folds as well. There are five seat belts, but only four passengers will fit. I was impressed by the quiet cabin courtesy of active noise cancellation and plenty of foam insulation.

If configuring an Encore, go with the higher-horsepower turbo engine (versus base non-turbo), as passing and merging will be less nerve-wracking. My tester came with optional all-wheel drive; that pushes weight above 3,200 pounds. So don’t expect neck-snapping acceleration.

Handling was a bright spot, as Encore’s stubby size allows it to negotiate tight spaces. The electric steering is a bit soft, but I didn’t have to wind the wheel excessively. Braking was just average for the segment. Now just because Encore offers AWD doesn’t mean it can match the Jeep Renegade for trail-hopping. Encore’s AWD is dialed in for bad-weather traction, not making tracks off-road.

So, is the Encore a true luxury crossover? Mostly, but for the vehicle that opened up the segment, it could use a few more enhancements to propel it back to the helm.

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