2013 Buick Encore

America's First Luxury Mini Crossover
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The 2013 Buick Encore is not just another entry in the crowded compact CUV market (Chevy Equinox, GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, et al), the Buick Encore is a true segment buster. As a full-fledged member of the upscale Buick family, it's not just a rare subcompact ("B-Class") crossover but America's first luxury subcompact CUV. Dubbed the baby Enclave, will the Buick Encore meet such lofty expectations?

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The New Good Old Days

In January 2006, when GM Design Vice President Ed Welburn unveiled the Buick Enclave full-size crossover (CUV) concept at Detroit's North American International Auto Show, he said its gorgeous "design language" would set the style for Buick's next-generation of vehicles, and it has. Enclave's exterior was gorgeous and its interior beautifully crafted with first-class fits and posh materials. It was the brand's first real eye-opening image changer. When that concept evolved into the fine-looking, fine-driving production Enclave three-row CUV for 2008, it was easily the best Buick in modern memory...quieter, more refined and arguably prettier than anything else in its segment. New large LaCrosse, mid-size Regal and luxury Compact Verano sedans have followed, all as good as they are attractive.

But Buick's popular Enclave, now second-generation better for 2013, is too big for buyers wanting a more fuel-efficient cargo-capable CUV and don't need to accommodate seven or eight people. Hence this much smaller baby Enclave, aptly named Buick Encore.

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Design

Built on the excellent B-class architecture that underpins Chevrolet's successful Sonic subcompact, the 5-passenger Encore is much smaller than it looks. We thought it a bit mal-proportioned -- a somewhat bloated tiny tall wagon trying to look like a CUV -- when we first saw it a year before its introduction.

Like the Enclave, the 2013 Buick Encore's gracefully-sculpted exterior is dominated by a bold waterfall grille that wraps over the hood's leading edge, projector-beam headlamps under clear wrap-around covers, Buick-signature portholes on the hood and large (18-inch) wheels and tires framed by arched, muscular fender flares. Also like its beautifully-appointed big brother, the Encore's cabin is richly decorated and surprisingly roomy for its size, at least in the front cabin.

Looking like a soft, flowing sculpture, its instrument panel wraps artfully into its door panels while its standard seven-inch, high-resolution, voice-activated IntelliLink infotainment display protrudes ET-like at top dead center. The easy-to-use IntelliLink system integrates online services such as Pandora internet radio and Stitched SmartRadio using hands-free voice activation via Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. Ice-blue ambient lighting, rich-looking woodgrain trim, a power driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated mirrors and a rear-view camera are standard in your choice of an all-ebony or a multi-tone cabin.

The comfortable, supportive, high-density-foam seats are trimmed in contemporary cloth/leatherette or available premium leather, and the 60/40 split, flat-folding rear seat has a fold-down armrest with cup holders. Six more beverage holders and multiple pockets and bins are supplemented by storage under the rear load floor and (available) beneath the passenger seat. Cargo capacity is 18.8 cu. ft. behind the rear seat and 48.4 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded, and the right-front seat folds flat to accommodate long items.

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Models And Features

The 2013 Encore offers optional all-wheel-drive ($1500) but just one engine, a 138-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec four driving through a six-speed automatic transmission. Its EPA-rated fuel economy is impressive at 25 mpg city, 33 highway and 28 combined with fwd, and 23/30/26 with awd...better than such small-CUV competitors as the Mini Countryman S (25 mpg city/32 highway with automatic) and Volkswagen Tiguan (21/ 26). It also beats the EPA combined ratings of the Jeep Compass (24) and Ford's most efficient Escape crossover (26).

The 2013 Buick Encore is offered in four trim levels: base Encore (1SB), Convenience (1SD), Leather (1SL) and Premium (1SN), the latter with Rainsense wipers, seven-speaker Bose premium audio, front and rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning. Available options (depending on trim level) include the Rainsense wipers, the Bose premium audio, GPS navigation, chromed aluminum wheels, a sunroof, dual-zone climate controls, a heated steering wheel, heated leather seats, a power front passenger seat and driver memory presets. A full suite of 10 air bags (now common even on small GM cars) and StabiliTrak electronic stability control are among its many standard safety features.

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Driving Impressions

Buick's "Quiet Tuning" effectively reduces, blocks or absorbs whatever noise its hard-working powertrain emits, along with most others, and includes the brand's first use of Bose Active Noise Cancellation with ceiling-mounted microphones that detect unwanted noises and counteract them through the audio speakers. We were pleasantly surprised by the Encore's driving dynamics -- responsive steering, agile handling and secure, linear, fade-free braking -- but disappointed by its (lack of) performance. This same eager 1.4-liter turbo four is fine as an option in the compact Chevy Cruze and a hoot in the subcompact Sonic, but a well-equipped Encore's 4400-lb heft seems a bit much for it. The 138 horses are adequate with a light load on level ground, but you'll want more with heavy loads, or when passing uphill or at altitude.

Our only other complaint was tight rear cabin packaging. When you need to carry more than two adults, long-legged rear riders will beg you to sacrifice front legroom to accommodate them, and the front seats had to be adjusted almost full forward for the 2nd-row seats to fold flat. That left little room up front with the seats down for a photographer shooting out the back.

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Bottom Line

With the entry of the Buick Encore, this will mark the first time since 2007 that Buick has had five vehicles strategically placed in the U.S. market. It seems that Buick is making a conscious effort to focus on getting more appeal to a younger market with the Buick Encore while reinforcing renewed focus on luxurious fit and finish characteristics. Buick Encore pricing starts at $25K, if you have in mind a small, fuel-efficient cargo hauler, you should check out and test drive this nice looking, segment-busting Buick small crossover.

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