Road Test: solid Buick Encore SUV
Before Mamie Rearden died earlier this year, she had the distinction of being the country's oldest U.S. citizen. She was 114.
Buick was born the same year, in 1899, making it one of the more geriatric automotive brands on the market. But with its Encore, the Detroit automaker is once again striving to resuscitate its formerly lustrous image, with a trendy crossover targeting the almost affluent.
Ask Joan Rivers. It's difficult to maintain the illusion of youth without the use of procedures far more invasive than Botox, which is why Buick has packed its mini SUV with more rejuvenators than the comedian's face.
A 7-inch, full-color display radio and rearview camera are standard across all four trims of the $24,200-plus Encore, as is the power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and voice-activated IntelliLink system to command the audio and navigation and access online services such as Pandora and Stitcher.
Like most crossovers, the Encore is available in front- and all-wheel drive versions, the latter of which operates differently than others on the market. It engages when stopped in case there's wheel slippage when accelerating off the line and gradually eases torque from the back wheels up to a speed of 35 mph, at which point the car switches to front-wheel-drive unless it senses compromised traction.
The Encore is the smallest vehicle in Buick's five-model lineup and is powered with its smallest engine. Its turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder makes a modest 138 horsepower to heave its five-passenger body but yields one of the best fuel economy figures for its size: up to 28 mpg combined.
The all-wheel-drive model I tested had little difficulty climbing hills or smoothly shifting its six-speed automatic transmission. It was, however, noisier than ideal, especially at higher speeds, where I could hear more road and surrounding traffic than desired.
The Encore seats five comfortably, though adult passengers in the second row will be happiest with a short-legged driver. The second row folds flat, but the process for achieving that is more complicated than it is with some competitors. The front passenger seat also collapses flat, opening up enough space for a surfboard or ladder.
The most bothersome aspect to the Encore is Buick's insistence that it's still a luxury nameplate. In reality, it's in the same league as small crossover offerings from Toyota, Honda and Mazda, which places it in a very competitive mainstream pack. It's a less esteemed metric, but in it, the Encore holds its own.
2013 BUICK ENCORE
Base price: $24,200
Price as tested: $32,425
Engine: turbocharged 1.4-liter, incline-4 cylinder
Power: 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm
Maximum torque: 148 pound-feet at 1,850 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city; 30 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 100.6 inches
Length: 168.5 inches
Height: 65.2 inches
Width: 69.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 48.4 cubic feet
Bottom line: Good, not luxurious.