Drive Time: Good-handling Encore in crowded field
May 12, 2017
What an enjoyable week it was with Buick's best-selling model.
Are you guessing it's the LaCrosse? Not even close.
The Enclave? No.
Century? My word, they haven't built that one for years.
It is the Encore, Buick's entry into the compact SUV crossover field. To call it a compact pits it against the hot-selling Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox and Jeep Cherokee. They're all bigger than the Encore.
The Encore is built in Bupyeong Gu, South Korea, and for 2017 has a bit more performance from a direct-injection, turbocharged 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder of 153 horsepower/177 torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
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That's a very small engine and low-end acceleration is slow until the turbo kicks in.
Overall length for the Buick is only 168 inches; the small size cheats it out of decent space in the cargo area. Cargo capacity of 18 cubic feet is far narrower than Escape or Cherokee or CR-V.
Handling is superb with the short 100-inch wheelbase and all-wheel-drive setup.
Buick has sold a total of 28,444 Encores through the first four months of this year, a sizable jump from the 23,808 sold at the same time a year ago. Buick's other SUVs are the large-sized Enclave and the midsize Envision, each of which has sold about half the number as has the Encore.
Dick and Bernice Muller, longtime Greeley residents who spent their growing-up years at Wray, joined Jan and me last Saturday for a drive in the Buick to Fort Morgan. There, we gathered with other cousins in celebration of Kay Thiel's birthday. She, too, is a Wray native. Her husband, Dr. Robert A. Thiel, has recently retired at Fort Morgan after 46 years as a family physician.
The highway drive helped the Encore post an overall fuel mileage average of 26.9 miles per gallon; its EPA estimate is 26/31.
Seating position is high in the Encore, with excellent vision all around. Leather-covered front seats are wide and lightly bolstered for comfort. Front seats are heated, as is the steering wheel. A deep storage bin is handy at the bottom of the center stack. Legroom in the rear seats is sufficient, even with the relatively short overall length of the crossover.
The suspension system includes independent MacPherson struts and coil springs in front and torsion beam and coils at the rear. Tires are Continental ContiProContact 215/55R18s.
Buick's manual-mode shifter adds capability for better control of various driving situations, such as hills and twists. The Encore, though, can't be so quickly engaged as others for the fact it's done with a switch atop the shifter knob, rather than simply a tap of the lever.
Among options pushing the Encore's sticker price to $35,575 are a power moonroof and a package of navigation/Bose premium audio/Bluetooth/Apple Carplay capability/Android auto capability.
When I tested an Encore on its introduction four years ago, I'd never driven a Buick that small. Even the little Skyhawk back in the late '80s had a wheelbase of 101 inches, fractionally longer than the Encore's 100.6 wheelbase length.
While Buicks have long been favored by older, retirement-aged consumers, a primary aim of the fresh Encore are drivers in their 30s.
Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.