Story and photos by Jim Robinson,
Metroland Media/WheelsTalk.com -
ATLANTA, Ga.: Buick is changing right before our eyes.
Once seen as the conveyance of the blue-hair set, the average age of Buick buyers is now 57 and falling as it introduces new models appealing to a younger audience.
Along with the Verano, its first luxury sedan in the compact segment, is the 2013 Encore that marks Buick’s first entry into the small crossover arena.
Not only does it have traditional Buick design cues like the “waterfall” grille and portholes on the hood, but it has the same new and pleasing touches like stitched leather, blue headlight surrounds and interior ambient “ice blue” lighting as the LaCrosse and Enclave.
Buick says the Encore is globally designed, meaning it was styled on one continent and built on another, in this case, Korea.
The Encore is based on GM’s Gamma platform, but so are a lot of other products. In this case it is the Gamma-SUV platform. Thanks to modern computer engineering, it is possible to design three or four totally different vehicles on one platform in terms of ride, handling and drivetrain, and so it is with Encore.
Under the hood is a 1.4-litre, variable valve timing inline turbocharged four-cylinder producing 138 hp and 148 lb/ft of torque. That powerplant sits way down in the engine bay where you might think a bigger four-banger or even a V6 would fit, such is the flexibility of the Gamma architecture.
Gamma can accommodate front- or all-wheel-drive and so the Encore is available as standard with FWD and optional with AWD for $1,950.
Only a six-speed automatic transmission is offered. The 18-inch wheels are part of Buick’s “one tire” strategy where ride and handling are optimized.
When you offer two or three, and in some cases four different wheel sizes, the “unsprung” weight of the tire can have a major effect on handling, especially cornering.
In Canada we will be get three trim levels starting at (FWD/AWD) Convenience, $26,895/$28,845; Leather, $30,190/$32,140; Premium Package, $32,505/$34,455 not including $1,500 for shipping.
Encore comes with all the safely features one now expects such as traction control, ABS, StabiliTrac pitch and yaw control and adds, as standard, 10 air bags and cornering brake control which steps in to add braking if it senses the driver is going a little too quickly into a turn.
Optionally available is lane departure warning (turned off and on by a button on the dash), forward collision alert and front/rear audible parking assist.
Also standard is Buick’s first use of the Bose Active Noise Cancellation system. Most makers employ two microphones (one front, one rear), but Buick has three (two front, one rear) that “hear” unwanted noise and then use the Bose sound system speakers to send out counter-tones.
Buick engineers went to great pains not to just deal with external noise but aerodynamics. For instance there are little vertical strakes at the trailing edge of each “C” pillar that cut drag and improve fuel economy.
Another notable feature is the standard voice-activated IntelliLink full-colour seven-inch display.
Move up to the Leather Package and it adds dual zone climate control, heated leather front seats, heated steering wheel and remote vehicle start.
The Premium package builds on the Leather with lane departure warning, rain sensing wipers, premium Bose Audio, XM Satellite Radio, front and rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert, and 18-inch chrome wheels.
Encore’s pixie of a powerplant delivers a lot more power than you’d expect, aided significantly by the gear ratio spread of the automatic that shifts transparently under normal driving conditions.
Going uphill, the trans kicks down quickly when the gas pedal is prodded.
Buick has a patented noise abatement system called QuietTuning that sees thick acoustic glass, triple door seals, and battens of insulation used to quell noise.
Coupled with the Bose noise cancelling system, you don’t hear much coming in from the outside – to a point.
The Verano sedan that uses the same QuietTuning system was quieter, in my opinion, than the Encore. I think it is because the Encore interior volume is far greater and thus more like a drum on the inside.
Suspension is MacStruts and coil springs at the front and a compound crank-style torsion beam at the back with coils.
Buick’s test route for the Encore was on the wonderfully kept roads to the south of Atlanta, GA, perfect for the kind of driving most of these CUVs will see.
We were three aboard in the FWD and AWD models, so the added weight of three people plus the travel luggage of two. That would be pretty well at the upper end of the total mass.
In all cases, the 1.4-litre never felt strained. We did not do any two-lane highway passing because there were so few vehicles, so I can’t say how well the Encore responds to full passing power.
I rode in the back of the FWD for part of the way and did not have a knee room problem – so while three in the back 60/40 split/fold seat might be cozy, for two only is fine.
Cargo volume behind the rear seats is 532.4 litres (18.2 cu ft) and 1,379 litres (48.4 cu ft) folded. Towing is not recommended.
As mentioned above, the Encore has all the luxury look and feel that a Buick buyer expects. You won’t find the cheap stuff in an Encore compared to a higher line LaCrosse. That used to be the case back in the day and a lesson Buick has learned and taken to heart.
For instance there are three interior trim combinations, one being a two-tone coffee and cocoa brown you might expect to find on a competitor costing twice as much.
And that is one of the reasons Buick is changing in front of our eyes.
The name is the same, but Buick now gets it and that’s why they are seeing a sharp increase in buyers coming over from the imports.
Along with LaCrosse, Regal, Enclave, Verano and now Encore, Buick finally has products people want.
Buick Encore 2013 at a glance
BODY STYLE: compact luxury CUV.
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front- all-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 1.4-litre, DOHC inline turbocharged four-cylinder (138 hp, 148 lb/ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: FWD, 8.2/6.0/7.2L/100 km (34/47/36 mpg) city/highway/combined; AWD, 8.9/6.7/7.5L/100 km (32/42/36 mpg) city/highway/combined
CARGO: 532.4 litres (18.2 cu ft) behind second row seats, 1,379 litres (48.4 cu ft) folded
TOWING CAPACITY: not recommended
PRICING: FWD/AWD) Convenience Package, $26,895/$28,845; Leather Package, $30,190/$32,140; Premium Package, $32,505/$34,455 not including $1,500 for shipping.
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