If there’s an overarching trend in the automotive industry at the moment, it can be summarized in three words: Small is big. As proof, we offer up the 2015 Buick Encore. The fact that this seriously compact crossover comes from Buick, a brand once known primarily for building big, comfy luxury sedans, shows just how far-reaching this trend really is. Happily, the Encore possesses many of the essential qualities of Buick-ness, although its relatively humble power and cabin space may give some shoppers second thoughts.
On the positive side, the Encore’s list of standard features is long, including a new-for-2015 4G LTE connection with WiFi hotspot capability. The Encore also comes with a smart-looking 7-inch touchscreen that provides smartphone app integration. Additional luxuries, such as forward collision and lane-departure warnings and a heated steering wheel, are available on upper trim levels, putting the Encore on par with more expensive models. Throw in the optional leather upholstery and Bose stereo, and you’ve got a legitimately premium crossover in a petite package.
How petite? At a full 11 inches shorter than the Honda CR-V, the Encore is definitely one size down from the usual suspects. Of course, that’s a boon when it comes to maneuvering through crowded city streets and snagging tight parking spaces. On the other hand, the Encore’s backseat is noticeably tighter than the norm for similarly priced crossovers, and its maximum cargo capacity puts it neck and neck with the Volkswagen Golf hatchback, trailing the CR-V and its cohorts by a wide margin. At least the flat-folding front passenger seat makes it possible to carry bulky items like a 6-foot ladder, a pretty uncommon feat for a car of this size.
Buyers drawn to the Encore’s tidy dimensions might also want to have a look at the turbocharged 2015 Mini Countryman and 2015 Nissan Juke, both of which offer gutsier acceleration and sharper handling. If you’re open to larger alternatives, the 2015 Ford Escape and 2015 Mazda CX-5 are more athletic and comparably fuel-efficient, though the Mazda’s infotainment features are a step behind. Within the extended General Motors family, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax is essentially an Encore with less luxury, so it’s worth a look as a cost-effective option. In the final measure, the 2015 Buick Encore isn’t for everyone, but it gives Buick a firm foothold in a little segment that could be the next big thing.
On the road, the 2015 Encore generally feels composed and confident. The comfort-tuned suspension does a decent job of smoothing out the bumps, though it should be noted that, like most models with short wheelbases, the Encore’s drive quality can get choppy over freeway expansion joints and other rough pavement. This downside is offset somewhat by a number of sound-deadening tricks, including an active noise-cancelling system, that give the passenger cabin a hushed quality overall.
Handling is not the Encore’s strong suit, but the driving experience is perfectly acceptable for the everyday motoring most buyers will be doing. The combination of its small size, precise steering and a tight turning circle give it a nimble feeling around town. But we’re less impressed with the Encore’s turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. While this little mill is fine for running neighborhood errands, its lackluster acceleration doesn’t inspire confidence when the Encore is merging into fast-moving freeway traffic or passing on a two-lane road.
The 2015 Buick Encore is offered in four trim levels: Base, Convenience, Leather and Premium.
The entry-level Encore comes standard with 18-inch painted alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, roof rack side rails, air-conditioning, cloth and synthetic leather upholstery, a six-way partial power driver seat (with manual recline and power lumbar), a fold-flat manual front passenger seat, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a rear cargo cover, OnStar telematics, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port and an auxiliary sound input jack. Also included is Buick’s IntelliLink electronics interface, which features a 7-inch touchscreen and smartphone app integration.
Stepping up to the Convenience model adds foglights, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 120-volt household-style power outlet.
Not surprisingly, the Leather trim level adds leather upholstery, plus a six-way partial power front passenger seat (with manual recline and power lumbar), heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and driver seat memory settings.
The Premium adds front and rear parking sensors, a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system, rain-sensing wipers, a seven-speaker Bose sound system and a rear cargo net and mat.
The cargo net/mat is optional on all the lower trims, while the Bose system is also available on the Convenience and Leather trim levels. Other options, depending on trim level, include chrome wheels, a sunroof, roof rack cross bars and a navigation system.
Step into the passenger cabin and you’ll find that the 2015 Buick Encore offers an upscale look and feel, with attractive simulated wood and metal accents and soft-touch materials where it counts. Gauges and controls are well-placed, and everything ends up being fairly user-friendly, though there are a lot of controls on the center stack that look similar at a glance. The 7-inch touchscreen interface for the IntelliLink infotainment system is also relatively intuitive, and its crisp, colorful graphics are a welcome touch at this price point. At times, though, the system can be slow to respond to your touch inputs.
The Encore’s front seats are cozy despite the lack of a height-adjustable passenger seat in lower trims, and the high seating position offers a sweeping view that many drivers will appreciate. The rear seats offer adequate head- and legroom for a pair of 6-foot adults, but it’s predictably tight back there compared with larger rivals, and rear-facing child seats may present a challenge. There are many useful places to stash smaller items, including a slide-out drawer under the standard front passenger seat that’s ideal for storing a map book, an aftermarket navigation system or anything else you’d like to keep away from prying eyes. Unfortunately, this drawer disappears when the leather seats are specified.
Speaking of space for your stuff, the Encore easily bests the Countryman and Juke by the numbers, providing a total of 18.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 48.4 cubic feet with those seatbacks folded down. Still, those numbers fall far short of those of larger compact crossovers like the Escape, which offers a total of 68 cubic feet — an average number for its size class. The Encore does have a neat trick up its proverbial sleeve, however, in the form of the standard fold-flat passenger seat that will allow you to shoehorn in objects like 8-foot 2x4s with the rear liftgate closed.
Standard safety features for the 2015 Buick Encore include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front seat knee airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags and a rearview camera. Also included is OnStar, which provides automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and stolen car assistance.
A blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is standard on Convenience and higher trim levels, while forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems are standard on the Encore Premium.
The 2015 government crash tests for the Encore weren’t available as of this writing, but the 2014 all-wheel-drive Encore received a perfect five-star rating for overall crash protection, while the front-wheel-drive Encore received four stars. Both versions received five stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2014 Encore the highest possible rating of "Good" in its moderate-overlap front-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests; however, the 2014 Buick received the agency’s lowest rating of "Poor" in its small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
In SUVS testing, a front-drive Encore stopped from 60 miles per hour in 123 feet, which is average for this class.
Under the hood, the 2015 Buick Encore is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that puts out 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. All Encore models offer the choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
The Encore’s EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 28 miles per gallon combined (25 city/33 highway) with front-wheel drive and 26 miles per gallon combined (23/30) with all-wheel drive.
In SUVS performance testing, a front-wheel-drive Encore accelerated to 60 miles per hour in 9.8 seconds, which is slower than most other crossovers in this price range.
Quiet interior; good fuel economy; long list of tech and safety features.
Thanks to its quiet cabin, user-friendly technology features and truly compact size, the 2015 Buick Encore is worth a look if other crossover SUVs seem too large. However, the Encore’s modest performance and interior space limit its appeal.