Which Encore does AMG CARS INC recommend?
A generous list of standard features makes the Encore base level appealing, but we suggest going to the top with the Essence trim level. It offers heated seats, a heated steering wheel, leather seating, and a few extra safety items. You can also order the more powerful 153-horsepower engine. When you want to get this subcompact moving in a hurry, the increased power is a must.
The Buick Encore is a bit more upscale than other subcompact crossovers thanks to its long list of features and the signature silence of Buick interiors. Even a base-level Encore comes nicely equipped with features such as 18-inch wheels, roof rails, a handy fold-flat front passenger seat, Bluetooth, an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, an 8-inch touchscreen, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Moving up to a fully loaded Encore brings amenities such as remote start, a heated steering wheel and heated front seats.
And that trademark Buick cabin solitude? It’s real. Every Encore receives Buick’s QuietTuning treatment, which includes acoustic-laminated windshield and side glass, layers of sound-deadening material under thick carpet, and an assortment of smaller details (hydraulic bushings, quiet tires) to help keep the road and outside world at bay.
The Encore’s refinement, however, is disappointing. Certain rivals, such as the Mazda CX-3, are just as nice without the Encore’s premium price. But for a quiet and refined subcompact SUV that’s easy to drive and maneuver in tight spots, the 2019 Buick Encore is well worth a look.
Buick Encore models
The Buick Encore is a compact crossover SUV offered in four trim levels: 1SV (or base), Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence. The base and Preferred trims come relatively well-equipped with features, but more desirable safety and convenience features come only on more expensive trim levels. Top trims can also be equipped with a more powerful engine.
All Encores come standard with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine (138 hp, 148 pound-feet), a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. A more powerful version of this engine (153 hp, 177 lb-ft) is optional on Sport Touring and Essence trims. All but the base trim offer optional all-wheel drive.
Base 1SV and Preferred trim levels are equipped similarly. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless ignition and entry, heated mirrors, roof rails, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, cruise control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat and 60/40-split folding rear seats.
Technology features include an 8-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, two USB ports, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, OnStar communications (with 4G LTE and an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot), and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio.
On the Preferred, you also get floor mats, a cargo cover and eligibility for additional options such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and remote start. Moving up to the Sport Touring trim adds foglights, a rear spoiler, and remote start to the base model’s features.
The Essence tops out with LED headlights, leather upholstery, a power-adjustable passenger seat, heated front seats, driver-seat memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel, a 120-volt household-style power outlet, and the blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems.
An optional package for the Essence includes automatic wipers, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and an advanced cabin filter. A navigation system and premium seven-speaker Bose sound system are options for Sport Touring and Essence trims. A sunroof is optional on all but the base trim.
The Encore surprises here with an uprated version of the spunky little 1.4-liter engine, surprisingly sporty steering and a well-sorted six-speed transmission. The brakes and handling mannerisms aren’t as quite up to task, but this little Buick performs better than many other subcompact SUVs.
The Encore’s turbo 1.4-liter engine feels peppier than its size would indicate. There’s a decent amount of low-end torque and enough midrange power to get you up to highway speeds respectably quick. In Edmunds testing, our test Encore did 0-60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which is semi-athletic for a subcompact crossover SUV.
The brake pedal requires very low effort. It’s almost soft to a fault. It works well if you’re simply tooling around town, but the pedal doesn’t inspire driver confidence under heavy braking. Braking hard results in a significant amount of nosedive. Despite the nosedive, the Encore managed to stop in 126 feet, which is an average showing for the class.
The Encore’s steering feels precise and responsive and provides good on-center feel. The effort feels right, too, and is well-matched for the size of this vehicle. The steering is quite well done.
The Encore feels a bit tall and top-heavy at times, but it manages to stay composed when going around turns. We wouldn’t call it sporty, but it’s easy to wheel around and have a bit of fun on curvy roads. Just mind the nosedive if you have to stop suddenly.
The Encore’s six-speed transmission shifts promptly and at the right times. There is a bit of lag when you floor the accelerator, but that’s a common trait of these small turbocharged engines. Like other Buick models, the Encore has a non-defeatable stop-start feature. It functions better than other systems but may still be a nuisance in slow-moving traffic.
All-wheel drive is available, but the Encore has just 6.2 inches of ground clearance. Explorations should be limited to soft surfaces or mildly inclement weather. The front airdam is especially low for a crossover. Our test vehicle’s airdam even touched a few driveway ramps during our evaluation.
Buick is known for its quiet cabins, and the Encore’s doesn’t disappoint. The climate control system works great, but Buick should’ve applied more attention to the seats and suspension tuning.
The seats have zero lateral support, leaving the driver to depend on the folding inboard armrest as a brace when going around left turns. The front passenger isn’t as lucky. The seats otherwise have firm cushions and generous adjustable lumbar support. But the headrests are set at a slightly weird angle. The rear seats have somewhat flat cushions.
The Encore’s ride comfort feels decent when you’re driving solo, but it begins to degrade once you begin loading passengers aboard. The increased weight overwhelms the damping, and the ride feels much less controlled. Granted these small cars aren’t meant to carry huge loads, but they should be able to handle a family of four.
Noise & vibration
One of the highlights of the Encore is its sound-insulating cabin, which adds a more premium feel. There’s still a small amount of ambient noise but far less than you would expect in a car this small. The engine moans a bit at full throttle, and the air conditioning sounds like a hurricane blowing on its max setting.
The climate control system in this car feels like it was repurposed from a much larger vehicle, like a Chevy Suburban even. The maximum fan speed is insane. The manual dual-zone temp dials don’t have a sync function, which is odd, so you have to adjust them individually. All the other buttons are straightforward and easy to use.
The Encore offers easy entry and exit, great visibility, and a wide range of seat adjustments to suit all types of drivers. Other subcompacts offer better control organization and more rear legroom, but this little Buick isn’t bad.
Ease of use
The features in the Encore are fairly basic, so the controls aren’t difficult to figure out. We’re not big fans of the stalk control for the gauge cluster menu. But the touchscreen is pretty straightforward, and there are a handful of hard shortcut buttons. The driver aid buttons are oddly arranged around the climate controls.
Getting in/getting out
There’s a little bit of a step-over, but the door openings are tall and the seat is at a very comfortable height. Most people should be able to slide right in. The rear door openings are equally easy to enter and exit through.
There’s a huge amount of height adjustability in the driver’s seat. There’s a lot of fore-and-aft adjustment for legs and a fair amount of steering wheel tilt and reach. Drivers of any size should be able to find a comfortable position.
Because of the tall roof and stretched-out dashboard, there’s a good perception of space in the front cabin. The back half of the cabin is much more average in every dimension. The small center floor bump helps provide decent middle-seat foot clearance, but the backseat is optimal for two rear passengers.
The front pillars are located far forward, and the door-mounted mirrors aren’t intrusive. Combined, they provide a nice panoramic view out front. If you don’t collapse the rear headrests, or have passengers in the back, then your view directly behind will suffer. Otherwise, that view is quite good, too.
Buick uses pretty nice materials throughout the cabin, and the low levels of noise promote a peaceful environment. But the overall interior styling fails to reflect real quality. The switches and knobs look like they’ve been picked from a standard GM parts bin. That’s a shame because the cabin is otherwise solidly put together.
With the exception of a weird folding rear-seat configuration, the Encore does OK when it comes to cabin storage. The rear cargo space still pales in comparison to many others in the segment, but it isn’t the smallest in class.
There are some decent options for small-item storage, including a small center bin with a retractable cover and a space in front of the shifter where the USB plugs are. The tandem front cupholders have anti-tip tabs, and the front door pockets will each accommodate a large 40-ounce water bottle. There are rear cupholders in the folding armrest.
The cargo area is relatively flat and offers a low load height, but there’s not much space behind the rear seats. Laying the rear seats flat involves folding them up and forward, and that limits how far back the front seats can go. This function is preferable to not having any at all, but taller drivers may feel the squeeze. There’s a deep well underneath the load floor where the temporary spare lives.
Child safety seat accommodation
The large rear door openings are helpful, but rear-seat legroom may be a limiting factor. The Encore is far from the tightest in this diminutive class, but infant seats will take a big bite out of front legroom. The LATCH anchors are hidden deeply in the cushions, but the way the rear seat bottoms fold up makes them pretty easy to access if you have enough slack.
There’s enough tech available in the Encore to get you by but nothing that’s going to impress. The Bose sound system is solid, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fill in for many of your infotainment needs. There is a distinct lack of advanced driver aids that come standard on some less expensive competitors.
Audio & navigation
The Bose audio system has some good power and delivers decent sound. The average buyer should not have any complaints with its performance. An in-car nav system is available but otherwise is smartphone-based (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto). OnStar turn-by-turn directions are also included if you need them.
Smartphone mirroring with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is the main feature of the infotainment system. There are two USB ports, an auxiliary input and a 12-volt power outlet up front. In back you get a single 12-volt outlet but no USB ports.
The availability of advanced driver safety aids is pretty thin. There’s no adaptive cruise control, for instance. Worse yet, the forward collision and lane departure warning systems do not have the capability to intervene and mitigate the situation. The blind-spot monitoring works fairly well but no better than others like it. We’d consider this close to the bare minimum.
Voice controls outside of the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are limited to just phone calls and audio tuning. Fairly basic but they worked when we used them.