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2018 Buick Encore Review

2018 Buick Encore Review
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The 2018 Buick Encore does the pint-size crossover thing well, although it lacks some safety tech and gets pricey with options.

MSRP: From $23,985

Horsepower: 138 hp to 153 hp

MPG: Up to 27 city / 33 highway

Dimensions: 168” L, 70” W, 65” H

Curb weight: 3,327 lbs.

The 2018 Buick Encore is a reminder that Buick remains an innovator. Its pint-size crossover bridges the gap between mainstream and megabuck luxury. Its take on downsized but still premium accommodations has been copied by several other brands, but the Encore remains competitive.

This year, Buick mostly leaves the Encore alone after popping in a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto last year. The range-topping Premium model now includes an air ionizer to further filter the outside world, while all models lose their fuel caps in favor of a capless system. In other words, if you find a bargain leftover 2017, go for it.

The 2018 Buick Encore is offered in base, Preferred, Sport Touring, Preferred II, Essence, and Premium trim levels with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. That’s a wide array of models, but all share the same basic bones like a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 available in two different power outputs and a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Even base models are well-outfitted for their price, while the Premium lacks little. The sweet spot for this segment lies somewhere in the middle of the lineup where the Encore significantly undercuts competitors like the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, but offers a remarkably similar level of refinement.

The Encore’s crash-test scores have been good, but it is definitely behind the times when it comes to collision avoidance tech. Only the Encore Premium can warn drivers of an impending collision, but it can’t automatically apply the brakes like so many rivals can.

Simple, tasteful lines inside and out have helped the Buick Encore age well.

The tall-riding 2018 Buick Encore is distinctive and classy both inside and out.

The Encore’s roots are global (it’s built in Korea and is sold in most markets as an Opel), but it wears Buick’s curvy styling cues quite well. Last year’s update simplified its grille and peeled off non-functional portholes. A thick line of unpainted plastic runs across the lower fifth of the Encore and up and over its wheel wells, an effect that works well to reduce some of its visual mass. At the rear, this crossover’s roofline dives in deeply, but not as aggressively as its sheet metal might suggest. The overall look is narrow and tall, but not too awkwardly so.

There’s more to like inside, where a clean and elegant dashboard puts the Encore’s standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system up high for easy access. Below, dual-zone climate controls are easy to access if a little tough to decipher at first. Between the driver and passenger sits a low, narrow center console. There’s no central armrest; instead, a single, narrow armrest flops down for the driver, leaving the passenger to keep his or her arms close by.

More power would help make the most of the Buick Encore’s capable chassis.

A refined suspension and a lot of sound deadening make the 2018 Buick Encore a pleasant place to spend time, as long as you’re not in a race.

We’ve rated it a perfectly average 5 out of 10 here, a reflection of this Buick’s relaxed—perhaps too much so—character.  (Read more about how we rate cars.)

All models are fitted with one of two 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engines paired exclusively to a 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard on all models, while every Encore but the base trim level is available with all-wheel drive.

The 1.4-liter that’s standard across the line puts out 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, enough to motivate the roughly 3,300-pound Encore reasonably well around town. But loaded up with luggage and passengers, the Encore struggles to pass even pokey tractors on a country road, let alone up the side of a mountain.

On all but the base two trim levels, Buick offers a 153-hp, 177 lb-ft version of the 1.4-liter as an extra-cost option. In addition to providing more oomph, it’s also a little thriftier when it comes to fuel consumption.

On the flip side, the Encore rides well on the tall 18-inch alloy wheels included on every trim level. Its short wheelbase can make the ride feel a bit busy over bumpy terrain at highway speeds, but it is generally not upset by poor road surfaces. A thick-rimmed steering wheel suggests a degree of sportiness on a curvy road, but in reality the Encore is more comfortable and competent than truly sporty.  

Comfort & Quality
The Buick Encore delivers a reasonably premium feel, so long as roominess isn’t factored in.

Buick’s mission in life is to bridge the gap between mainstream and luxury, and to that end the 2018 Buick Encore earns its keep as long as its small size is taken into account.

The Encore has a nicely finished interior and it is very quiet; but while we commend it for those attributes, it makes its way back to a 5 out of 10 because of its narrow interior and tight back seats. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

But if you’re in the market for a pint-sized crossover, you’re probably not looking to haul eight passengers and all their gear. With this in mind, the Encore works well as a runabout for two—or for four adults in a pinch. Its front seats are supportive and comfortable, even though there’s no central armrest accessible for the passenger. Row two does include a flop-down armrest, but it’s tight for the 95th percentile with limited leg room and even iffy head room with the optional moonroof. The Encore’s narrow body does it no favors here, either. Burly passengers may find themselves rubbing shoulders.

The cargo area delivers about 19 cubic feet with the second row upright (in practice, this is about the same amount of space as you’ll find in a compact sedan). Flop row two down, however, and it expands to 48 cubes. It won’t be your first choice on moving day, but the Encore is sized well as a runabout for empty nesters or families with a very young child.

The Encore instead delivers a refined ride. All versions have materials that are nice for the price, with a quality feel and a wide range of interior shades. You’ll have to opt all the way up to the Essence trim level to get leather upholstery, but the cloth and vinyl found on lower trim levels is acceptable.

Buick puts a lot of effort into making its cars quiet and the Encore is certainly silent. Acoustic glass and noise canceling tech make it all the better to enjoy the Bose audio system available on Sport Touring and higher trim levels.

Though it performs well in crash tests, the Buick Encore lacks some important safety tech.

The 2017 Buick Encore has performed well in crash tests, but we’re surprised that it still doesn’t offer much of the advanced, collision-avoiding tech available on almost all competitors.

It has also performed well in the IIHS’ tests, but the insurance industry-funded group says it falls short of the coveted Top Safety Pick award because it lacks automatic emergency braking. And, for that matter, only the Encore Premium comes with forward collision warnings that will sound an alert if it detects an impending collision but the driver hasn’t applied the brakes yet. That feature is bundled with a lane departure warning system that will chime if the Encore begins to veer out of its lane.
What’s missing? Aside from the ability to stop itself, the Encore isn’t available with adaptive cruise control or active lane control, either. All models are at least fitted with a rearview camera and eight airbags, including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.  

Buick offers its Encore in several trim levels with a number of available options.

The 2018 Buick Encore is offered in six different trim levels, each with a few additional option packages to help buyers customize their crossovers. We’ve given the Encore a 7 out of 10, reflecting its good base content, and its excellent infotainment system.

The Encore is offered in base, Preferred, Sport Touring, Preferred II, Essence, and Premium trim levels. Yes, some of those may sound like perfume brands, but they’re trim levels here.

The Encore base is only offered with front-wheel drive, while other models can be fitted with either front- or all-wheel drive. But even though it’s the base model, the entry-level Encore comes standard with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power windows and locks, cruise control, a rearview camera, keyless access and ignition, 18-inch alloy wheels, and the brand’s OnStar concierge service with a 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot.

Buick also throws in two years or 24,000 miles worth of oil changes on all Encores, a nice perk.

The Encore Preferred adds about $1,300 to the bottom line. For that, buyers get floor mats, an LCD screen in the instrument cluster, and a wider range of available colors.

Encore Sport Touring adds another $1,300 for remote start, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, and special styling touches inside and out. Despite its name, it’s not actually any sportier than the regular Encore—aside from the way it looks.

The Encore Preferred II ups the luxury and safety quotient with rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an auto-dimming interior mirror.

From there, the Encore Essence features LED headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a six-way power passenger seat, and a heated steering wheel.  

At the top of the lineup sits the Encore Premium with its Bose audio system, automatic wipers, forward collision alerts, and front and rear parking sensors.

Buick offers no shortage of optional equipment on all but the base trim level. Bigger options include a power moonroof and navigation on Sport Touring and higher models. Like many luxury brands, Buick charges extra for most paint colors, anywhere from about $400 to nearly $1,000. All told, a loaded Encore Premium with all-wheel drive runs over $37,000. That’s big money for a little Buick, but it’s about the point where German rivals like the BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class start.

Fuel Economy
The Buick Encore is among the least thirsty crossovers around.

With four configurations available, the 2018 Buick Encore’s fuel economy is a multi-part story.

All models score above 30 mpg on the highway, but the surprise here is that the costlier and more powerful version of the Encore’s 1.4-liter 4-cylinder is actually the thriftiest.

That engine is slightly more common than the less-powerful version, so it’s what we’ve factored into our 7 out of 10 score here.
The Encore with the 153-hp version of the 4-cylinder rates 26 mpg city, 31 highway, 28 combined with all-wheel drive. Selecting the front-wheel-drive version bumps those figures to 27/33/30 mpg, which is impressive for a small crossover.

The base engine, however, rates 24/30/27 mpg with all-wheel drive and 25/33/28 mpg for the front-driver.

Why the surprising disparity? The Encore’s less-powerful engine simply has to work hard to motivate things, while the sprightlier version can relax a little. Also, the 153-hp engine has a start/stop system that cuts the engine at a stop light while still letting the air conditioning or heating system run. That’s not a big saver due to the way the federal government’s test is conducted, but it should help out in the real world.

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