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2014 Buick Encore Premium Review: Luxury Amenities in a Compact SUV without the Luxury Price

The 2014 Buick Encore rockets General Motors’ midlevel luxury brand into the most popular segment in the US auto industry and after driving this spirited little crossover for a week – it is clear that GM did their homework with this vehicle before introducing it to the US market as it checks all of the important boxes and does so for right around $30,000.
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While the Buick brand is doing better than some of the other smaller names in the American auto industry, this affordable luxury brand posts relatively low sales figures due to their smallish collection of vehicles. The boom in small crossover sport utility vehicles has helped models like the Ford Escape and the Toyota RAV4 to see a sales boom while Buick has gotten by almost entirely on sedan and large SUV sales. Smaller SUVs have gotten to be so popular because they are versatile, fuel efficient and fairly inexpensive to purchase – especially among older drivers who are now without kids or younger family types who need something reliable to get the kids to school in the winter.

At $30,685, the 2014 Buick Encore Premium isnt exactly an inexpensive vehicle, but for someone who wants some luxury feel with a price that is tens of thousands of dollars less than any of the luxury brand crossovers sold in the US, the new Encore is a gorgeous option. My Encore test vehicle was a front wheel drive model with the Premium Equipment Group so technically, it was the top of the line trim package shy of the Premium Group with All Wheel Drive. At $30k, the Encore certainly isn’t “cheap” but you will find a shocking amount of luxury level content in this spunky little crossover.

The Exterior
The 2014 Buick Encore is based on the European Opel Mokka and while that has caused some vehicles to seemingly not fit into the respective brand, the little details made to transform the Mokka into the Encore go a long way in helping this tiny SUV to fit comfortably into the Buick brand. Best of all, the Encore features a sleek, high tech look that allows it to fit in the brand while standing out a bit in the segment.

encore front square

The most significant features which help the 2014 Encore to fit into the Buick lineup come up front wheel the downward flowing chrome grille clad with the Buick crest sits between a set of chrome projection headlight housings that pack the same cool looking blue headlight rings as the Buick Verano. Below these headlights is a set of vents that I don’t think do anything other than make the Encore a little edgier looking but I’m fine with that – I like how they look. Really, when you look at the front of the Encore it looks very much like many of the other Buick models except for the basic smallish shape and with the success of the other current Buick brands, following the styling design was a smart move for the Encore. Along the bottom of the front end, the black lower fascia is accented by a silver center “roll pan” look that is flanked by projection fog lights.

From the side, the 2014 Buick Encore has an interesting profile as looking at the roofline would lead you to believe that it sits very low – while the ride height is right in line with other small crossovers. The upward angled lines, which travel up to meet the downward angled lines of the roof gives the Encore a very sport form while the large rear windows and wrap around rear glass provides great visibility from the driver’s seat. Also, the black cladding along the bottom combined with the 18 inch alloy wheels work with the few chrome accents to give the Encore a sporty yet classy look and feel.

encore rear

The back end of the Buick Encore is dominated by the large rear door with the entire lower fascia finished in a contrasting black accented by another silver “roll pan” design that won’t provide the security of a real roll pan but it certainly improves the look of this small crossover. The taillights are mounted high on the outside edges of the rear end of great rear visibility with a chrome trim piece proudly sporting the Buick logos hang between these big, bright rear lights.

The 2014 Buick Encore is sporty but not too sporty – and classy enough to look sharp without turning off those folks who want some “sport” in their sport utility vehicle. In the past, repurposing a European vehicle for American use hasn’t worked out so well (Example: Pontiac’s whole lineup), but the Opel Mokka is a great little crossover that has proven to be a great looking new model for the Buick lineup.

The Interior
The 2014 Buick Encore Premium is the top of the line package and that shows as soon as you open the door. My test vehicle was equipped with a two tone leather seating package with a dark brown and light brown design that GM calls “Saddle” and with this two tone layout accented by a light colored headlight and a smattering of wood trim and satin silver throughout the cabin – the Encore has a very high end feel. The seats, center armrest, steering wheel, shifter and door mounted armrests are all wrapped in the two tone leather with light brown stitching that creates a very attractive contrast against the darker brown leather.

encore front seats

The cabin of the 2014 Buick Encore is small so the engineers in charge of the interior layout had lots of work to do to make all of the content of the Premium Group fit into this compact SUV. Fortunately, they were able to build up where they couldn’t build out, placing the infotainment screen high on the dash in a space that is usually wasted with a storage compartment that no one ever uses. This is a touchscreen, but due to the location relative to the driver I often found myself using the collection of traditional buttons and knobs on the center stack along with the controls on the steering wheel. Really, the sound system, navigation and climate controls are all more traditional with buttons or knobs for all of the major functions in a very tight, tidy area. Those who prefer technology can use the touch screen or they can use the user friendly voice control system with a push of the button on the steering wheel, but it should be stressed that the Encore doesn’t force you to rely on technology that you don’t like just to turn on the radio or the air conditioning.

encore dash

For a vehicle that looks so small from the outside, the 2014 Buick Encore has an incredible amount of space for both passengers and cargo to accompany all of the luxury level content. The door opening to the rear seats is a touch tight around the foot well, but once you are inside of the Encore in the back seat there is a good amount of foot, leg and knee space for the passengers including the surprisingly wide middle rear seat. I don’t think that I would try to fit three adults in the back seat for a long drive, but the rear seating area of the Encore can easily accommodate three kids or two adults. There is also plenty of shoulder, elbow and head space for the rear riders and although the seats don’t offer much lateral support, the leather covered seats have a plush, nicely padded surface so they are very comfortable.

encore rear seats

The driver and front passenger will enjoy a surprising amount of space in every dimension including above their heads while the curvier front seats offer a ton more lateral support with midsized bolsters on the back and base of the bucket seats – all without being too narrow for a larger driver or front passenger. Even more surprising is the size of the rear cargo area as the large rear hatch allows access to a cargo area that is much larger than you would expect when looking at the Encore from the outside. This cargo area will hold a month’s worth of groceries, luggage for a family trip or a collection of golf bags – or a combination of the three while the hard tonneau allows you to hide the cargo from prying eyes. Best of all, the large rear door offers a very low loading point so shorter adults and kids wont need a step stool to grab something out of the back.

encore cargo

The 2014 Buick Encore is a small crossover, but it packs the content of some much larger and much more expensive luxury SUVs. From the high end infotainment system with premium sound and voice activated navigation to the plush, comfortable seating for four adults to the roomy rear cargo area – the Encore offers incredible comfort and functionality for a vehicle of this size that costs only $30,000. Buick might not be considered a luxury brand by some, the cabin of the 2014 Encore paints a very different story that will keep everyone comfortable on the daily drive to work or a long drive across the country.

The Drive
The 2014 Buick Encore is powered by a turbocharged 1.4L Ecotec 4-cylinder engine that sends 138 horsepower and 148lb-ft of torque to the front wheels by means of a 6-speed automatic transmission. When I first took delivery of my Encore test vehicle, I was very concerned about the lack of all wheel drive in this brutally snowy winter and the snow didn’t let up when I had the front wheel drive Encore. While I would expect that the all wheel drive models are better in rough snowy conditions, the front wheel drive Encore really surprised me. At times, I had to turn the traction control off and let the wheels spin a little to get the Encore moving, but even in a hard snow storm I didn’t have any problems getting where I needed to go. I was even able to make my way down an unplowed road that had some 4-5 inches of accumulation and although the little Buick slid around a bit – it never got stuck. As front wheel drive vehicles go, I was very impressed with the snow-handling abilities of the 2014 Encore.

encore drive front

Although I did have a few days where I had to battle mother nature in the 2014 Buick Encore, we also had a couple clear, cold days in which I was able to drive around without slinging around snow and slush. On paper, the output of the 1.4L turbocharged engine seems a little light for a crossover, but the Encore feels surprisingly quick when you put the hammer down. There is hardly any turbo lag with the Encore so when you hit the gas hard, this compact Buick is quick to respond with enough emphasis to spin the front tires on dry pavement. Acceleration is very adequate and I don’t mean that as an insult in any way – but this isn’t a racers dream come true. If you prefer the feel of something like the Dodge Durango RT, the Encore won’t pull at your heart strings but the Encore’s turbocharged engine packs plenty of power to get up and go whether you are leaving a stop light or looking to pick up speed on the highway. It doesn’t feel like a supercar, but it doesn’t feel like its struggling to get up to speed and when you let the little turbo 4 stretch its legs – it will comfortably outrun the highway speed limit.

Shifts are quiet and smooth when the transmission is working on its own and while there is a toggle switch on the shifter of the 2014 Encore, I didn’t see much use in using that feature. It does offer you some control over the gear selection, but the reaction of the manual shift mode is a little on the sluggish side so it doesn’t really inspire that sporty feel like some other models that make better use of a manually shifted automatic. This is one of the few aspects of the Encore that I do not like, but I don’t think that a slow-to-respond manual shift mode is going to have any impact on sales. For what the Encore is and for the type of people who will love this vehicle, it is more important that the transmission is as calm and quiet as possible…and the engineers nailed that aspect on the head.

Most importantly to many of the people who will be looking to buy the 2014 Buick Encore or some other small crossover, it rides like a dream around town and out on the open road. The complaint with some of the overly ambitious small SUVs which try to be too much like the bigger, more rugged SUVs is a rougher ride that turns off those folks who want something that rides more like a sedan. Although the Encore has a slightly taller ride height than the Chevrolet Sonic which shares the same platform, Buick’s first small crossover offers the same level of ride quality that buyers demand from a small luxury sedan. Some SUVs are accused of riding like a truck – the new Encore rides like a car. Along those same lines, the spunky little Encore handles well in close quarters and as a crossover goes – the Encore is nice and nimble in intricate driving situations. Unlike other crossovers that exhibit a great deal of body roll due to their higher ride height, the Encore stays surprisingly well planted to the road surface when cutting through the corners. Also, the Encore is nice and quiet when cruising on the highway with very little of the road roughness transferred through the chassis and even less wind noise sneaking into the cabin.

encore profile

Finally, the 2014 Buick Verano FWD model is expected to get 25mph around town, 28 combined and 33mpg on the highway – all numbers that I found to be very realistic while testing. My average numbers for the week were actually below the expected average (around 26.8), but that includes two days of tire spinning travel in the snow combined with a long wait to get in and out of the Billy Joel show. I found that when cruising on the highway at the speed limit, 33mpg is more than realistic and those folks who don’t spend as much time as I did stuck in traffic will surely hit that 28mph average.

The 2014 Buick Encore is a great vehicle to drive in all sorts of driving situations and conditions with an emphasis on ride quality, but it is clear that performance hasn’t been forgotten. The Encore offers great fuel economy while still making sure that the driver isn’t bored to death while behind the wheel. The Encore rides and drives more like a small luxury sedan than a crossover – a feature which should resonate very well with the target market.

The Final Word
Honestly, I don’t know that I would personally buy a 2014 Buick Encore because Im simply not a “little crossover” person…and that is based on my needs and not any aspect of the vehicle. I have too much need for towing and hauling capacity to buy any vehicle in the same class as the Encore and that is why my personal daily driver is a full size V8 powered quad cab pickup. However, anyone who is considering a small SUV should absolutely drive the Buick Encore before making their next purchase. The Encore has a surprisingly roomy interior for both passengers and cargo, plush and comfortable front and rear seats, a sharp exterior design that carries a very high end feel and a drivetrain that makes it powerful enough and incredibly efficient.

encore rear corner

While I wouldn’t buy any vehicle in the compact SUV class right now due to my needs, I have driven a great many crossovers and the 2014 Buick Encore really is one of the nicest vehicles of its type available today. Buick aims to be an affordable midlevel luxury brand and the Encore is a beautiful – and successful – example of offering luxury features without a huge luxury price. I would recommend that anyone who lives in a snowy area opts for the all wheel drive package, but there are few other features that I could want for from the Encore and at $30,000, this small crossover really is a great bargain.


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Comments

My only complaint with the Encore, is the lack of responsiveness to acceleration. My reaction when it hesitates is to press the gas pedal further or pump. When I do that and it finally responds, Now its more quickness than I need or want, so for some drivers, that could be a safety issue. I am used to having my vehicles react immediately to acceleration, especially when making a turn in front of on-coming traffic.