Review: 2017 Buick Encore
– Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The Buick Encore was a surprise hit. I remember attending the original launch event and thinking, “Yeah, this is a fine little car, but does Buick really expect to move a lot of them?” With hindsight on my side, I think it's safe to say that not even the company that builds the Encore was prepared for its popularity.
Among the tens of thousands of buyers during the subcompact's first years on the market was my own mom. She liked the ride height, and the look, and the fact that she could get navigation. But best of all was that she could get that stuff for a very reasonable price. It's been a few years now, and her little brown Encore's lease is almost up. While she toys with competitive vehicles and talks about getting the bigger Envision, I've discovered that her next car is, in fact, another Encore.
- I spent the first several months of my mom's Encore ownership fielding questions about the terrible infotainment system. Buick loaded the original Encore's center stack down with what felt like dozens of haphazardly placed individual buttons and knobs. Buick wisely did away with this design catastrophe during the 2017 refresh. The interior team ditched the old, non-touch, seven-inch IntelliLink display for a new eight-inch touchscreen (with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) that delivers far better graphics – the new display finally looks and feels modern. Then, the designers pulled the screen down from the tip top of the dash and essentially placed it right where last year's mass of buttons was. The entire effort creates a dash that is easy to use and far more attractive.
- While the Encore's exterior deserved its praise on debut, the design hasn't aged well. That's the danger of drawing inspiration from a vehicle as old as the Enclave, I suppose. But with the new face, Buick's designers struck out in a different direction, creating a vehicle with a more aggressive look and its own unique character. The reshaped grille takes inspiration not from the aging Enclave, but from the new LaCrosse, and the result is both a more modern, more assertive, and more interesting piece of design.
- My mom has a lead foot. And I knew when I paired her with the original Encore's anemic 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, she wasn't going to be happy. But for 2016, Buick wisely added some extra some extra oomph with the Sport Touring package and its 153-hp, 177-lb-ft, 1.4-liter four-cylinder. While the more powerful engine was exclusive to that single trim last year, Buick will offer it as a $500 option for the Encore’s top four trims – Sport Touring (which customers can now order with the standard 1.4-liter), Preferred II, Essence, and Premium – for 2017. The extra 15 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque are immediately noticeable – this isn't a speed demon by any stretch, but it no longer feels like small birds will pass you while accelerating from a standstill. And the added power doesn’t hurt fuel economy, either. The all-wheel-drive model I tested returns 26 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway, gains of 3 mpg city and 2 mpg highway versus the AWD-equipped 2016 Encore.
- Don't ask me how, but despite Buick's improvements, the new Encore actually costs less for 2017 – the starting price is $22,990, not counting $925 in destination charges. That's $1,075 below the 2016 model's starting figure of $24,065. The trend carries on beyond the base model, too, with trims like the Sport Touring seeing solid price cuts. The only exception is the range-topping Premium, which at $30,465 is a smidge higher than its predecessor's price of $29,785.
- Buick tuned the Encore's ride for comfort. While this isn't a bad thing, the car’s ride/handling characteristics could stand to be a little more engaging, especially on the Sport Touring trim. This could be a simple thing – a larger set of sway bars to mitigate some of the side-to-side wallowing and perhaps a more aggressive damper tune. Really, I just hope Buick finds a way to do to handling what it did to the engine’s straight-line performance.
- So, this is annoying. Want to know how many colors you can order on the top-of-the-line Encore Premium? Nine. Nine colors ranging from white to black to red to blue. And you want to know how many of them don't come with an upcharge? One. Yes, unless you order Summit White, every single color shown on Buick's consumer website, including the lovely Winterberry Red Metallic shown above, comes with a $395 premium. It's ridiculous.
Photos: Brandon Turkus / Motor1.com