Test Drive: 2018 Buick Encore Premium AWD

At around thirty grand, Buick’s top-trim Encore looks like a really good value. The problem is, this 2018 Buick Encore Premium isn’t around thirty-grand. With the options and $1,795 destination charge added in, this Buick is over $40,000.

The interior measures up against the best in class for quality, design, and features, but it’s driving the Encore that actually impresses more.

Sure, most SUVs cost at least that much these days, but the Encore shares a lot of its guts with the tiny Chevrolet Sonic econo-box, and what’s more, most of the Encore’s competitors cost a few thousand bucks less for their top-of-the-line trims.

Mazda, Honda, and Ford all offer subcompact SUVs like the Encore, but with better performance or more interior space (not to mention arguably better styling), and cost thousands of dollars less.

Heck, for those seeking a show-off brand, even the larger Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 has an entry price of $38,500, and it’s bigger and more powerful, so on the surface, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher why someone would choose the little Buick.

Our test model wore $1,195 worth of White Frost Tri-coat paint. It looks good and is well-applied, lending to a premium feel, at least from the outside, and is nicely complemented by the titanium-coloured rocker panel trim. The 18-inch chrome wheels – a style that’s grown out of fashion for most – at least help fill out the wheel wells.

Overall, with such tall, stubby dimensions, the Encore resembles a cartoon version of a larger Buick Enclave, though admittedly, stubby aesthetics are shared by most of the Encore’s competitors.

Of course, these diminutive dimensions (it’s only 4,278 mm long and 1,774 mm wide) mean the littlest Buick fits into urban spaces very well. It also means that rear-seat passengers are afforded modest space, and the cargo capacity with the rear seats up is only 532 L.

Folding the rear seats down gives you 1,370 L, but it is a convoluted, multi-step affair, wherein the seat bottoms need to be flipped forward before the seatbacks can be dropped down.

The interior styling fits well within the Buick family, and most of the materials are soft-touch. Assembly of the Korean-built Encore appears well sorted with seams lining up and no squeaks or rattles apparent. We liked the two-tone appearance of the interior with the saddle-coloured leather seats lending a premium feel, even if the hides themselves are a bit stiff to the touch. What’s more, even though there’s power actuation for the fore–aft movement, reclining the seats is done manually after hunting around for a small lever.

The pricey Premium-trim Encore is at least well equipped with technology and amenities. Heated seats are a given, and the heated steering wheel is a nice touch, though it does have the world’s feeblest heater element. Blowing warm breath and rubbing your hands together before touching the wheel will generate nearly the same effect.

The infotainment system integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, operated by the 8.0-inch touchscreen interface. GM has done a great job with their infotainment systems lately, creating intuitive usability that helps reduce the clutter of unnecessary buttons, and the Encore’s system is no exception. The incorporation of a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot into the mix is just the icing on the cake, here.

If there’s one disappointment with the interior, it’s the mediocre quality from the Bose seven-speaker audio system, which sounds dull and muddy.

Truthfully, the interior measures up against the best in class for quality, design, and features, but it’s driving the Encore that actually impresses more.

Machines like Mazda’s CX-3 are more tautly sprung and feel more playfully nimble, but the Encore feels true to its Buick heritage, in a good way. To some, this likely suggests an overly floaty ride, but the little Buick isn’t a bad handler. Yes, it rolls around some, a sensation exaggerated by its short wheelbase and tall greenhouse, but it does change directions quicker than a lot of bigger machines.

Nobody should plan to use an Encore for backroad carving anyway, and when tasked with normal driving duties around the suburban Toronto area, the tiny crossover’s compliant ride does a decent job of soaking up the pavement’s losing battle with frost. What’s more, Buick’s engineers have succeeded in suppressing road and wind noises, making for a passenger experience that belies the Encore’s humble origins.

All Encores are fitted with a 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The base engine puts out 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. Our test vehicle was optioned up with a direct-injection version tuned for 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. That latter figure is especially significant in that it’s not only considerably greater than what any of the Encore’s direct competitors deliver, it’s also what gives the Buick its zip around town.

Connected to a decently smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the Encore is sufficiently spritely off the line and has decent passing power – neither quality is common in this class of vehicle, so it’s appreciated here. Still, it is a tiny engine and when worked hard, it makes its presence known with a coarse-sounding and buzzy engine note.

Braking is adequate, though we found the pedal to be squishy with the brakes lacking any real confidence-inspiring bite.

Springing for the upgraded engine costs an extra grand on the tally sheet, but actually produces a noticeable fuel-efficiency savings, offsetting the cost of the upgrade. At current rates, a buyer could pay for the option within about 40,000 km of driving (or less than two years for most folks), so it’s a no-brainer in our opinion.

Overall, Buick’s little Encore is a really decent subcompact crossover SUV. It’s efficient and sized right to make life easy within the urban core. The Encore’s build quality, features, and finishes make it a compelling choice in the class, but we can’t help but think it’s in a very price-sensitive segment, suggesting that no matter how good the Buick is, it’s got an uphill battle against the more affordable import brands (and Ford).

Still, recognizing that General Motors regularly offers big discounts on their models, an Encore snagged at price parity with its competitors could represent pretty good value.

2018 Buick Encore Premium AWD
Engine Displacement: 1.4L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 153 hp
Peak Torque: 177 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 9.0/7.6/8.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 532 / 1,320 L seats down
2018 Buick Encore Premium AWD
Base Price $34,495
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $40,405
Optional Equipment $4,015 – Experience Buick Package $1,790 (after $1,100 package credit); White Frost Tricoat paint $1,195; 1.4L SIDI engine $1,030
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.3
6 Styling
7 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
6 Value