2013 Buick Encore first drive review: Small in the family

2013 Buick Encore

Buick has introduced us to its newest global vehicle, a crossover/sport utility vehicle, the Buick Encore. Built in Korea alongside its sibling, Trax, which will be distributed in Europe, the Encore is designed and built for North America. While it is built on the Gama architecture, a platform that is similar to that used on other GM vehicles, the Encore is a vehicle unto itself. Only the engine and seat frames are shared, according to Jim Danahy, engineering chief for the Encore. To our knowledge this is the first Buick to be built in Korea and destined for the USA. Again, Danahy assured us that this vehicle is every bit a new era Buick, one with the full scope of features and luxury buyers expect.

As we sat in the driver’s seat, interior design director, Michael Burton explained the philosophy of the Encore interior with its compilation of flowing lines created by wood and metal trim as well as textured interior panels. It is a design to invoke a sense of high quality and luxury in a small package. The front bucket seat offer 6-way power for driver includes power lumbar a feature Burton explains was a must for this Buick.

The multi-tone interior adds luxury and uniqueness.

From the instrument panel to the front passenger door the dash creates a wave of form dipping at the center creating the center stack with the sound system located atop dual climate controls. All control functions are displayed on the 7-inch LCD display, which sits at near eye level for easy viewing from either front seat. The standard rear view camera image is also seen through the screen.

The front bucket seats in this five passenger crossover firmly held us during reasonably aggressive cornering during our drive through the hills in the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. The one aspect of the driver’s seat we found to be more of an annoyance than a plus was the inboard mounted arm rest. Even for an over six-foot male it made shifting uncomfortable, so it stayed folded up.

This brings us to another annoyance also with the shifter for the 6-speed automatic transmission. The stylized shifter felt good in our hand and certainly contributes to the elegance of the interior. However, to use the manual shift mode one must rock the top of the shifter forward or back to shift up or down through the gears, not an easy task. As more and more vehicles move to dual mode automatics designers must also move to steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. This seems more appropriate to us and would certainly make the vehicle sportier even if that is not the goal.

In their larger vehicles, perhaps ones that demand to be more luxurious, Buick has developed QuietTuning a combination of laminated glass, sound absorption and other aspects that give occupants a quieter experience. Fortunately, that technology was used on the Encore. Working toward increasing that quiet experience, Buick turned to Bose sound experts. The Encore sees the first application of the Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology for Buick. It is a subtle, but effective manner with which to reduce noise in the confined space of a passenger compartment.

A folding front passenger seat allows carrying cargo such as a step ladder.

With a small vehicle it is even more important to make interior space as versatile as possible. Encore’s seating for five is as you might expect, “possible,” but seating three adults across the rear bench seat is a bit tight. Leg room is tight as well for anyone sitting behind a six-foot plus male driver. We were able to move the seat forward to accommodate a rear seat occupant, although not in the optimum driving position.

Cargo space behind the rear seat will accommodate a few roll-aboard cases plus a couple of small backpacks or briefcases. The rear seat backs fold flat to open a large 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space. A big plus is the front passenger seat back folds flat to allow hauling longer items such as a ladder. It may not seem important until you need it and we have needed this feature a few times after a visit to the local hardware store. Perhaps a little used feature, but one that is much appreciated.