Displaying items by tag: Buick Encore GX
Buick gives the Encore a little blue pill.
If Jay-Z was seeking a Buick when he asked for an "encore" in his 2003 song of the same name, then the legendary Brooklyn-born rapper is in luck, because the American brand now sells two Encores: the subcompact Encore and the larger, but not quite compact, Encore GX. Yet despite the SUVs' shared monikers, the Encore GX is neither a trim nor a mechanical relative of the Encore.
Instead, the 2021 Buick Encore GX forgoes its smaller sibling's aging underpinnings and four-cylinder engine for a newer General Motors platform and a pair of available three-cylinder engines. (Chevrolet also employs these mechanical pieces in its Trailblazer SUV.) A 137-hp turbocharged 1.2-liter I-3 comes standard across the board, but a more powerful 155-hp turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder is available as a $395 option on Encore GX Select and Essence trims.
Weight A Minute
Regardless of engine, all Encore GX FWD models rely on a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to serve as the middleman between the engine and drive wheels. Buick also fits the bigger engine under the hood of any Encore GX equipped with the optional ($2,000) all-wheel-drive system. Going the AWD route sidelines the CVT in favor of a nine-speed automatic transmission, but also adds around 180 pounds to the SUV's curb weight relative to its 1.3-liter-equipped FWD counterpart (which itself weighs about 40 pounds more than the equivalent 1.2-liter Encore GX).
With less mass to lug around and a responsive CVT, the Encore GX 1.3T FWD feels far livelier than its AWD kin. Although we were not able to bring this two-wheel-drive Buick to the track, we feel confident the less portly Encore GX FWD ought to cut a few ticks from the 9.3-second trot to 60 mph and 17.0-second run through the quarter mile we recorded from an Encore GX AWD.
Still, we hesitate to call Buick's second-smallest SUV quick. Pinning the right pedal to pass slow-moving traffic at highway speed remains a rather tedious affair, which the CVT exacerbates by racing the I-3 toward its redline and causing a lot of noise without much thrust.
The powertrain performs more favorably around town, as the transmission works with the larger engine's peak 174 lb-ft of torque—available at a low 1,600 rpm—to spur the nearly 3,100-pound Encore GX forward from stop signs and stop lights with reasonable gusto and minimal droning (provided the CVT keeps the crankshaft spinning at less than 3,000 revs). In fact, the 171.4-inch-long Buick feels particularly adept in urban environments as its electric-assist steering's quick ratio and low effort make it easy to maneuver through narrow city streets and crowded parking garages.
If only the Encore GX's ride quality lived up to its Buick badge. Alas, the Encore GX's suspension tuning feels more befitting of a compact sports car than a near-luxury SUV. Instead of insulating its passengers from bumps in the road, the Encore GX seems to amplify every abrasion marking the tarmac. The stiff suspension setup makes riding in this Buick as uncomfortable as sharing an elevator with Hova and Solange Knowles at a 2014 Met Gala afterparty.
Add the $650 Sport Touring package and the Encore GX at least looks a little more the part of a hot hatchback, as the purely cosmetic kit adds body-color lower trim pieces, more aggressive front and rear fascias, red accents on the grille, special badging, and package-specific 18-inch wheels. The items add some extra flair to the tall and stubby Encore GX while also enhancing some of the SUV's more attractive design details, including its rear fender haunches and the upper window trim that gracefully merges with the rear hatch.
Strangely, the Sport Touring package does not touch the Encore GX's interior. There is no special badging, sporty trim, or paddle shifters (there is a shifter-mounted rocker switch that affords control of seven ratios, though). The cabin is standard Encore GX, which is a generally inoffensive place, save for some chintzy faux stitching and mid-grade piano black plastic pieces on the dashboard and center console. Sure, a Mazda CX-30 both looks and feels richer, but the Encore GX's insides are certainly built to a reasonably high standard with materials that are—for the most part—unobjectionable.
The space benefits from an ergonomic design courtesy of its simple climate controls, intuitive and clear gauge cluster display, and high-mounted 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which comes standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Additionally, a tall seating position offers a commanding view of the road ahead. Buick carves out plenty of space under the front seats for rear passengers to place their feet, and as a result, the Encore GX's rear bench feels more spacious than its 36.0 inches of legroom suggests. That middling figure falls short of competitors such as the Jeep Compass and Kia Seltos, which offer 38.3 and 38.0 inches of stretch-out space, respectively.
The Encore GX's cargo bay offers just 23.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 50.2 cubes with the 60/40-split seatbacks folded, sums that fall short of the Compass and Seltos by between 3.1 and 12.6 cubic feet. But the little Buick at least makes the most of its usable space by incorporating features such as a reconfigurable cargo floor and a flat-folding front passenger seat.
Nor is the Encore GX a value leader, as the model's $25,395 starting sum tops that of compact SUVs such as the $24,995 Chevrolet Equinox. Opt for the Buick's bigger 1.3T engine and the Encore GX's base price swells to $27,390, though that figure includes features missing from the base model such as heated front seats, a power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a blind-spot monitoring system. The mechanically similar $26,255 Chevrolet Trailblazer 1.3T, meanwhile, undercuts its Buick-badged cousin by $1,135.
Start adding items such as an in-dash navigation system, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera, and a head-up display, and the cost of the Encore GX 1.3T quickly balloons past $30,000. This is a hard pill to swallow considering a similarly equipped Trailblazer rings up for thousands of dollars less, and a top-of-the-line 175-hp Kia Seltos with AWD barely breaks $30,000.
We were never really sure we wanted a follow-up to the original Encore, let alone a second Encore model. The 2021 Encore GX 1.3T FWD improves upon the blueprint of its smaller and similarly named stablemate, even if this latest addition to the Encore family would be more deserving of an ovation if Buick improved the model's ride quality and value proposition.
The verdict: The new 2020 Buick Encore GX is a small, premium-priced SUV that feels neither premium nor exciting, with bland materials and a meek powertrain. It gets the job done, though — assuming “the job” is mostly “being a little bigger than an Encore” (which remains in Buick’s lineup).
Versus the competition: Buick’s entry in the seemingly never-ending stream of small SUVs is outshined by others in the class that offer nicer interiors or far better driving experiences — or sometimes both — for thousands of dollars less.
The Encore GX is Buick’s latest and second-smallest SUV, bigger only than the Encore, which was one of the first subcompact SUVs on the market and the brand’s bestseller. The Encore is smaller than both the Envision and Enclave and offers buyers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and two turbocharged three-cylinder engines. The Encore GX with FWD has a continuously variable automatic transmission, while AWD versions get a more traditional nine-speed automatic. Trim levels, in ascending order, are Preferred, Select and Essence.
My test vehicle was a FWD Encore GX in the top Essence trim. It had the optional turbo 1.3-liter engine and Buick’s Sport Touring, Convenience and Advanced Technology packages. The Sport Touring package ($650) adds a dash of spice, with body-colored side molding, “sport” front and rear bumpers, a unique grille with red accents and package-specific 18-inch wheels (different from the 18s every Encore GX gets standard). The advanced technology in the Advanced Technology Package ($1,790) includes a 360-degree camera system, a head-up display and built-in navigation. The Convenience Package ($770) adds automatic parking assist, a rearview camera mirror and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Our test vehicle’s total price, including a $995 destination fee, was $34,115.
That’s a fair amount of money for a small SUV that, at its best, evoked feelings of “This car sure is … adequate.” The Encore GX competes against other small SUVs like the Mazda CX-30, our recent SUV-comparison-test-winning Kia Seltos, and a vehicle with which it shares its platform, the Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Even with its more powerful optional engine, the Encore GX still has only 155 horsepower, which isn’t many ponies to call upon when the accelerator is pressed. It’s never going to be a quick car, but that’s almost certainly fine for those considering buying one. It’s quiet on the highway and remains fairly composed at higher speeds despite its small size. Passing maneuvers are a bit of a stretch, but once the Encore GX wakes up from its highway hypnosis, it does what you want.
Around town, particularly in the model I drove, with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission, you really need to stand on the gas to keep up with aggressive city traffic. This caused one of my least favorite behaviors in the GX: torque steer. There was so much torque steer — a phenomenon in which engine power applied to the front wheels causes them to pull to one side or the other. The wheel would practically jump out of my hands trying to turn to one side under strong acceleration, which would be more forgivable if the Encore GX were impressively quick or at all fun to drive. As it is, it’s just aggravating; I’d recommend choosing an AWD model for this reason alone. There also aren’t any available driving modes to increase throttle or transmission response or to tighten up the suspension or steering.
Steering itself feels numb and vague; it doesn’t communicate where the nose and wheels are pointed at any given moment. There’s so much play in the steering wheel before it actually turns the wheels, it reminded me of an early-2000s Mercury Grand Marquis — or the time I was 12 and got to steer a DUKW during a Boston Duck Tour in the Charles River.
Choppy pavement — of which there’s plenty around Chicago — unsettles the Encore GX more than other small SUVs I’ve driven over the same roads. There was also more body roll in turns than I expected. The SUV feels like a much bigger vehicle when you’re driving it until a modern RAV4 pulls up alongside and dwarfs you, which may appeal to buyers looking for a big car feel without an actual big car.
Or big-car fuel economy, for that matter. Our FWD-and-turbo 1.3-liter engine combo is the most efficient of the Encore GX range, with EPA-estimated gas mileage of 30/32/31 mpg city/highway/combined. With AWD, those ratings dip to 26/29/28 mpg. The FWD turbo 1.2-liter GX is rated 26/30/28 mpg. The Mazda CX-30’s much more engaging driving experience is also less fuel-efficient; FWD versions top out at 25/33/28 mpg and AWD SUVs at 25/32/27 mpg.
One much-appreciated feature on the Encore GX was the ability to deactivate the engine’s automatic stop-start feature. GM had not previously allowed owners to turn the feature off, and while reducing engine idling is good for the environment, being stuck in a traffic jam on a sweltering summer day with an engine that refuses to run while stopped — significantly reducing the air conditioning’s effectiveness — has made me yearn for at least the option to deactivate. It seems GM finally trusts its owners in this regard.
Despite the Encore GX’s high price, its interior doesn’t have a premium or even fun feel. The monotone interior you see above has the materials quality you’d expect in an SUV priced a few thousand dollars less. Truly, the only premium or near-premium interior in this class belongs to the Mazda CX-30, but at least other contenders in the segment don’t position themselves as upmarket choices the way Buick does.
That said, the Encore GX’s features do have more of a premium feel. It has an available head-up display, rearview camera mirror, 360-degree camera system and available self-parking feature. But those features aren’t tangible and aren’t always in use, whereas Encore GX drivers are always sitting on low-quality leather (in the Essence) or touching parts of the interior that could use more padding. Even the head-up display is an old-school flip-up version that sounded like a cassette tape being ejected whenever it rose into position or folded down when the car was turned off. The HUD is at least visible when wearing polarized sunglasses, so kudos to Buick for that.
Buick’s standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is adequate, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (2021 models also get standard wireless compatibility). It has modern enough graphics and a straightforward user interface. For all the ways the CX-30 tops the Buick in premium feel, Buick has Mazda beaten here.
Visibility is fine, with no major blind spots, and the optional 360-degree camera system helps out in tight spots. I was comfortable in the backseat, with decent headroom and legroom. Buick estimates cargo volume at 23.5 cubic feet with the backseat upright and 50.2 cubic feet with it folded down. The smaller Encore has 18.8 and 48.4 cubic feet, respectively. A trip with four adults — or even two parents and two kids — might be pushing it, but two adults plus pets will be fine. Based on manufacturer specifications, the CX-30 has less cargo volume, while the Seltos and Trailblazer have more.
Standard safety features on the Encore GX include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and automatic high beams. That’s a big deal for a GM product; traditionally, some or all of these features have been higher-cost options. Some features are still optional, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera system, a head-up display, a rearview camera mirror and an automatic parking feature.
The 360-degree camera system was very useful and I’ve already praised the head-up display’s visibility with polarized sunglasses, but the Buick’s other features felt more nice-to-have than necessary. I’ve never been a huge fan of rearview-mirror camera displays, as they always disorient me a little by providing a slightly different view than what my eyes expect. And automatic parking assist would be more useful if the Encore GX weren’t already so small and easy to park. I’ve used similar features on larger vehicles to help determine if an unfamiliar car would fit in a particular spot, but the answer to that question in the Encore GX is almost always “yes.”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t yet crash-tested the Encore GX. In this regard, it should not be mistaken for the other Encore, which has an entirely different platform and, thus, different crash characteristics. Once the Encore GX is tested, the results will appear here, with other small SUVs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Encore GX a four-star overall safety rating, out of a possible five stars. In our Car Seat Check of the Encore GX, the small SUV earned mixed scores
Is the Encore GX a Smart Buy?
It’s hard to say if the Encore GX is a smart buy. On the one hand, with sticker prices at the top of the line approaching — or even exceeding — $35,000, the model is hard to recommend. But will buyers ever need to pay even close to sticker price?
I prefer the Chevrolet Trailblazer to the Encore GX both in terms of interior quality and driving experience, and the Mazda CX-30 far surpasses the Encore GX in everything but infotainment systems. If, however, you care about buying a car from a domestic brand that’s ostensibly nicer than Chevrolet — even if the car itself is assembled in South Korea — and if you can get a decent deal on an Encore GX, it will likely meet your needs.