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2013 Buick Encore: First Drive Review

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author photo by Davis Adams

The 2013 Buick Encore is a lot like the U.S. Olympics team's uniforms in London. After all, the Encore is built by one of America's most historic brands, and those uniforms were designed by Ralph Lauren, one of America's most popular fashion icons. And yet neither of them were actually assembled in America. The uniforms were made in China, and the Encore is built in South Korea. The real question is this: When a product is both stylish and good, does it matter where it's stitched together?

Not a Family Car

On the outside, the Encore is smaller than you'd expect. It's probably closest in size to a MINI Countryman, or it fits somewhere between the Nissan Juke and the Nissan Rogue. But small and tall are a popular combination, and this little crossover grants the driver enough space for a passenger and his stuff, as well as the ride height to survey the road ahead. The Encore wears Buick's signature waterfall grille, gratuitous chrome accents and even those blue headlight rings from the larger Enclave. With the addition of the metallic brown paint scheme and the available chrome 18-inch wheels, there's no question that this is a modern Buick. It's kind of like "cute" grew up and got a job, because the car looks like the slightly more professional, more mature vehicle for someone who thought that the Countryman was too silly and that the Juke was too economy. If the Juke is quirky and the Countryman is lively, we'd call the Encore the handsome one in the bunch.

The interior is nearly Cadillac quality, too. There was a time when size and luxury were the same ideal in the American mindset, but that's changing with cars like the BMW X1 and Audi A3 on the market. The Encore is another vehicle that makes it possible for someone who isn't married and doesn't have kids to keep a right-sized luxury car in the garage. While the seats come trimmed in cloth in the base 1SB model, anything above that comes with soft, supple leather. Depending on which of the four trims you choose, the Encore can be equipped with heated seats, navigation, forward collision warning, dual-zone climate control and many of the other technologies expected on modern luxury vehicles. The dash and door panels are covered in soft-touch plastics too, which should weather well as time goes by. And that's important, because GM has taken several strides to ensure that the Encore's interior is one of the quietest cabins on the road today. There are sound-deadening materials used abundantly throughout the car, and the Bose audio system uses three microphones to create counter-tones to hush engine and road noise.

But this car isn't intended for a family of five. The front seats are comfortable, but the rear seats are tight on legroom for adults, and the cargo space could hardly hold a stroller without folding one of the seats. The Encore's rear and front passenger seats all fold flat so you can haul large items in a pinch, but that's only if you're willing to ride alone. Inside, it feels more like a car for you, a friend and maybe a small child. Larger families will want to look at the fullsize Enclave instead.

Light on Power, Light on Fuel

The Encore is powered by the same 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder found in the Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze Eco. It's good for 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, which feels a little weak for a car as heavy as this Buick. While there's enough power to get around town and cruise down the highway, it's not going to win any medals at the drag strip. There's a payoff that comes with the missing grunt though, and it can be found at the gas pump. The FWD Encore is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined, but on flat stretches we actually saw highway numbers exceeding 35 mpg. The AWD model is rated at 23 mpg, 30 mpg and 26 mpg, respectively.

After spending an afternoon driving through mid-Georgia with the 2013 Buick Encore, we like this little package. It's attractive in a way that makes us feel good about leaving it with the valet, and it's one of the most comfortable cars we've spent any time with in a while. Although there's not much power to illicit feelings of joy behind the wheel, we're pretty sure that your wallet will thank you for choosing a car that isn't hungry at the fuel pump too. And wait, what about it being built in Korea? Well, after the day's drive, we had all but forgotten that little detail, which tells us that, much like the U.S. Olympic team's successful run in London, it probably doesn't matter where Buick dresses its cars either. This one is sure to win a few medals too.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.