The 2014 Buick Encore is a small premium SUV that's now entering its second year on the U.S. market. It's not just small, but positively compact: At less than 170 inches in length, it's even shorter than Chevrolet's tiny Sonic sedan. And it uses a small 4-cylinder that makes less than 140 horsepower, which falls below most economy cars in muscle.

Why so small? Because many shoppers want to combine premium appointments, an SUV driving position and exceptional gas mileage -- and it's the Encore's mission to do just that. No, it doesn't take on BMW or Mercedes in terms of driving experience. But the Encore offers luxury SUV appointments and cachet without asking shoppers to shell out an arm and a leg to get in the door.

What's New?

Since it was all-new last year, the Buick Encore carries over unchanged for the 2014 model year.

What We Like

Comfortable ride and upscale interior; exceptional price point; strong fuel economy for an SUV

What We Don't

Might be a little too small; performance could definitely use a boost, even at the expense of gas mileage

How Much?

$25,000-$31,500

Fuel Economy

The Encore is only available with one engine: a 138-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. That powerplant is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic to return 25 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway with front-wheel drive. For shoppers who upgrade to all-wheel drive, gas mileage drops to 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The Encore comes in four trim levels. Base-level models are dubbed simply Encore, while the remaining trims are Convenience, Leather and Premium.

The Encore ($25,000) is well-equipped for a base model. Many upscale features are standard, including 18-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power driver's seat and a rearview camera. Also included is Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system with a 7-in color touchscreen. Of course, the Encore also has all the features you'd expect from a car in its price range, such as remote keyless entry, cruise control and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

Drivers who upgrade to the Convenience ($26,500) receive several new luxury features. They include remote vehicle starting, dual-zone automatic climate control and auto-dimming mirrors. The Encore Convenience also adds fog lamps.

Next up is the Encore Leather ($28,500), which adds even more premium items. Headlining the additions are a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, though the Leather also adds a power passenger seat and a driver's seat memory package.

Topping the Encore range is the Premium ($30,000). In addition to the standard equipment from the other models, it adds rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park assist, a forward collision alert system and a lane-departure warning system.

Major options for the Encore include a power sunroof, roof rails and all-wheel drive.

Safety

All 2014 Buick Encore models come standard with a wide array of safety features. They include dual front airbags, driver and passenger knee airbags, side curtain airbags and seat-mounted side torso airbags. A rearview camera is also standard, as are 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and GM's StabiliTrak stability control system. Available features include forward collision alert, front and rear park assist and a lane-departure warning system.

The all-wheel-drive Encore received 5-star government crash-test scores, while the 2-wheel-drive model earned four stars overall. Both models earned four stars in rollover tests, and five stars in front and side tests. The Encore also earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

Behind the Wheel

Climbing inside the Encore, you're immediately struck by the handsome cabin and high-quality materials. They are particularly impressive considering the Encore's reasonable pricing, which starts below $26,000 with destination. The center stack is well designed, and the cabin even boasts a stylish appearance.

We also appreciate the Encore's commanding driving position, especially considering its compact car roots. More importantly, it really does feel like a Buick. That means it offers a supple ride thanks to the soft, cushy suspension. No, the Encore isn't a sports car around the corners, but we suspect most buyers would rather have the better ride.

Our biggest complaint with the Encore comes with its acceleration. While we appreciate the gas mileage, we'd happily sacrifice a few mpg for a better 0-to-60 time. As it stands, the Encore reaches 60 miles per hour in around 9.5 seconds, which makes it one of the slowest SUVs on the market. And that doesn't tell the whole story: The Encore feels even more sluggish on the highway, where its 138-hp engine feels overmatched in high-speed passing.

The Encore could also use some extra room in back. Currently, the crossover has a tight back seat and a fairly small cargo area -- a function of its small size. Once again, we think many shoppers won't mind, as some shoppers -- especially those who rarely carry passengers or lots of equipment -- will flock to the Encore specifically for its size.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW X1 -- The all-new X1 functions more like a tall wagon than a crossover. That's in contrast to the high-roofed Encore, which has a much more traditional SUV height. The X1 is also sportier thanks to turbocharged engines and standard rear-wheel drive. But the two models are priced -- and sized -- similarly.

MINI Countryman -- Even the tiny MINI Countryman is larger than the Encore. But the two are still competitors, especially on price -- the Countryman starts around $22,500. However, the Countryman is a better choice for drivers who want a sportier ride.

Mazda CX-5 -- Mazda's latest compact SUV doesn't have the Encore's premium badge, but it does boast similar gas mileage. And some upscale models are just as well-equipped as the nicest Encores.

AutoTrader's Advice

If you can live with the tepid acceleration, the Encore is a strong choice. In terms of picking a trim, we think the base-level Encore has just about everything you might need. But if you're going to splurge, go with an Encore Premium. For just $5,000 more than a base-level Encore, it offers high-end luxury car amenities.

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