The subcompact-crossover segment is heating up, and General Motors has two dogs in the fight. One, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax, plays in the mainstream portion of the field, while the other — the 2015 Buick Encore — has the luxury market covered. Ultimately, these two SUVs are based on one another, with similar features, similar styling, and identical platforms and powertrains. So what makes them different? We took a closer look at both the Trax and the Encore to find out.
On the outside, the Chevy Trax and the Buick Encore share a similar overall look — including a tall roof, a short hood and a stubby mini-SUV design. But the differences between the two crossovers are obvious: The Trax wears squared-off wheel arches, while the Encore’s are round; both SUVs use the unique grille characteristics of their respective manufacturers; and the Encore offers a few additional luxury touches, such as chromed wheels, chrome door handles and other chrome accents.
Considering the relatively similar nature of the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore, we’re impressed with just how far General Motors has gone to make sure the Buick’s interior looks a distinct step above the Chevrolet’s. Although the two crossovers share a general cabin layout — no surprise, since they’re the same crossover underneath — they tout significant differences in control placement, gauge design, air-vent shape, material quality and more. Simply put, the Encore looks like a real entry-level luxury SUV, while the Trax looks like a more mainstream model — and that’s exactly how General Motors wants it to be.
Under the hood, both the Trax and the Encore offer the exact same powertrain: a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission in both SUVs, and each one reaches 60 miles per hour from a standing stop in about a mediocre 10 seconds. Fuel economy for both the Trax and the Encore is roughly identical, with the Buick topping out around 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway and the Chevy adding one more mpg in both Environmental Protection Agency-rated cycles. But don’t be fooled by those small differences in gas mileage, because the Trax and the Encore are identical under the hood.
Features & Technology
As you might expect, the more luxurious Buick Encore has a wide range of features that isn’t available in the Trax. They include rain-sensing wipers, a heated steering wheel, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, a power passenger seat, chrome wheels, memory settings for the driver’s seat, a forward-collision warning system, a lane-departure warning system and dual-zone automatic climate control. Essentially, we think of it this way: Though the Encore and Trax share the same drivetrain, their differences become apparent when comparing variations in equipment and features.
Both the Trax and the Encore offer an unfortunately lackluster driving experience, though we admit that the Buick’s ride feels a lot smoother than the Chevy’s. That’s not to say that the Trax feels especially harsh, but rather that the Buick manages to soak up bumps in more of a typical luxury-car manner, which is surprising given the crossover’s small size. The Buick is also noticeably quieter than the Trax at highway speeds.
When we say lackluster, we’re primarily referring to acceleration, which is among the worst in the burgeoning subcompact-crossover class, and handling, which is only average. Steering is also vague, and cornering, while composed, is hardly engaging. Essentially, these two crossovers are built for people who don’t love to step on the gas at a stoplight or fling their cars around a fun set of curves — and it shows. Still, the Encore provides more of an escape from the road, while the Trax’s driving experience feels a little closer to mainstream than luxury.
Both the Trax and the Encore have all the safety features you’d assume a new crossover would have, including items such as a backup camera, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and more. But only the Buick touts the latest in high-end safety gadgets and equipment, offering much-appreciated modern features such as a blind spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
In crash testing carried out by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, both the Encore and the Trax earned a perfect 5-star overall rating. In testing carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Encore earned an excellent Top Safety Pick designation, and while the Trax is too new to have been rated by the firm, we suspect it will snag a similar result when it’s inevitably tested later this year.
Differences between the 2015 Chevrolet Trax and the 2016 Buick Encore are exactly as you might expect. The Buick is more luxurious, offering a more upscale look on the outside, a more opulent interior with better materials, and most importantly, a wide array of features that aren’t available in the Trax.
Meanwhile, the Trax is the more affordable option, offering a lower base price, slightly better gas mileage and more mainstream styling both inside and out. If possible, we’d upgrade to the Encore if only for its improved ride, reduced road noise and wider range of available equipment. But we suspect that drivers who stick with the Trax will also be happy with their purchase — just as long as they don’t find themselves lining up at a drag strip.