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2018 Buick Encore: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2018

An SUV's high seating position and extra versatility are often the reasons people choose it over a car. They aren't going off road, don't need an Ikea's worth of cargo space and don't have kids to cart around. For them (and possibly you), the 2018 Buick Encore will be a good choice -- but really, so too will any of the smallest, "subcompact" segment of crossover SUVs. Instead, the Encore stands out from the crowd by being a grown-up: not in size, but in its character and the way it drives.

While most rivals cater to younger buyers with outlandish styling and funky details, the Encore counters with a sophisticated design and a classy cabin in keeping with the rest of the Buick brand. At the same time, it still manages to provide abundant standard tech. Then there's the way it drives: Even the priciest versions of competitors can't match the base Encore's quiet, comfort and overall refinement. And if you want proof, a back-to-back drive of the mechanically similar Chevrolet Trax should make it obvious how much more livable this little Buick is.

Of course, the Encore costs more than its rivals, but we're guessing that'll be just fine for those more interested in its size. It should also be noted that it's considerably cheaper than SUVs of comparable comfort and refinement. Less defensible is the anemic acceleration and relatively meager back seat and cargo space. Sure, many are seeking a small SUV, but perhaps not this small. So it won't be for everyone, but for many, the 2018 Encore will hit a sweet spot.

What's New for 2018?

After major updates and changes last year, the Encore is essentially unchanged for 2018.

What We Like

Comfortable ride and upscale interior; abundant features for the money; good fuel economy for an SUV; smaller and more maneuverable than the typical SUV

What We Don't

Small cargo area and back seat; pokey acceleration, even with upgraded engine

How Much?

$23,000-$32,100

Fuel Economy

The Encore is offered with two engine options. Most models come with a 138-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission and offers front- or all-wheel drive. With this engine, the Encore returns 27 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers those figures to 26 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined.

Available on all but the base and Preferred trim levels is a more powerful version of the standard engine, which produces 153 hp. That's still not a lot for an SUV, even one this small. Its fuel economy is still decent, though, with estimates of 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive lowers those figures to 24 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The Encore comes in six trim levels. Base-level models are dubbed simply "Encore," while the remaining trims are the Preferred, Sport Touring, Preferred II, Essence and Premium.

The base Encore ($23,000) is well-equipped for a base model. It includes 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity entry and keyless start, LED running lights, rear privacy glass, a power driver's seat, an upholstery combination of cloth and simulated leather, a rearview camera, OnStar emergency communications, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Buick's 8-in IntelliLink touchscreen interface, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, two USB ports, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker sound system that includes satellite radio and a media player interface.

There's questionable value in the Preferred trim ($24,400), which really only adds a cargo cover and some floor mats. Therefore, the first trim to realistically step up to would be the Sport Touring ($25,600). It gains fog lamps, remote ignition and sportier styling elements (the only trim that does). It can also be equipped with a more powerful engine, which brings with it single-zone automatic climate control. The Safety package, consisting of a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert, is optional.

The Preferred II trim ($26,900) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, the Safety package and a 120-volt household-style outlet.

The Encore Essence trim ($29,100) adds driver memory settings, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, a heated steering wheel and leather upholstery.

Finally, the Premium trim ($30,600) adds forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and a 7-speaker Bose sound system (optional on all but the base and Preferred trims).

Major Encore options include all-wheel drive and an Experience Buick option package that adds a navigation system, chrome alloy wheels and a power sunroof.

Safety

All 2018 Buick Encore models come standard with dual front airbags, front-knee airbags, side-curtain airbags and seat-mounted side-torso airbags. A rearview camera is also standard. The top-of-the-line Premium trim is the only one available with forward-collision and lane-departure warning. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning systems are standard on the top three trim levels and optional on the Sport Touring as the Safety package.

The 2018 Encore received a 5-star score for overall, frontal and side crash protection from the government. This is excellent for a subcompact SUV. In tests carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2018 Encore received the best possible rating of Good in all crash tests other than the recently introduced small-overlap front crash test, where it got an Acceptable rating.

Behind the Wheel

You should be impressed by the Encore's handsome cabin, which features high-quality materials. It was upgraded last year, and we think it made a big difference in terms of both appearance and functionality. The previous jumbled array of buttons has mostly been replaced by Buick's large, user-friendly IntelliLink touchscreen interface.

We also appreciate the Encore's commanding driving position -- especially considering its small size. More importantly, it really does feel like a Buick. That means it offers a supple ride thanks to a soft, cushy suspension, and a supreme level of quiet due to an abundance of sound-quelling materials and a standard active noise-cancellation system. Most other SUVs this size are rather rough and loud affairs.

Performance is an issue with the Encore, however. The standard engine's acceleration is anemic, regardless of whether you compare the Encore to mainstream or luxury models. A 9.5-second 0-to-60 time just doesn't cut it. Now, there is a more powerful engine available on most trim levels, which certainly does improve things. We recommend it, but it merely brings the Encore closer to par as opposed to being what we'd consider sufficient -- especially when the car is loaded with people and luggage.

And speaking of which, the Encore may not have sufficient room for your needs. Like most of its competitors, the back seat is tight and the cargo area small. Now, if you're just looking to the Encore for its elevated seating position and actually like its tiny footprint, this might not matter, but it's certainly something to consider.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda HR-V -- The HR-V isn't as comfortable or as quiet as the Encore, but it is more spacious, offers similar feature content and can be surprisingly luxurious inside if you select its uppermost trim level.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek -- The Crosstrek offers no-nonsense space and comfort with excellent fuel economy despite coming standard with all-wheel drive. It's certainly not as quiet or luxurious as the Encore, but you may find it to be a more functional choice.

2018 Lincoln MKC -- The MKC is pricier than the Encore to be sure, and it's also a bit bigger, but it's one of the few small SUVs that shares Buick's emphasis on a comfortable ride and a quiet cabin. And for those seeking an American-made SUV, the MKC has that advantage over the Korean-built Encore. If an MKC is out of your price range, you can always seek out a used or certfied pre-owned version.

Autotrader's Advice

The Encore is an excellent crossover for shoppers who are really just looking for an elevated seating height, a comfy ride and a quiet premium cabin. When choosing a trim level, we would essentially go high or low. Really, the base trim is so well-equipped that the next two trims up only add token extras at a cost that doesn't make much sense. At the same time, we would also consider a loaded Premium model with the upgraded engine, as it does provide sufficient extra feature content to warrant its higher price.

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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.
2018 Buick Encore: New Car Review - Autotrader