If you’re looking for a small SUV like the 2019 Buick Encore, chances are you aren’t planning on going off-road, won’t need an Ikea’s worth of cargo space and don’t have kids to cart around. Nope, a high seating position and extra versatility will probably be the defining criteria. And while most of the Encore’s fellow "subcompact" crossover competitors will also deliver in those areas, Buick’s baby SUV stands out from the crowd in its character and the way it drives.
You see, while most rivals cater to younger buyers with outlandish styling, funky details and a quasi-sporty driving experience, the Encore is comparatively grown up. Its sophisticated design and classy cabin are consistent with the rest of the Buick brand, while still providing 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. A back-to-back drive of the mechanically related 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 glacial acceleration and relatively cramped 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 2019 Encore will hit a sweet spot.
What’s New for 2019?
For 2019, the Encore’s trim level count has been reduced. The Preferred II and Premium have been discontinued. Fuel economy estimates are also lower this year, despite the powertrains going unchanged.
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; limited safety tech availability
The Encore is offered with two engine options. All trim levels come standard 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 26 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in combined driving. Opting for AWD lowers those figures to 25 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.
Available on the Sport Touring and Essence trims is a more powerful version of the standard engine good for 153 hp and 177 lb-ft. That’s still not a lot for an SUV, even one this small. Its fuel economy is basically the same as the less powerful version, though, with estimates of 25 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined with FWD. AWD lowers those figures to 24 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The Encore comes in four trim levels. Base-level models are dubbed simply "Encore," while the remaining trims are the Preferred, Sport Touring and Essence.
The base Encore ($23,200) is well-equipped for a base model. It includes 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity entry and keyless start, a rearview camera, LED running lights, rear privacy glass, roof rails, a power driver’s seat, an upholstery combination of cloth and simulated leather, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rearview camera, OnStar emergency communications, a Wi-Fi hotspot, Buick’s 8-in 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. It comes standard with white paint, and you can only add black or silver as a $395 option.
There’s questionable value in the Preferred trim ($24,600), which really only adds a cargo cover and some floor mats. There are also five additional color choices, but all require an extra charge.
The Sport Touring ($25,600) gains fog lamps, remote ignition and sportier styling elements (the only trim that does). Opting for the more powerful engine brings with it single-zone automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
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.
Optional on both Preferred and Sport Touring is the Safety Package, which adds blind spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, plus a 120-volt power outlet.
The Encore Essence trim ($29,300) adds LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver memory settings, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery and the Safety Package items. It is the only trim level that can be equipped with the optional Safety Package II, which adds forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and an ionizing air cleaner.
Optional on the Sport Touring and Essence trims is a 7-speaker Bose sound system (including HD Radio) and a navigation system integrated into the standard touchscreen (include dual-zone climate control in the Sport Touring).
A sunroof is optional on all but the base trim.
All 2019 Buick Encore models come standard with dual front airbags, front-knee airbags, side-curtain airbags and seat-mounted side-torso airbags. A rearview camera and OnStar emergency communications are also standard. The top-of-the-line Essence trim is the only one available with forward-collision and lane-departure warning, but neither possesses automatic braking or steering intervention. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning are standard on the Essence and optional on the Preferred and Sport Touring.
The 2019 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 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 two years ago, 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 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 the top two 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
2019 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.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek — The Crosstrek offers no-nonsense space and comfort with excellent fuel economy, despite coming standard with AWD. It’s certainly not as quiet or luxurious as the Encore, but you may find it to be a more functional choice.
2019 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 (or Chinese-built Buick Envision). If an MKC is out of your price range, you can always seek out a used or certfied pre-owned version.
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 Essence model with the upgraded engine, as it does provide sufficient extra feature content to warrant its higher price.