AUTO REVIEW: Compact Buick Encore Crossover Offers Style, Comfort, Versatility for the Family

(Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS) -
The 2015 Buick Encore in Cocoa Silver. (Buick/TNS)
The 2015 Buick Encore in Cocoa Silver. (Buick/TNS)
The 2015 Buick Encore with Ebony interior. (Buick/TNS)
The 2015 Buick Encore with Ebony interior. (Buick/TNS)
The 2015 Buick Encore's blue-accented projector beam headlamp. (Buick/TNS)
The 2015 Buick Encore’s blue-accented projector beam headlamp. (Buick/TNS)

The Buick Encore is a small luxury crossover with style, comfort, versatility and adaptability to fit many busy lifestyles, from parents of small children to empty nesters and grandparents.

It’s offered in four trim levels – Encore, Convenience, Leather and Premium – priced from $24,065 to $29,450 for front-wheel-drive models; add $1,500 to any level for all-wheel drive.

New for 2015, Encore now has OnStar 4G LTE with wi-fi hotspot capability. Since the vehicle powers the hotspot, you won’t drain the batteries of your mobile devices.

Because of its compact size, Encore adapts to crowded streets and the open road, and looks effortlessly stylish doing it, with its sculpted body with luxurious chrome accents, jewel-like halogen projector beam headlights with signature Buick ice-blue translucent ring accents, striking chrome waterfall grille and chrome window surround.

The headlights automatically turn on or off as needed, depending on ambient light, and the clear illumination of the halogen beams improves down-the-road visibility. When the headlights are off, Daytime Running Lights – reduced-intensity low-beam lamps – are on to make the vehicle more visible and help reduce the risk of collision.

Front fog lights, standard on models above the base level, add sporty styling as well as improving visibility in adverse weather conditions.

The 18-inch wheels come in silver-painted five-spoke cast aluminum or an optional unique seven-spoke design with chromed alloy finish to make an even more-striking impression.

Inside, soft-touch materials make the Encore luxurious as well as flexible. The seats are shaped to support the natural curve of the passenger’s back. The front passenger seatback folds flat, and the second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 configuration. The seat bottom flips forward by pulling a strap, then the seatback folds down by lifting a lever.

With the seats folded flat, objects as long as eight feet can be carried. Cargo space behind the front seats is 48.4 cubic feet. With the seats upright, the rear cargo area is still a roomy 18.8 cubic feet, enough for lots of luggage, groceries, weekend toys or gardening supplies. Extra storage is located under the floor in the cargo area, and a removable/stowable cargo cover keeps items in the cargo area out of view.

Encore comes with a standard fuel-efficient 138-horsepower Ecotec Turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission with Driver Shift Control – using a toggle button on top of the shifter knob – to give the driver the feel of a sporty clutchless manual.

Front-wheel-drive models are expected to achieve 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway, while all-wheel-drive models are rated at 23/30. During my weeklong test, I averaged 30.1 mpg, traveling over 500 miles mostly on the highway with cruise control engaged.

My tester was a front-wheel-drive Leather edition in Quicksilver Metallic with Ebony interior, priced at $27,950. Buick offers the Encore in eight exterior colors including Deep Espresso Brown and Satin Steel Gray Metallic, with Ebony and Titanium interiors, in either cloth with leatherette trim or leather, depending on the trim selected.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert were standard on my Encore, along with 10 air bags. They helped the Encore earn a five-star overall score for safety, and recognition as an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick.

Blind Zone Alert detects vehicles in the blind spot and gives a visual warning in the outside mirror on the appropriate side.

A passenger-sensing system turned the front-passenger air bag on or off depending on the weight and pressure on the seat.

With the vehicle in reverse, Rear Cross Traffic Alert sounded a warning when a vehicle approached within 65 feet on either side. The backup camera view was also extended to each side to show pedestrians and objects as well as approaching traffic. These features were especially helpful in crowded parking lots, where people often ignore cars backing out of spaces.

A driver information center, in the center of the instrument cluster, included trip functions, tachometer, speedometer, fuel and coolant temperatures, oil life, tire pressure, battery and key vehicle warning alerts. Ice Blue ambient light gave the instrument panel an air of modern sophistication.

Buick IntelliLink is standard in all Encore models and connects your smartphone to your vehicle to allow streaming of internet radio such as Pandora and podcasts, and making and receiving hands-free phone calls, all using the latest in voice-recognition software.

The system includes a seven-inch, color touchscreen display, AM/FM/SiriusXM (XM includes a three-month trial), CD/MP3, USB port and auxiliary input; iPhone users can use IntelliLink to command Siri as well. Controls on the leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel allowed operation of the audio system, cruise control and hands-free phone functions.

My tester upgraded the IntelliLink system to include Navigation, a $495 option, to access real-time traffic data, get directions or save a favorite destination or route. Entering an address for directions was frustrating at first, due to the layout of the address screen.

The “state” location was displayed after the “street” location, which makes sense when addressing an envelope. But the navigation system offered a list of cities in the last programmed state before I realized the mistake. I had to reprogram the state before I could continue with the address, which was also frustrating as I had to use a rotary dial to go from letter to letter. Other functions, such as guidance volume, were buried under several layers.

The audio system was also upgraded, with a Bose premium seven-speaker system for $595. Advanced engineering and high-quality audio is Bose’s signature, and the Encore was filled with rich, clear, true sound with speakers positioned throughout the cabin, for a concert-like feel.

Acoustic windshield glass had imbedded properties to help keep out traffic and road noise to create a very quiet cabin. In addition, Encore offers Buick’s first application of the new active noise-cancelation technology, an integral part of QuietTuning. Microphones mounted on the ceiling detect engine noise, then the system’s computer processes the frequency of this noise and directs counteracting sound waves through the sound system’s speakers and subwoofer, canceling out the noise.

The windshield also included a special layer to soak up solar energy to help keep the interior and the occupants cooler. Deep-tinted side glass served the same purpose for rear passengers.

A 120-volt outlet conveniently located on the rear of the center console allowed passengers to plug in or recharge their portable electronics such as cellphones, hand-held games and laptops.

OnStar Directions & Connections Plan comes on all new Buick vehicles and provides features such as getting help in an emergency or in the event of a crash, finding things or places with the push of a button, getting a remote diagnostic check, making hands-free calls, and controlling certain vehicle features with the RemoteLink mobile app.

The OnStar Basic Plan, free for five years, includes RemoteLink Key Fob Services with the factory-installed remote start, which allows locking and unlocking doors, activation of horn and lights, starting of the engine to allow pre-cooling or pre-warming, turning on the rear-window defogger, and heating the outside mirrors with the touch of a button on the remote.

My smart-looking, nimble, efficient, versatile Encore delivered for $29,965, including $1,090 in options and $925 destination charges.