LOS ANGELES: Buick is getting quite serious about bringing young consumers into its fold, with two new vehicles in its lineup aimed squarely as people under 30.
First was the Verano compact sedan, and now comes the Encore subcompact crossover, which is a foot shorter than the Verano, with five inches cut from its wheelbase.
While such a small vehicle may seem odd for a brand whose reputation for decades centered on comfortable large sedans and wagons, it’s perfectly in line with the brand’s goals both at home and abroad. That’s to bring up-and-coming premium-vehicle buyers into the Buick fold, where presumably they will work their way up to larger and more-expensive Buicks as they age and grow in their careers and incomes.
Prices begin at $24,200 for the base model, which makes the Encore quite a bargain, considering all of the standard amenities it has.
Buick offers the Encore with either front-wheel drive, which is standard, or all-wheel drive, which is a $1,500 premium above the front-drive prices.
Our tester had front drive, though, so we didn’t get to test the all-wheel drive. It’s designed to send power almost 50-50 to the front and rear on startup, but favor the front wheels in normal driving until the automatic system detects wheel slippage.
The size of the Encore also allows it to offer the best fuel economy in the Buick lineup, and EPA ratings that are among the best in the entire crossover realm. With front drive, the estimates are 25 mpg city/33 highway/28 combined” for all-wheel-drive models, 23/30/26.
During my weeklong test, I averaged about 28.4 mpg, with a combination of city and highway driving, although heavier on the highway side.
Surprisingly, the Encore doesn’t feel small. Tall people -six feet or more -can ride in comfort the front bucket seats, and they’re riding higher up than you would imagine in a vehicle that qualifies as a subcompact, at least on the outside. There is no feel of being in a tiny vehicle, sitting close to the ground.
In fact, I felt no different in the driver’s seat of the Encore than I did a week earlier while driving the new Honda CR-V, a compact crossover.
Outside, the Encore looks like a junior-size version of the seven-passenger Buick Enclave crossover, with similar front-end styling and overall shape, and the signature Buick grille.
The Encore is the same length as the boxy Scion xB, and about a foot shorter than the CR-V. But I couldn’t help comparing the Encore -favorably -to such compact crossovers as the Volkswagen Tiguan, which is about six inches longer, and the Audi Q5 and Nissan Rogue, both about a foot-and-a-half longer.
We were able to put three average-size adults in the rear bench seat for a run out to dinner, and had no real complaints.
The outboard passengers said they had plenty of leg-and knee room, although the middle rider was a bit cramped and suggested that might not be a good place for a long trip. A child safety seat would fit there well, however, with two larger kids or even small-to medium-size adults on each side.
The only cupholders in the back, though, were two in a small pull-down center armrest that eliminates the middle seating position. Small door pockets were not wide enough to serve as bottle holders either in front or back.
Up front, the center console area provides two small cupholders and a lidded compartment for gadgets. In front of the shifter is a slanted cubby suitable for a couple of portable devices, and there is a USB port right next to a 12-volt power outlet in front of the storage spot.