I’ve never understood the term ‘SUV’. I guess this stems from the fact that I don’t play a ‘Sport’ and the only thing I own that is anything near ‘Utility’ is an old rusty utility knife buried somewhere in my garage. I never really got the term ‘crossover’ either. When I hear the term ‘crossover’ I think of bad music; like Brad Paisley singing a song from Ozzy Osbourne, or Ozzy singing something about a Red Solo Cup. None of it really makes any sense.
The SUV craze really began in the last century not long after the minivan came into vogue. When my kids were kids, I made the mistake of buying a Dodge Caravan; a minivan. While it wasn’t an SUV, the concept was the same; plenty of room for the tykes and their copious amounts of support equipment among other things. It certainly wasn’t something you bought for its performance, instead it served a purpose. It carried your growing family and became a repository for your life; toys, clothes, and even old groceries all once thought lost could be found somewhere inside the van. I even believe that a hamster, a potential pet that escaped on the way home from the pet store, lived out its entire lifecycle in that van quite comfortably, happily living off the scraps of the food left there.
I hated that van. Not only because it was slow, ungainly and smelled inside, but because it symbolized the end of the fast times of my youth. At the urging of my lovely wife, yet another reason I wish I’d married an ugly woman, I surrendered a three year old Camaro along with my man card to get it. No more stop light to stop light drag races and the days of letting loose on a twisting country road where over. In fact not only was there no performance, there was very little comforts in the minivan; in those days the radio was simply that, the seats were cloth retaining melted ice cream and juice for decades and the most luxurious thing were the floor mats which soon became so stained they looked like the camouflage uniforms soldiers wear. At the time I lived in South Florida and I actually left the van outside during Hurricane Andrew hoping it would disappear; even that didn’t kill it. It survived until the following year when I decided to use it to tow a 3500 pound racecar from North Carolina. It made it home but the transmission soon let go. I left it on the side of the road and did a little jig as I walked away with no guilt whatsoever.
Out of the minivan craze grew the SUV; the Sport Utility Vehicle. These had more style, more comfort than a minivan, but still served the same purpose; plenty of room for growing families, and for hauling bits of your everyday life. But there were other reasons SUVs became popular; the fact that they were based on truck platforms, they were larger and higher giving a more commanding view of the road. But given the size and the truck heritage, most required a fuel tanker following them around to keep going.
Fast forward to modern day and thanks in large part to a bunch of sheiks in the Middle East, auto makers have developed a new breed of SUV; the crossover. Instead of trucks the crossovers are based on car platforms, thus use less fuel than their larger more ungainly cousins. But you still get a little more room than most cars and a higher more commanding view of the road.
Entering the new realm of the crossover SUV is Buick. And they have done so quite nicely.
Buick has survived the turmoil in the auto industry rising from the ashes at GM that saw Pontiac, Saturn and Oldsmobile fall by the wayside. They’ve done this, as they have always done, by filling a niche; reasonably priced vehicles with luxury features that make them a great value. It’s something they’ve done yet again with the newest entry into the crossover SUV genre, the Encore.
Introduced this year, the Encore is cousin to the Enclave, Buick’s full on SUV. Unlike its larger cousin however, the Encore is much smaller and of course less expensive. It doesn’t have the room of a full SUV; the cabin is best described as cozy, comfortable, but cozy. You might not want to bring along Uncle Jack who only showers once a week, but there is certainly enough room not to feel claustrophobic. Storage in the rear isn’t much more than a regular car, but a crossover isn’t about hauling things.
Inside the cabin is where any Buick shines. The base model Encore at $28,190 has enough standard features to keep you happy and many things you would expect only in higher priced vehicles. But for only a few dollars more why not go all out. The FWD Encore with the Premium group I had totaled out at $30,730, and there is an array of amenities that is almost staggering. Among the many items is navigation and radio information via a 7” screen in the center of the dash, rear vision camera, climate control, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, leather wrap steering wheel, cruise control and front and rear parking assist just to name a few. Enough to keep you busy for weeks.
My biggest reservation prior to driving the Encore was the size of the engine. Buick put a 1.4 liter turbocharged four cylinder powerplant rated at 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. I could imagine myself urging the vehicle up a hill thinking all the while ‘I think it can, I think it can’. However, my fears proved very wrong. When mated up to the six-speed automatic the Encore performs just fine. It merges into traffic with ease and leaves the line respectfully. No it won’t be sufficient for a high speed police chase should you decide to use it for a getaway vehicle after a bank robbery and you’ll have to hang your head in shame if challenged at a stop light, but given the available power to weight ratio (3190 pounds in the front wheel drive version I had for week) for what the Encore is the powertrain is just fine.
That powertrain is more than adequate for the purpose the Encore was designed for; getting around town without having to stop at a gas station every few miles, but with many of the things a full size SUV is known for, such as a more commanding view of traffic. That higher view of the road isn’t sacrificed for poor handling though. The first time I aggressively took the Encore into a corner I held on for dear life fully expecting to be hanging upside down moments later. Had I crashed a total of ten airbags could have deployed making me feel as though I woke up in a bag of marshmallows. That wasn’t the case however; yes there was a bit of body roll, but the 18 inch wheels along with the StabiliTrak stability control system was a pleasant surprise and kept body roll to a minimum.
While riding around town, the road noise was kept to a minimum. The Encore has a system called ‘QuietTuning’ which along with sound dampening throughout features Buick’s first use of Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology. While it promised a cabin as quiet of a library and it is quite good, it was more like a college library with few sophomores goofing around in the corner.
You won’t see an Encore charging up a dusty road as a rancher in Texas heads out to punch some little doggies or whatever it is they do, but after all that isn’t what a crossover SUV is for. Likewise growing families might find it too small. But for a small family or a couple whose kids have left the nest and who are looking for an SUV view while zipping around town without the SUV problems, a crossover will work just fine.
The Encore fits well into that crossover arena. It also continues the decades old Buick story of delivering loads of luxury at a reasonable price. Maybe that’s why Buick is known as a survivor; and if the Encore is any indication they are liable to survive for many more years to come.
Bottom Line: Looking for SUV features without breaking the bank or spending the day at the pumps? The Encore delivers luxuriously.
2013 Buick Encore
Base MSRP: $28,190
Price as tested: $30,730(FWD with Premium Group)
Engine: 1.4L turbocharged DOHC I-4
Horsepower/Torque: 138hp/148 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: HydraMatic 6T40 6-speed automatic
Length/Width/Height: 168.5 x 69.9 x 65.2 in.
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ventilated front discs and solid rear discs; standard ABS
EST. MPG: 25/33 City/Highway
Average MPG during test: 28.7 (Mixed)
Headroom: F 39.6 R38.8 in
Legroom: 40.8 R35.8 in
Warranty: Four-year/ 50,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty
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