Vehicles are built all over the world and sold in another part of the world. A domestic truck sold in the USA can be assembled with a transmission and engine built in Mexico, a chassis built in Canada, and brakes that were made in Europe. The modern global nature of the automotive industry might make quality control more challenging, however, it also makes for more interesting vehicles with a wider variety of characteristics. GM has embraced this reality and, in fact, has increased build quality along the way.
Case in point is the General Motor Buick Encore sub-compact SUV Encore. GM purchased Daewoo Motor Company years ago (now GM Korea) and has developed and produced a variety of cars and SUV's in South Korea like the Encore. This new Buick offering also comes to the US as a Chevrolet Trax providing a different type of platform which is suited for younger urban customers.
The Encore size makes for quick city maneuvering and weekend chores. The wheelbase is only 100.6" but the inside can carry as much as 48.4 cubic inches of cargo and people. With an overall width of almost 70" and 65.2" of roof height, passengers get generous head and shoulder room. Front seat legroom is about average which was ample for my 6'3" body. However, rear seat legroom is limited. GM engineers have raised the bench seat in the rear so passengers don't feel too confined.
The first real indicator that this "cute-ute" is a Buick is the very quiet interior. Conversations are pleasant at 75 miles per hour over rough pavement, which is quite an engineering trick. The cost of additional sound insulation and nicer interior materials is extra weight- which adversely effects fuel mileage. Even so, our fully loaded Buick Encore Premium model came in just over 3250 lbs. (FWD) and averaged 27.6 miles per gallon.
EPA mileage estimates for the Front Wheel-Drive models are 33 mpg highway and 25 mpg city. Driving from the high desert down to the coast of Southern California, in light traffic, we managed 38.5 mpg so higher mileage is possible out of this 1.4 liter turbocharged engine. The AWD Encore is rated at 23/30 mpg city/highway with the same powertrain.
GM's Ecotec 1.4 liter DOHC engine has been used in several applications in Asia, Europe, and now in the US. Power is slightly delayed when pressing the accelerator due to turbo-lag. Yet, when a half second passes and this light-duty turbine starts spinning, the Encore has enough power to get 4 adults up to speed. This 138 horsepower is helped with 148 lb.-ft. of torque that pulls quickly at only 1850 rpm. There is no lack of traffic-splitting performance in the FWD and is only hampered slightly in the heavier AWD Encore.
GM's 6-speed automatic transmission is also a good match for this engine because first and second gearing is low while fifth and sixth gear is mostly reserved for overdrive and higher mileage. Buick's transmission computer software keeps the transmission in third and fourth when dealing with traffic so driving the Encore is smooth and easily controlled. I prefer the smoother conventional hydraulic shifting without the unnecessary gear "hunting" found in other small-engine European double-clutch transmission applications.
The interior is fairly plush! There are soft-touch materials with real and synthetic leather on the seats and doors. The necessary narrow center console means the driver gets a folding armrest and the passenger leans on the door- part of the charm of a cute-ute.
GM still uses too many buttons for climate, audio, and infotainment functions and it takes some time to find the "Enter" button just to operate the large LED screen. The larger dials for simple operations such as station changes and volume are appreciated and the 7-inch screen is bright and clear and does not washout in bright sunlight.
Buick uses GM's Intellilink system for connectivity with smart phones and seamlessly integrates navigation, music, and a host of other goodies. There is still too much redundancy between these features and those of the OnStar system to make a subscription cost effective - with the exception of the OnStar emergency services. However, GM continues to include OnStar and Turn-By-Turn navigation free for the first 6 months.
The real advantage to the OnStar system now is the 4G LTE wireless hotspot feature which offers Wi-Fi in the car for another monthly subscription fee. I guess if you are going to pay over $30,000 for a cute-ute, these fees are not a deal breaker. For a more affordable cute-ute, consider the Chevrolet Trax with similar options but expect to speak up while driving down the road.
Our 2015 Buick Encore with the FWD-Premium group came with the expected standard like air conditioning, cruise control, and power everything else. What is not expected at the base price are things like ten standard air bags, including side curtain and knee air bags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, rearview camera, and a very quiet interior which Buick calls QuietTuning. Buick is also introducing and including their first use of Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology in the Encore. Additional standard fare is four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, OnStar, Ice-blue interior ambient lighting, heated outside rearview mirrors with signal indicators, and a very clear 7-inch diagonal high-resolution display to highlight the AM/FM/Sirius XM (with Travel Link and Tune Select) stereo with CD player. Bluetooth wireless connectivity is also standard.
The real news for social media users and abusers is Encore’s connectivity on OnStar with 4G LTE and a standard built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. GM sells this with the promise, “It provides a mobile hub for drivers and passengers to stay connected. The hotspot is on whenever the vehicle is on and comes with a three-month/three-gigabyte data trial, after which customers can purchase additional data. If the vehicle is on, the connection is on.”
For those who really like to use utility vehicles as, well, utility vehicles, GM includes a roof luggage rail with cross members. It is not for carrying a couch but it will handle things under 200 pounds. Even though the Encore is a small SUV, it still handles people and cargo surprising well.
The following packages may add some value but the Buick Encore is a nice vehicle in the base model, all the way from Korea. Let us hope that GM’s quality control continues to improve with these international models.
Encore Convenience (1SD) – Adds Convenience package: Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert, remote vehicle starter, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, 120-volt outlet and fog lamps.
Encore Leather (1SL) – Adds Leather package: leather-appointed seating, heated steering wheel, power passenger seat, heated front seats and driver memory package.
Encore Premium (1SN) – Adds Rainsense wipers, premium Bose seven-speaker audio system, front and rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure warning, cargo net and cargo mat.