MILFORD, Mich. -- Near Milford Proving Ground, the vehicle research facility for General Motors in suburbs of Detroit, we're scooting along Slobart Road for some driver-seat tests in the Encore, Buick's luxurious 5-passenger crossover utility vehicle for the eensy-weensy class.
Unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and reaching Buick showrooms in 2013, the Encore has a 100.6-inch wheelbase and a 168.4-inch tip-to-tailpipe length, segmenting it to the compact class.
It pulls power from an itsy-bitsy turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 1.4-liter displacement -- the smallest for any model in the 110-year history of Buick.
Despite the wee-scale statistics for this Baby Buick, Encore steers and handles quite nicely, exhibiting quick-response agility and the smooth and quiet ride quality of a luxury car.
The wagon employs the integral body-frame structure of a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car. Origins stem from GM's small crossover architecture, comparing size-wise to Chevrolet's Trax and the Opel Mokka vehicles marketed outside of North America, with mechanical equipment pulled from the Cruze and Sonic of Chevrolet.
Encore models of 2014 add new optional safety features such as Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning.
Buick builds the Encore in four trim grades -- Encore base model, Encore Convenience, Encore Leather and Encore Premium -- and each issue stocks electronic traction control (ETC) and GM's electronic stability device, StabiliTrak, with options for FWD or electronically controlled all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
All Encore edition of model-year 2014 employ GM's turbo-charged Ecotec 4-in-line engine displacing 1.4 liters and carrying dual overhead cams (DOHC) and double continuously variable cam phaser (DCVCP) controls.
The tiny turbo produces 138 hp at 4900 rpm plus 148 lb-ft of torque at 1850 rpm and links exclusively to a six-speed automatic transaxle with electronic controls, the efficient and smooth Hydra-Matic 6T40 by GM.
Encore's estimated fuel consumption numbers from the EPA rise to 33 mpg when running at legal speed on a highway in a FWD edition, or 30 mpg with AWD.
The suspension uses front MacPherson struts with a direct-acting stabilizer bar. In the rear the car has a compound-crank torsion beam with twin-tube shocks for responsive rear suspension control. Noise-damping urethane spring isolators are in place to enhance the ride isolation and dampen noise.
Brakes put a disc at each wheel with electronic linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic brake assist (EBA) and cornering brake control (CBC).
Climb aboard for a drive test and you'll quickly observe that Encore reveals an impressive quality of quietness in the cabin in terms of reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Virtually all external NVH seems locked outside, the result of wrapping the compartment liberally with sound-deadening material, including thick layers of laminate applied to the windshield and front side windows, and foam baffle insulation for body structure cavities.
Cabin dimensions seem generous, despite Encore's pint-size category. The CUV has 92.8 cubic feet of room for riders with headroom up to 39.6 inches and legroom to 40.8 inches front and 35.7 inches rear.
Layout of Encore's cabin amounts to a pair of bucket seats in front of a bench for three with the seatback split and folding to add room for cargo. The cargo area runs to 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat or 48.4 cubic feet with rear seatback folded down.
The Encore base issue rolls on 18-inch cast aluminum wheels with roof-mounted luggage rails and it stocks standard equipment like a single-zone air conditioning system, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, fabric seat upholstery, 6-way power controls for the driver's seat, a leather-bound steering wheel, cruise control, heated outside mirrors, twin gloveboxes, ice-blue ambient lighting, rear cargo cover, rearview camera, theft-deterrent system, Bluetooth connectivity and a 7-inch color panel for the audio kit with AM/FM/CD/Sirius XM/USB.
The Encore Convenience Package brings a remote starter, dual automatic climate controls, electrochromic interior rearview mirror, 120V power outlet and front foglamps.
The Encore Leather Package installs leather seat upholstery, power controls for the front passenger seat, heat elements in the two front seats, a heated steering wheel, and memory settings for front seats plus exterior mirrors and the climate system.
The Encore Premium Package laces more gear aboard, including a 7-speaker Bose audio system, front and rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning, rain-sensing wipers, a cargo net and cargo mat.
Buick starts the 2014 price chart at $24,160 for Encore/FWD and $25,660 for Encore/AWD.