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First Drive: Buick gives a lot of bang for the buck

2013 Buick Encore

Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Rating
8.5
Overall Rating
8.5
Overall
An attractive, competent, versatile crossover that fills a glaring gap in the Buick family. You’ll love this car if: you’re an empty nester who doesn’t need to take kids to hockey practice or dance recitals, but wants luxury at an affordable price.
Looks Rating
8.5
Looks
Buick’s signature design cues include a chrome waterfall grille, portholes on the hood, and blue-accent projector-beam headlamps, which are distinct and unique.
Interior Rating
8
Interior
Looks deceivingly small from the outside, but rather spacious inside with comfortable front seats and a large cargo area.
Ride Rating
8
Ride
At times, the four banger struggles going up hills, but at cruising speeds it feels confident, secure, comfortable, and quiet.
Safety Rating
8
Safety
Well-equipped with standard safety items. AWD is optional.
Green Rating
6
Green
No V-6 available, just a more fuel efficient turbocharged I-4.

Buick is overhauling its line-up – revealing a drastically improved range of vehicles, leaps and bounds ahead of its stale, conservative image. The Buick family is growing and, for 2013, along with a redesigned Enclave and a higher-performing turbocharged Verano, comes the Encore – an all-new compact crossover that Buick hopes will attract both young urban professionals and empty nesters alike.

"Buick's positioning is unique. In a world of traditional luxury where brands position themselves as membership to an exclusive club, Buick is very different," says Tony DiSalle, vice-president, Buick marketing. "Buick is inviting, approachable, and warm. Our vision for the brand is to be the most friendly down-to-earth luxury brand in the world."

Still, it's a brand that appeals to a mature demographic – the average age of a Buick buyer is 57. But officials are quick to point out the age has dropped seven years since revitalization of the brand began nearly five years ago. One feature younger buyers will appreciate is the price – it's competitive. Available in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive-configurations, it starts at $26,895 (FWD) or $28,845 (AWD). And you get a lot of bang for your buck, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 10 airbags, cruise control, and a rear-view camera.

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If you splurge on the top trim, an Encore AWD with a premium package, it adds innovative technology such as a lane departure warning system and forward collision alert, which warns the driver with audible and visual cues when a collision is imminent. You'll have to pay extra for this trim – $34,455, to be exact.

All Encores come with a 1.4-litre turbocharged inline 4 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It pumps out 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque which, in most cases, is ample power to get around town for shopping excursions. However, when pushed or travelling up hill, the engine struggles and whines. Overall, it's a cushy, relaxed, and composed ride; not tight or firm like some German competitors.

The Encore also has a tight turning radius, so it's easy to manoeuvre into narrow parking spots. Buick's active on-demand AWD system is also a nice added safety feature. It's different from the traditional AWD system, which directs torque to the wheels when it detects slippage. Buick's system uses a magnetic charge to engage a clutch at the rear axle pre-emptively to activate the AWD when stopped. If no slip is detected, it automatically disengages torque to the clutch and returns the system to front-wheel drive when the vehicle begins to move. Considering the AWD Encore weighs 3,309 kg (FWD is 3,190), fuel economy isn't outrageous. The AWD averages 7.9 litres/100 km combined highway and city driving; while the FWD is 7.2 litres/100 km combined driving. All use regular fuel.

Ice-blue ambient lighting in the cabin creates a pleasing atmosphere. A seven-inch, high-resolution display screen with CD/SiriusXM Satellite Radio/USB, voice recognition and Bluetooth are standard; the display is nicely positioned directly in the driver's line of sight so you never need to take your eyes off the road. Below the screen, it's a bit busy with several similar-sized buttons that make it hard to find some functions fast. At least the HVAC dials are easy to spot, even in the dark.

The cabin is versatile with smart storage solutions like dual glove boxes, eight beverage holders, and a fold-flat front passenger seat in case you need to carry bulky sports equipment such as skis. The 60/40 flat-folding rear seat includes a fold-down armrest with cup holders. The seats can be lowered, expanding the cargo area from 532 litres to 1,371 litres. While the Encore seats five, three passengers in the rear seats are a little tight, especially on shoulder room. In my AWD tester, the front seats are spacious with plush leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a Bose premium audio system with – for the first time in a Buick – Bose technology to reduce unwanted cabin noise.

The Encore's exterior is attractive with Buick's new signature style. Sharp sculpted lines, a chrome waterfall grille, chrome accents, portholes on the hood, painted lower panels, and a few eye-catching colours, such as ruby red metallic – one from nine shades to choose from – are attractive stylistic cues. Blue-accent projector-beam headlamps with a Buick tri-shield insignia embedded in the lights are distinct and recognizable on the road. But the 18-inch wheels, available in either five-spoke painted aluminum or optional seven-spoke chromed aluminum, are too small. There's a large gap between the fender arches and tires, which takes away from the overall look – 19-inch or 20-inch wheels would have been a nice option.

Still, the Encore is a smart, versatile package. This baby Buick goes on sale in early 2013.

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Tech Specs

2013 Buick Encore

Type: Compact premium CUV

Price range: $26,895-$34,455

Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged I-4

Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/148 lb-ft

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Transmission: six-speed automatic

Drive: front-wheel or all-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): FWD – 8.2 city/6.0 highway (FWD); 8.9 city/6.7 highway (AWD)

Alternatives:BMW X1, Audi Q3, Volkswagen Tiguan, Acura RDX, Lexus RX350

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

*****

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More

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