Vehicle Review: 2020 Buick Encore GX

The new Buick Encore is perfect for someone looking to downsize from a large SUV, while retaining all the bells and whistles you need.

The overall styling says isn't flashy, but at night the Encore looks very dapper indeed.
The overall styling says isn’t flashy, but at night the Encore looks very dapper indeed.

Talk to any commercial real estate agent, and they will tell you that the hottest property during the pandemic has been smaller warehouses. One agent I know said to me that she was recently blown away by the demand for her listing in the San Gabriel Valley. She had over a dozen applicants, all of whom battled to pay the full asking price to move in immediately. The reason? They were all downsizing from massive warehouses they no longer needed.

In many respects, the compact utility vehicle (CUV) is the vehicular equivalent to those starter warehouses. CUVs have been on a tear over the last few years in terms of market share, and there is no let-up in sight, pandemic notwithstanding.

We Americans like our space — or at least the illusion of space that towering over mere compact cars provides. Besides the higher ride height that we all crave, CUVs offer more cargo room to accommodate the occasional adventure, all while going easier on our wallets in the fuel department. If there were an ETF for CUVs, I would be all in.

The Encore GX boasts plenty of versatility.
The Encore GX boasts plenty of versatility. Photo by Buick.

If you follow General Motors, you know that Chevrolet’s new Trailblazer is selling like hotcakes (perhaps Lakers facemasks is a better analogy for the time) and making waves in the CUV market. As I covered in my review this summer, the Trailblazer checks all the requisite CUV boxes and does so with flair thanks to its eye-catching, sporty design.

I had the chance to see the reveal of the Buick Encore GX at the LA Auto Show last year, which is GM’s luxury marquee’s answer for well-heeled buyers looking for a more refined experience. After a week in the Encore GX, I’d say the General’s time-tested badge engineering strategy will pay off — not just in the U.S. but internationally (read: China, where the Buick brand is as strong as Rolex.)  

Exterior: Compact Package, Big Style

2020 Buick Encore GX
2020 Buick Encore GX

The Trailblazer is literally edgy and looks like a cross between a Camaro and a Mini Cooper (and I mean that as a compliment.) The Encore GX, like the rest of the Buick line-up, is geared towards older buyers who don’t necessarily want or need to stand out during their comings and goings. #normcore is in for the Encore buyer, and the GX aims to deliver just the right balance of attitude and refinement. The potential buyer who wants to fall more on that balance’s attitude side might be drawn to the Encore GX ST – replete with red trim — to show people that this CPA means business on the dance floor.

My loaner was the top-of-the-line Essence trim, which came in around $33K as tested. The exterior differences from the Essence and base Preferred trim 18″ two-tone aluminum alloy wheels, chrome trim, and roof rails.

Overall there’s not much to find lacking in the Encore GX’s design. It doesn’t stand out as radical in any way, and it looks pretty badass at night in black. If an older, wiser, more chilled out Bruce Wayne had a daily driver (I mean a real daily, not a Lambo), it might be an Encore GX.

Interior: Welcome to the Club

The interior gets you solid comfort for the price.
The interior gets you solid comfort for the price. Photo by Buick.

If you’re comparing the Buick Encore against mainstream CUVs (think Toyota, Honda, Ford, etc.), you’ll feel like it’s doing a fine job of providing comfort and technology. If you’re comparing it against luxury competitors of the European ilk, you may find it wanting. In the latter scenario, I’d politely remind you that that group of competitors will cost you considerably more.

Commuting daily between the SGV and the SFV, the Encore GX was well-suited to my needs: a quiet, comfortable space to unwind on my way to work. Those of you with young kids know what I’m talking about. The minute you hear the weighty “clunk” of the door, you are at peace. No 15-minute Zoom roll calls. No “Brady, turn on your camera, please!” It’s just you and your quiet space.

The 2020 Encore GX features a heads-up display.
The 2020 Encore GX features a heads-up display. Photo by Buick.

My quiet space didn’t remain quiet for long. The Encore GX’s Buick Infotainment enables you to play the right soundtrack for your commute. I enjoyed a week of 80s jams thanks to the available SiriusXM. Our tester came with optional navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen display, and the all-important Apple CarPlay and Android Auto paired with wireless charging (score!) All were easy to use, though I wish the Encore had space for a more prominent display. There was a time when an 8-inch display was huge; it now feels like an iPhone 1 screen.

The Encore also features OnStar and a mobile 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot. I particularly appreciate the heads-up display and HD surround vision camera, which made parking a breeze. Lately, my daily has been a slammed Audi A4 Avant. My lower back yearned for the softer, quieter, infinitely interior of the Encore GX and the supportive 10-way power driver’s seat. Back in the day, I saved up for lowering springs. Now the first thing I look for is lumbar support.

Key Performance Indicators: MPG and CU. FT.

It’s been a while since GM offered a three-cylinder engine Stateside, but fuel efficiency standards made the case to do so. Our loaner came with the three-cylinder 1.3-liter turbo, rated for a combined 31 MPG.

While you’re most definitely not going to win any drag races, the Buick Encore has enough pep for the average commute assuming your driving style doesn’t lean heavily on passing. I felt the Encore felt a bit floaty on heavy acceleration, perhaps attributable to its short wheelbase and some mild turbo lag. Nothing lowering springs wouldn’t solve, for the record. The Encore is equipped with a host of driver assistance tech, including auto emergency braking, forward collision alert, and lane-keep assist with lane departure alert.

Cargo space is aplenty in the Encore GX.
Cargo space is aplenty in the Encore GX.

While the Encore feels small, it offers a whopping 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. Like the Trailblazer, the Encore can fit a surfboard or a rolled-up carpet with the 40/60 split-bench rear seats and the front passenger seat folded down. When the first-generation Honda Fit came out, they called these Magic Seats. We call it the key to saving money on fuel while doing Home Depot runs. The hands-free liftgate option is one of my favorite features on GM CUVs. It came in handy on a daily basis.

Like its corporate cousin, the Trailblazer, the Encore punches above its weight class in interior comfort, tech, and cargo capacity. The Encore will undoubtedly appeal to well-heeled drivers who want to commute in comfort and folks looking to downsize from full-size SUVs while retaining all the bells and whistles and cargo-hauling capability they are used to.

For more information, visit Buick’s website.

2020 Buick Encore GX Essence – FWD

Performance

Engine: 1.3L turbo

MPG: 30 MPG city / 32 MPG highway / 31 MPG overall

Horsepower
(hp / kW @ rpm):
155 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque
(/ Nm @ rpm):
174 lb.-ft. @ 1,600 rpm

Wheels: 18″ machined aluminum with painted pockets

Entertainment

Buick Infotainment System with 8″ diagonal touchscreen display and navigation, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto

Driver information center with 4.2″ diagonal color display

OnStar and available 4G LTE wi-fi

Front USB A & C ports, Rear USB A & C ports

120-volt power outlet

Wireless Charging

Interior

10-way adjustable power driver’s seat with lumbar support

8-way adjustable power passenger seat with lumbar support

40/60 split-bench rear folding seats

Heated steering wheel

Safety

Advanced Technology Package including HD Surround Vision Camera, HUD, Adaptive Cruise Control Camera

Automatic Parking Assist with Braking

 

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