The 2014 Buick Encore is one of just a few cub compact crossovers, and at least for now, it's the only one that's positioned as a premium entry. That's really still a niche of one, though from certain angles, the Encore has enough presence to justify its price tag--which can reach past $30,000 with a heavy hand on the options list.
That makes it hard to figure out just what the Encore competes with. On the lower end, the MINI Countryman and Fiat 500L are smaller, quirkier, and have entirely different personalities than the littlest Buick. Among traditional luxury brands, only BMW offers an all-wheel-drive crossover even closer to the Encore in size--and we're skeptical that BMW X1 shoppers even know where their local Buick-GMC dealer is located. Among tall wagons that aim for good gas mileage in a practical, city-friendly size, the Buick stands alone in its more traditional approach to luxury.
Buyers who want a small but luxurious car that mixes elements of hatchback and crossover, and offers all-wheel drive may find the Encore one of the few options on the market. While sales are nowhere near that of Buick's mainstay larger Enclave crossover or LaCrosse sedan, the little Encore takes the brand to a new and younger audience.
The Buick Encore shares some components and underpinnings with the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, but you'd never know it inside or out. Its optional all-wheel drive isn't available on the Sonic either--though the system is tuned for bad-weather traction, rather than off-roading or rocky country tracks. Overall, the shape of the Encore tries to convey a tougher look to disguises its tall boxy shape. The front end is steeply raked, it rides on huge 18-inch wheels, and some of the body sculpting can appear as if the designers were simply trying too hard.
Accommodations are good in certain dimensions--height, particularly--and tighter in others. The Encore is a narrow vehicle, so front-seat passengers can touch elbows occasionally. Its real forte is the flexible interior configuration: The back seat flips and folds down, and even the front passenger seat can fold too. That makes it far more useful as a small hatchback than you might expect from the premium trappings, adding some Honda Fit flexibility to the Buick Verano compact luxury overtones.
Inside, the cockpits of our test cars were either trimmed in all-black materials or a multi-tone palette of cocoa-colored leather and two-tone brown trim that lend a jazzy buzz. There are other color combos too. Befitting the near-luxury Buick brand, the cabin is relatively quiet--though not entirely hushed, since some wind and tire noise still comes through. Active noise cancellation does keep engine roar mostly muted, however.
There's currently just one engine and transmission combination, the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the Sonic mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. (All-wheel drive is optional.) But the Encore verges on 3,200 pounds, which is a lot of mass to move with just 138 horsepower. Even without the added weight of optional all-wheel drive, the 0-to-60-mph run takes around 9 seconds, and if you add the extra weight to drive all the wheels, you'll take 10 seconds and learn to plan your on-ramps and merges well ahead of time.