2017 Buick Encore First Drive Review

Quick: What’s Buick’s best-selling vehicle? You’d be forgiven for guessing LaCrosse or Enclave because the premium automaker’s best-seller last year is arguably one of the most forgotten about in the subcompact luxury CUV segment—the pint-sized Buick Encore. The Encore was a pleasant surprise when it burst onto the scene in 2014, even earning itself an SUV of the Year finalist nod. Not one to let the grape wither on the vine, Buick released the refreshed 2017 Buick Encore this year with new sheetmetal and an upgraded engine, all while dropping its already budget-friendly price.

2017 Buick Encore

Based on the Opel Mokka, the Buick Encore was a surprise success when the little South Koreanbuilt crossover came to the U.S. Much of that success can be attributed to entering an exploding subcompact crossover market at the right time, but it would be doing the Encore a disservice to overlook its other strengths. The Buick is a pretty compelling package with premium-grade materials, a budget-friendly price, and exceptional packaging given its small, city-friendly size.

With new competition coming at it from the likes of Jeep and Mazda, the 2017 Buick Encore gets an extensive refresh to stay current. The mid-cycle changes are pretty minor. Outside, the Encore loses the Stay Puft exterior design in favor of a crisper, modern design; inside, the 46,000 buttons that formerly made up the center stack have been tossed in favor of a simplified design with a modern Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-friendly infotainment system.

Available in front- and all-wheel drive and with a standard six-speed automatic, the Encore now comes with one of two versions of its 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4: a carryover version making 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque and a high-performance version producing 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The optional engine is standard on the new Encore Sport Touring trim or an $895 option on Preferred II, Essence, and Premium trims. The 138-hp version of the engine is good for 27/33/30 mpg city/highway/combined in front-drive form and 24/30/27 mpg with all-wheel drive. The 153-hp engine, which comes with auto stop/start tech, is good for 25/33/28 mpg with front-wheel drive and 26/31/28 mpg with all-wheel drive.

The Encore’s new looks, small size, and zippy performance really lend to the impression that its sort of a diet hot hatch, so I took our Encore tester up a tight switchback-laden mountain road. The Encore was out of its element, but it wasn’t half-bad. The Buick’s body roll and ride quality were exceptional—not easy to do in such a tall, short package like the Encore’s—and its steering rack, although a touch too light in the feel department, offered up satisfactory feedback from the road. The engine remains spunky throughout its powerband even if it feels like it’s going to shake itself to pieces above 4,000 rpm, vibrating everything from the gas pedal to the seats.

Out of the mountains and back on the freeway, I had a few hours to get to know the Encore’s new interior. The 2017 redesign arguably fixes what was the Encore’s biggest flaw, its button-mad center stack. The mid-cycle refresh has moved the high-mounted infotainment system to within arm’s reach of the driver and front passenger by repositioning the air-conditioning vents. The new Buick Intellilink infotainment system (which is identical to GMC’s Intellilink and Chevy’s MyLink) is among the most intuitive in the industry, and it really allowed Buick’s designer’s to reduce clutter in the cabin by eliminating all of the old infotainment system’s buttons. With its new iPad-like minimalistic design, the Encore’s cabin is quite a nice place to be.

Although the Buick Encore still leads the division’s sales, its lead in the segment has given way to the Jeep Renegade. As such the Encore is priced to move, starting at $24,310. The cheapest Encore with the upgraded engine is the mid-level Encore Sport Touring, which goes for $26,885 with front-wheel drive. It’s easy to spend more to get luxuries like leather, heated seats, and forward collision alert, but doing so could quickly get you into the $30,000 range, where the Encore’s value proposition starts to erode some.

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