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Ah, the subcompact crossover class. It's a weird little distinction rapidly gaining popularity as Americans realize they don't really want a giant SUV, but rather a tall hatchback with a higher seating position. The segment has grown by leaps and bounds with Mazda, Chevrolet and Toyota all offering their own versions.
However, the company most known for extra-large luxury may just be putting out one of the best subcompact crossovers on the market. Yep, I'm talking about the 2017 Buick Encore.
I know, I know. I'm not old enough to be praising a Buick, but stick with me here.
The Encore comes standard with a 1.4-liter turbo engine good for 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. However, in my top-of-the-line Premium trim that engine was modified to kick out 153 horses and 177 pound-feet of torque. The extra oomph comes through direct injection and is an $895 option, and while I haven't driven the standard engine, I think it's worth an extra $60 per horsepower for a bit more hustle.
If you needed a push to get the more powerful engine, EPA fuel ratings might just be the ticket. The all-wheel-drive direct-injection Encore gets a rating of 26 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, while the base gets 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Those numbers rise for the front-wheel-drive version. I took the all-wheel-drive Encore on an 1,100-mile road trip of mostly highway driving and it only returned 27.4 mpg. Granted those miles were done at slightly illegal speeds, but a discrepancy of nearly 5 miles is nothing to sniff at.
Regardless of your engine choice, the Encore gets a six-speed automatic transmission. My test model came in all-wheel drive, but you can save $1,500 by opting for the front-wheel drive version.
The Encore isn't going to win any awards for the most fun subcompact crossover to drive. I'd put that on the Nissan Juke or the Mazda CX-3. Instead it's a competent and composed ride, easily soaking up rough pavement and keeping passengers safe and comfortable. The transmission keeps things moving along with smooth and quiet shifts and the short wheelbase make the little guy feel a bit more nimble than larger crossovers like the Honda CR-V.
I do have a few complaints, however. First, Buick makes idle-stop, which shuts down the engine during traffic stops, mandatory with the more powerful engine. It's a smooth start-up as soon as your foot leaves the brake pedal, but there were times I just wanted to turn it off. Maybe it's just my controlling nature, but I think the driver should be able to choose when to activate a feature like start/stop, regardless of its flawless application.
I also wished for adaptive cruise control, something not offered on any trim line of the Encore. It's available in the Driver Confidence package on the larger Enclave crossover as well as on competitors like the Mazda CX-3 and Chevrolet Trax. Including it on the Encore would be a welcome addition.
For 2017 the Encore got a visual refresh, lending it a modern and sophisticated look. The front now sports LED headlamps, and coming off the A-pillar the hood has some interesting sculptural moments, but it's on the inside that Buick made the most improvements.
Buyers will appreciate the quiet and well-appointed cabin. The car's speakers emit noise-canceling sound waves, and sound-deadening insulation makes for very little road and wind noise. There are plenty of upscale materials inside with chrome accents and contrast stitching. The available 8-inch color touchscreen integrates nicely into the dash, a change from last year's model with a screen that jutted up from the dash. This change results in a full view of the street without any infotainment system distraction.
Buick's IntelliLink system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a nifty weather app and real-time traffic alerts. Satellite radio and navigation are also available. IntelliLink is pretty easy to use and though inputs are a tad slow, it's livable. I found it easy to pair my phone and set up my preferred radio stations. For audio sources, it offers two USB ports plus satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming. The Encore comes with 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hotspot. I have unlimited data on my cell phone, so I don't need to spend $10-$40 each month on a data plan, but if you depend on Wi-Fi to stay connected, you'll find it useful. OnStar's Basic plan, which shows vehicle diagnostics, is included for five years, while the OnStar Guidance plan, offering automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance and roadside assistance, is standard for six months. After that, expect to pay $350 per year for the same services.
While there are three seat belts in the rear seat, cramming three adults back there would be pushing it. But there is plenty of room for two full-size adults in the rear, and you could possibly fit a small child or your full-size enemy between them.
The Encore has a good amount of storage, and the lay-flat front seat helps with longer packages. There is nearly 19 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, going up to just over 48 with those seats folded down. That's about in line with the Jeep Renegade, slightly more than the Mazda CX-3, and much more cargo room than you get in the Nissan Juke, which maxes out at 36 cubic feet.
There is quite a bit of competition in this segment, even if you don't include the larger compact crossovers that most folks would cross-shop with the 2017 Buick Encore. I talked about driving fun earlier with the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke, but off-road enthusiasts should look at the Jeep Renegade and those looking for something totally new may want to wait for the Toyota C-HR, which debuted at the New York Auto Show earlier this year. You may also want to look at something a bit larger like the Mazda CX-5 or Honda CR-V. However, the Encore has premium features not present in much of the competition although it has a slightly higher price tag as well.
It's tough to find fault with the Encore. It's far from an enthusiast crossover and that's okay. Its peppy engine is enough to get you around town, the ride is quiet and comfy and there are enough features to satisfy most folks. My Premium trim line starts at $30,465 but with some fancy tricoat paint, a sunroof, the more powerful engine, navigation and all-wheel drive, the final price is $36,175.