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2018 Buick Encore review: A plush subcompact crossover

Clean styling, a well-trimmed cabin and comfortable road manners make the Buick Encore a popular subcompact crossover choice.

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Jon Wong
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Jon Wong

Editor / Cars

Jon Wong is a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drives and writes about new cars and oversees coverage on automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.

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There's no shortage of subcompact crossovers on the market. Between well-known options like the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3, not to mention newcomers like the Hyundai Kona and Toyota C-HR, there's a robust field of entry-level options.

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2018 Buick Encore

MSRP

The Good

The Buick Encore impresses with comfortable road manners and a quiet, well-trimmed cabin at an entry-level luxury price. Tech features are also plentiful, with navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities.

The Bad

Doesn't have automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control. Front passenger seat can't be equipped with a center armrest.

The Bottom Line

A strong luxury choice in the subcompact crossover segment.

But what if you want something premium? Sure, you could spend the money on a BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA or Volvo XC40, but Buick offers a just-as-luxurious, less expensive option with its pint-size Encore. And considering it's Buick's best-selling model, it stands to reason the Encore might just be the premium compact SUV you're looking for.

Older, but updated

Despite its having launched in 2013, small improvements throughout the Encore's life cycle have kept it from going stale. The most recent update came for the 2017 model year, bringing a fresh front end with a new waterfall grille and headlights. Overall, the Encore still strikes a mostly understated appearance that's clean and inoffensive, with the chrome wheels of my tester providing a little flash.

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The Encore received a new grille and headlights in 2017.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Up-level fixings are more apparent inside the cabin. Lots of soft-touch materials cover the majority of the dashboard and door panels, and comfortable leather seats coddle you. It's super quiet, too, thanks to laminated glass and Bose noise cancellation system. With winter sticking around the Midwest longer than anticipated this year, my test car's heated front seats and heated steering wheel are also simply wonderful.

For a car with such a small footprint, there's a ton of headroom and a generous 18.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Folding the back seats down expands cargo capacity to 48.4 cubic feet, which comes in handy during a wallet-battering Costco shopping trip.

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Lots of soft-touch surfaces can be found inside the Encore.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

However, the Encore isn't without interior faults. Disappointingly, an armrest for the front passenger seat isn't available and the back seat is snug if you need to shove three adults back there. Even more annoying is the poor quality of the driver's seat underpinnings, which creak when the vehicle is accelerating and stopping, though this might just be a fault of my specific test car.

Tech check

Spearheading infotainment is Buick's IntelliLink system with an 8-inch touchscreen that's fairly responsive to commands and intuitive to use, largely thanks to its big, clearly marked icons. IntelliLink also includes a nice-sounding Bose audio system with seven speakers, an always-excellent OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation is optional, offering quick route guidance calculations and real-time traffic information that will automatically offer alternative routes if a major delay is reported on your trip.

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Managing infotainment inside of the Encore is an 8-inch touchscreen system.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The safety equipment list is respectable with blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rearview camera with rear cross-traffic alert (great for parking lots) and forward collision warning. Oddly, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking are glaring omissions from the list of available safety equipment.

Comfy performer

People shopping for an Encore have two powertrains to choose from, though, curiously, they're both 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engines. The base 1.4 makes 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, while an optional direct-injected 1.4 churns out 153 ponies and 177 pound-feet -- an $895 option that I highly recommend. According to the EPA, the direct-injected engine with front-wheel drive is estimated to return 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

Even with the more potent engine, the Encore is far from quick, but it gets the job done with acceptable acceleration. The six-speed automatic transmission performs smooth but gingerly gear changes. If weighed down with a load of passengers, cargo and available all-wheel drive (which adds about 120 pounds), expect a relatively sluggish start from stop lights.    

2018 Buick Encore Premium: A subcompact SUV with a touch of luxury

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Where the Encore sets itself apart the most from its more affordable competition is in the ride quality department. The suspension damps out impacts from small to medium bumps incredibly well, while steering response isn't bad and cornering capabilities are actually pretty respectable on the 18-inch Continental all-season tires. The Encore's driving behavior is by no means exciting, but comfort is king here, and in that regard, the Buick really delivers.

How I'd spec it

My Buick Encore Premium tester wears a steep $35,630 as-tested price, which prompts me to try to keep my ideal build priced slightly more reasonable. I would begin with a $30,095 Essence trim for the heated front seats and heated steering wheel. The direct-injected engine is a must for $895 and I will stick with front-wheel drive for the lower weight and $1,500 cost savings. A Graphite Grey Metallic paint job tacks on $395 and $2,390 Experience Buick Package adds IntelliLink with the 8-inch touchscreen, navigation and moonroof. That brings the price tag of my Encore to $33,775. Not bad.

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If you're not careful with options, the Encore's price tag can get up there.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Premium pick

As the graybeard of the subcompact crossover segment, the Buick Encore continues to thrive by occupying its own niche within the class. Much like how the Kona and C-HR aim to be hip, urban dwellers, and the Renegade adopts a more rugged, off-road persona, the Encore is the plusher and more premium option. With clean sheetmetal, quality cabin surroundings, a healthy list of tech offerings and impressive ride quality, the Buick is a strong luxury alternative that undercuts the price of its premium rivals.

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2018 Buick Encore

MSRP

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7Design 7.5Media 7.5

Specs

See full specs Engine Turbocharged, 4 Cylinder EngineDrivetrain Front Wheel DriveMPG 28 MPGPassenger Capacity 5Body Type Crossovers, SUVs