Driver's Seat: A Buick from Korea
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: Cuddly crossover.
Price: $32,975 as tested. $29,690 base price (A front-wheel-drive version can be had starting at $24,950.)
Marketer's pitch: "Luxury sized to fit your life."
Conventional wisdom: A Buick from Korea? Are we ready to forgive the sins of Daewoo past?
Reality: As cute and curvy as a comma. Perhaps worth a pregnant pause.
Nice command: The Encore sits very high, affording drivers a commanding view of the road. The leather seats are comfortable for long trips. But I don't understand the power bottom adjustment and the lever seatback adjustment, especially because the lever is tricky to operate.
Good handling: In spite of the seating position and the skinny footprint, the Encore is not wobbly. Handling and maneuverability are very good. It's no Mazda CX-5 for making the curves feel sporty or Subaru Forester for simplicity, but it doesn't jostle like a Sportage.
Be patient: A 1.4-liter EcoTec turbo four-cylinder powers all versions of the Encore. The engine isn't bad but the six-speed automatic transmission is a power suck. Acceleration is OK but it often lingers in lower gears.
Vehicles this small are always better served if they have shift-capable automatic transmissions or manuals available. Sure, there's a plus-minus button on top of the transmission lever, but I'm talking about an actual shifter that actually shifts with a feeling of driver control. The CX-5 isn't going to win any drag races, but the six-speed manual was great for keeping Mr. Driver's Seat from getting bored.
Tuning in: The audio system with navigation (a $795 option) features a bevy of buttons.
On the plus side, it has volume and tuning knobs. Left and right would be more intuitive, but they're clearly marked and that's not a problem.
The problem is in the functionality. If you're watching the map and listening to Sirius XM, the tuning dial controls the zoom on the map. So either you have to have presets set up, or you have to go home, then click "Now playing." And then once you're looking at the radio choices, the first time you turn the dial it only starts the dial mode. So you always have to add one extra click to change the station. And then press the button to get it to change to the new station.
Hot and cold: The heater temperature knob is a very small knob, and each click says it adjusts two degrees. In reality, I felt the heating was so spastic I asked the fleet manager to have the Encore checked for malfunction. Alas, it came back all clear.
I would ignore this entirely if I hadn't owned a Chevrolet Lumina with air conditioning that died at 70,000 miles and a Pontiac Transport that long had issues of not cooling sufficiently before it finally lost all cooling function on the driver's side.
This one test of the Encore is not enough to disqualify it, so compare with other writers' or owners' reports.
Beauty on the inside: Enough about the bad stuff. It's a nice vehicle. Buick's ice-blue gauges and interiors are beautiful and nice enough to take on other luxobrands.
Friends and stuff: The rear seat offers just enough room for feet and legs, so occupants aren't going to sprawl out back there. Three better be small or friendly.
A little storage bin atop the glove box a la the newest Volkswagen Beetle is a nice touch. But space between the seats is at a premium. A small bin fits CDs but then its door doesn't close. And lowering the emergency brake with cups in the holders can be a knuckle scraper.
The cargo behind the seat is as small as you'd expect but not horrible.
Looking backward: Rear visibility is a real issue. I worried about passing because of the curved-up side windows and the shorty-short rear window. And the rear wiper is laughably tiny so wet-weather visibility is a special challenge.
Fuel economy: I report a respectable 27 mpg in highway-heavy driving, including a trip down I-95 to Washington, D.C., that involved a ton of stop and go. (CX-5 is the category winner here, too, at 32 mpg.)
Where it's built: Bupyeong Gu, South Korea.
How it's built: Buick falls just below average in Consumer Reports' overall reliability surveys of automakers, although the brand has risen quite well on JD Powers' initial quality surveys.
Still, it's been 12 years since Daewoo left the States in an embarrassing defeat of "Buy one, get one free" sales. Have they learned under new management? Remember Hyundai and Kia were once the joke of the neighborhood and they've risen quite well on reliability surveys.
In the end: This definitely meets Buick's level of intelligent and attractive design, and is not a bad ride.
But I don't need the fancy touches and would probably be happier in a more Spartan CX-5.
Next week: A last glance at the 2013 Chevrolet Silverado, before the redesigned 2014 comes out.
First Published March 20, 2013 12:00 am