2020 Buick Encore GX Essence
Class: Subcompact Crossover
Miles driven: 203
Fuel used: 6.1 gallons
|CG Report Card
|Room and Comfort
|Power and Performance
|Fit and Finish
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
|Big & Tall Comfort
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.
Real-world fuel economy: 33.2 mpg
Driving mix: 40% city, 60% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 30/32/31 (mpg city/highway/combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Base price: $28,500 (not including $995 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Advanced Technology Package ($1790), Convenience Package ($770), Sport Touring Package ($650), Liftgate Package ($520), Satin Steel Gray Metallic paint ($495), Ecotec 1.3L turbo engine ($395)
Price as tested: $34,115
The great: City and highway fuel economy; generous list of standard comfort and safety features
The good: Pleasant ride and handling; good passenger and cargo room for a subcompact SUV
The not so good: Engine is slightly throbby; some so-so cabin materials; thick rear roof pillars compromise rear view
While the automotive world was having its mind blown over Ford’s declaration that it planned to more or less get out of the passenger-car business to concentrate on trucks and SUV/crossover vehicles, Buick essentially did the same thing. It just kept its mouth shut about it.
Now, at the introduction of the newest member of the Buick SUV family, the 2020 Encore GX subcompact, the manufacturer points out that 90 percent of its U.S. sales come from these kinds of vehicles. Put that in your “Ventiport” and smoke it. The GX is 3 inches longer overall than the Encore that entered Buick in the tiny-ute game in 2013 (but still more than a foot shorter than the Envision compact). Wheelbase is 1.6 inches greater, too. However, the GX is on a different platform, one that is shared with the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer.
There are other significant differences. Encore GXs offer the choice of two turbocharged 3-cylinder engines in place of the veteran model’s turbo four. Buick also places a lot of emphasis on the new product’s complement of connectivity features, particularly its new built-in app that permits drivers with Amazon Alexa service to interact with it remotely. That’s in addition to standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity and Bluetooth phone and streaming capability, and the available Marketplace app for making restaurant reservations, buying fuel, etc.
Encore GX comes in ascending Preferred, Select, and Essence trim levels, each with the choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Consumer Guide tested a front-drive Essence that was nicely equipped at $34,115, up from a starting price—with delivery—of $29,495. (At each trim level, AWD adds $2000.) A $650 appearance package, which was on the test vehicle, turns the GX into a Sport Touring.
A quick summary of standard features on the Essence begins with items carried up from the Preferred and Select levels. The universally standard Buick Driver Confidence package includes automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, following-distance indicator, and automatic headlight high-beam control. Additional monitoring, standard at the Select level, comes with lane-change, blind-spot, and rear cross-traffic alerts. There’s also “QuietTuning” cabin-noise attenuation, keyless entry and starting, remote starting, Buick Infotainment System with an 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, heated front seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, roof rails, and 18-aluminum wheels. Finishing touches for the Essence are LED headlamps and taillamps, chrome-accented bumpers, leather upholstery, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-way power front-passenger seat, air ionizer, and a 120-volt electrical outlet at the rear of the center console.
There’s plenty more that can be added to the Encore GX. Some of the things that found their way into CG’s tester from various packages and stand-alone options were a surround-vision camera, head-up display, navigation, wireless charging, rear-camera mirror, and hands-free liftgate.
The test vehicle ran the “big mill,” a 155-horsepower 1.3-liter turbo three that’s a $395 upgrade from the 137-horse 1.2-liter engine standard in front-drive GXs. (The former is the sole engine with AWD.) The 1.3’s maximum torque output is a slight 8 lb-ft greater at 174, but it arrives much sooner at just 1600 rpm, which makes an Encore GX with this powerplant reasonably lively. (Buick claims it will hit 60 mph in 8.04 seconds, .86 second quicker than one with the 1.2.) The downside to the engine is that it’s not the smoothest thing around; there’s a throbbing sensation to it, especially when operating at lower speeds. A continuously variable transmission is standard on front-drivers, while a 9-speed automatic goes into all-wheel drivers.
Not only is the 1.3 supposedly zippier—it’s thriftier, too. The EPA rates the 1.3/CVT at 30 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway, and 31 combined, anywhere from 2 to 4 mpg better than the 1.2. Our testers managed to beat the EPA’s 32-mpg highway number, averaging 33.2 mpg in a test that consisted of 60 percent highway driving.
Unless you must have a sports-car edge to your driving, there’s really nothing wrong with the Encore GX dynamically. Steering is fairly progressive, and it rides and handles a little better than you might expect.
As for its accommodations, it feels spacious up front, with pretty good headroom in an airy cabin. Driver vision is good save for thickish rear roof pillars that form something of an obstruction. The second row displays decent headroom with legroom that folks up to, say, 6 feet tall will like. Three teenagers might fit across the rear seat—a flat floor in the middle helps—but the maximum adult daily requirement is two. Unfortunately, seat comfort throughout is no better than acceptable.
Cabin ambience isn’t profuse, either. There are lightly padded areas atop the dashboard, on the front door tops, all door panels, and on the passenger side of the console (where a knee might make contact). A little bright trim barely relieved the overwhelming blackness of the test vehicle’s cabin. A plus is controls that are easy to work. The audio system is programmed directly, with no gimmicks. Climate control benefits from three dials that allow users to make the settings they want right away.
For personal-item storage there is an ample glove box, a narrow but deep covered console bin that is deep beneath a tray for incidentals, pouches on the backs of the front seats, and pockets in all four doors (but smaller in the rear doors). Exposed cup holders are in the console and the retractable rear armrest.
Rear cargo space doesn’t look big behind the second-row seats, but there are 23.5 cubic feet there. Good space exists under the floor around the spare tire. The surface is flocked, not painted metal, so it might be a little gentler on objects stashed there. Rear 60/40-split seats fold flat, albeit with a gap between them and the cargo floor. The front passenger seat also folds flat to accommodate extra-long objects.
How soon will it be before Buick is 100 percent SUV? Consider this: At its 2020 Chicago Auto Show display, no “10-percenters” were on the floor.
2020 Buick Encore GX