Buick Encore GX: No, Really, You Should Read This

I don’t normally say things like this, but I didn’t originally expect to like the Buick Encore GX. At all. A confusing name, designed for a different market, and with a pair of tiny three-cylinder engines? On paper, it felt more like a return to the days of the J-Body Skyhawk. Instead, in a feat that doesn’t happen often these days, the Encore GX was a really pleasant surprise.

First that name. Encore GX. It means Grand Crossover, Buick told me the other day, and, well, I wish they hadn’t. At least they didn’t find a way to cram an N in there and make it the Encore GNX (though an Encore Grand National would have been at least 200 percent cooler). I’m also going to ignore the Encore GX ST, which seems to have found a stack of old badges the Ford wasn’t using–maybe they ordered too many?–and stuck it on the boot.

The Encore GX sits suspiciously above of the other Encore in the range. It’s about four inches longer, a hair wider, and, worryingly, a couple of inches shorter in height. I say “worryingly” because one of the things GM does best is headroom. The regular Encore has headroom that tops some full-size crossovers, and the last thing anyone over six-feet wants is another CX-3 or Infiniti QX30 or any number of other crossovers with less headspace than a sedan.

Don’t worry, though, Buick hasn’t delivered a dunce for anyone sitting close to the clouds. And that’s not important just for tall drivers, it makes it easier for anyone to get in and out and it lets shorter drivers sit with the seats raised for a more commanding view of the road. It’s good even in the back. This is still a subcompact crossover but it’s big inside. It looks big on the outside, but since a crossover of this size is replacing a car like the Verano, the ability to seat four actual people is important.

So what about those three-cylinder engines? Well, the bigger one, at least, is loud. A 1.3-liter turbo three that makes 155 hp does a great job to move this crossover around with a lot more fun than you’d expect. It’s never struggling on ramps or when passing, thanks to the nine-speed auto that’s not slow to grab gears and is not afraid to let the engine whine to redline.

Stand outside the Encore GX with that 1.3 running (FWD models get a slightly less powerful 1.2) and it’s surprisingly loud. Sounding like some sort of low-stress motorcycle, it clatters and rattles at idle. But inside, it’s nearly silent. From behind the wheel, thanks to loads of sound isolation and active noise canceling, the GX’s three is as refined as any four-cylinder around.

Instead of that rattle from outside, you get a unique sound signature that promises far more performance than is on offer. The only time the engine intrudes is when you’re under heavy load and accelerating up a hill. Then, holding onto gear as the tach climbs from four to five-thousand rpm, is the only time it gets rowdy. Even steady state at those revs is suitably Buick silent. You’ll hear more of it with a window down, but even the ANC feature does a good job of fooling your ear.

That silence extends to wind noise, too. Highway cruising winds don’t interfere with conversation, even with the panoramic top open. The tires, though, were not chosen for their hushed tones, and road noise from the Kumhos (and I’ve noted the same with this rubber on other cars) is annoying.

Buick has loaded the Encore GX with tech, and that includes Amazon Alexa integration. The ability to ask Alexa to start your vehicle is cool, as is getting status updates about vehicle systems, but we can’t see using it much after the first few times. If you have a connected house, you’re probably more interested, but we don’t know anyone yet who has one.

Using Alexa for directions, though, is more frustrating. It was unable to find any of the addresses we requested, while Siri and the Google Assistant had no trouble with any of them. This seemed to be at least partly on the GM infotainment system, which didn’t have the range of POIs that phone navigation would, and sent us down roads that were mere cart paths on multiple occasions.

Strangely missing here is the wireless version of CarPlay and Android Auto. Both are present on the Trailblazer, so it seems like an odd omission here. Blame the still slightly older Buick demographic?

The dash is typical Buick, and it could easily be a scaled version of the one found in all of the other Buick crossovers, but that’s fine with us. Like those, it gets an available caramel accenting to liven things up, and it’s both elegant and functional to use. There’s a large digital display in the dash, and an infotainment system that’s responsive and easy to use, and most of the HVAC functions have real physical buttons. Below the HVAC stack is a wireless charge slot, and easy-find buttons for the parking sensors, park assist, AWD, and some other often-used drive bits. The only control we wish was easier to get to is for the surround-view cameras, and that button requires a trip to the infotainment home screen.

Seats are comfortable, though the fold-flat front passenger seat means no power recline on that side. The seat bottoms are on the short side of the scale, but you’ll know immediately if there’s enough thigh support for you or not.

With that front seat folded–which I call the dad feature since for some reason all dads love this–the rear seat down (the larger side of the split-fold bench is on the passenger side to help work with that folding seat), and the cargo cover in the high position, there’s nearly-flat space to hold an eight-foot board. The cargo floor cover can move to a lower height that means no flat floor to the seats, but an extra three or four inches of height on demand.

On the road, the Encore GX rides as a low-priced Buick should. Not as soft as the larger Buicks, this one is right on the edge of firm-riding, but still quiet and predictable, with thumps over bumps that aren’t out of place in the class. Body roll is controlled, by crossover standards, and the wheelbase isn’t too short to give it an upsetting ride on the highway. While the noise-canceling keeps the engine in check, it doesn’t stop vibrations. Some part of the driving environment, either pedal, wheel, or seat, showed some level of vibration in nearly all conditions. It’s not so bad it’s bothersome, it’s just a little unusual in a vehicle these days.

Props to the parking assist feature, which still isn’t as quick as just backing into a space myself, but is as close to it as any of these assistance features I’ve driven before. It’s also one of the lowest-priced models around to come with the feature (optional on Essence), and that’s sort of the strange position the Encore GX finds itself in.

See, Buick told us that this competes with the likes of the HR-V, CX-3, and other city utes, but that’s where the standard Encore plays. And it does a better job, because while this GX starts at just a few dollars more than the Encore, it extends much higher. And much higher than most of the class. It sits between vehicles like the BMW X1 and the standard Encore, while being more refined and luxurious than the X1 (if not as quick). From $24,100 for a base front-driver to $35k for an Essence with every box ticked (and that top-spec car available without AWD), there are bargains to be had here.

Buick has found a niche for the model, making it a much better replacement for something like the Verano than the smaller Encore would be. It’s small, but not too small. Affordable, but not “cheap.” It doesn’t get the fuel economy a same-size car would, but that’s true of every crossover and the market doesn’t seem to give a damn. At least a returned 31 mpg in our week with it makes it less guilty of the crossover creep than most others.

Going in and expecting a vehicle that made no sense, we instead found a crossover that makes a lot of it. Just-right sizing and an appealing point of entry (though we’ll never understand why base trim is Preferred and top-spec is Essence) make this worth a look. Just never speak of Grand Crossover ever again. Please. No, seriously, Buick, do something about that. We’ll call it the Buick Encore GoldiloX, because for many crossover shoppers looking for larger vehicles, we think they’d find this one just right.

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