Encore to the Encore. The original Buick Encore was a trailblazer (no, not the Chevy model). Prior to its 2013 debut, subcompact crossovers were a mighty rare species and usually took the form of oddball vehicles like the Nissan Cube or Dodge Caliber. The Encore changed all that. It made the pint-size class mainstream with its appeal to the ordinary. Today, subcompact crossovers are enjoying some of the strongest sales growth of any segment.

GM has recognized the success of their original formula, and so the Encore now has a running mate in the Buick stable: the Encore GX. The new ute shares the Chevrolet TrailBlazer chassis but adds more sound deadening and uses its own swoopy sheet metal and a proper Buick-grade interior. The whole package offers shoppers more style and luxury than the standard Encore.

A commendable job was done tying in Buick's latest design cues as well. The front end of the 2021 Buick Encore GX sports a mesh grille that's split through the middle by a chrome bar, which decorates a more upright front end than the shovelnose Encore.

The rear of the Encore GX is also more tasteful and thankfully shares no Chevy bits; the same can't be said of the Encore. From all angles, it's clear the Encore GX's new style brings improved proportions over the Encore.

Three-cylinder power. Unlike many of its wee competitors, the Encore GX offers only turbocharged three-cylinder power. Base models get a 1.2-liter engine making 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, but a few hundred dollars buys a 1.3-liter making 155 hp and 174 lb-ft. The 1.2-liter is strictly front-wheel drive and uses a continuously variable transmission. The bigger engine offers that combo as well, or can pair with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic.

The lightest Encore GX tips the scales at 3,000 pounds, a figure which can tax the little turbo-threes motivating that mass. The 0-60 mph sprint requires nearly 10 seconds, so flat-footing it is pretty much a requirement when getting on the highway. High-speed passing is likewise dismal due to its laggard nature.

At around-town speeds, however, the slowness fades into the background. Both turbocharged powertrains provide the torque right off the bat, enabling the tiny crossover to scoot from stoplight to stoplight without thought.

The heaps of sound deadening that have become a Buick hallmark has the Encore GX feeling more luxurious than it is. If the engines are straining, no one would know, as only a few muted revs ever penetrate into the cabin. Even hard acceleration won't interrupt the cabin's reverie of quiet.

The ride nicely complements that hushed environment. Never sporty but always composed, the Buick clearly has its priorities straight – and those priorities are smoothness, silence, and stability. It won't disappoint buyers who just want a relaxed driving experience. Yet there's nothing overly soft about the Encore GX, either. Buick got the chassis tuning just right in our eyes.

The 1.2-liter turbo-three is EPA rated at 28 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway, and 29 combined. This increases with the larger engine to 30/32/31 mpg (city/highway/combined). In real life, however, we'd expect those numbers to trend a little lower, as any sort of hastiness in the Encore GX pretty much requires flat-out acceleration. It's inevitable such behavior will have an impact on fuel economy.


Buick Encore GX

Luxurious interior. Buick traditionally was a bona-fide luxury manufacturer, building cars that could compete against Cadillacs in all ways but ostentatiousness.

Though that hasn't been the case for some time now, Buick still knows how to craft a fine cabin. The Encore GX is a reminder of that. It's replete with quality materials and showcases an attention to detail that merits the Buick badge. For the price point, it's hard to fault this well-conceived interior.

If there's anything to quibble with, it's the seats. They do get leather upholstery and power adjustment on most trims, but we found them uncomfortably narrow and flat. You don't notice it on short trips, but set out on a road trip and anyone of a larger build will understand why we bring this up. Those with smaller frames won't take as much issue with the narrowness of the seats. The flat cushions are universally disappointing, though.

The back seat is more comfortable, and riders shouldn't have trouble stretching out their legs. It feels as if the Encore GX has more leg room than the original Encore, though the spec sheet says that there's only another half-inch of it.

That feeling might be born out of the general sense of roominess permeating the cabin of the Encore GX. Generous head room and a fair amount of glass area keep things airy inside.

It can fit 24 cubic feet worth of cargo behind the rear seats. That's five more than the Encore, and also more than competitors such as the Kia Soul and Mazda CX-30. It also is roomier than pricier, more luxurious competitors like the Volvo XC40 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class.

Uniquely priced. That brings us to talks of the competition. Buick sells itself as upmarket, but its pricing puts it in the thick of the mainstream class. A starting price of about $25,000 puts it at about $5,000 more than the related Chevy Trailblazer and its competitive set, but is still a good $10,000 less than true luxury models like the aforementioned Volvo and Mercedes. Only fully-loaded examples come near the $35,000 mark.

This middle ground could be a boon to the Buick, appealing as it does to people who want something nicer than what the mainstream models can offer but can't or don't want to spend big dollars on such a small ride. The attributes of the Buick – a composed ride, quiet cabin, and a generally luxurious look and feel – certainly support it in its mission to offer luxury traits at a more affordable price.

Yet, what could prove to be its undoing is embedded in that very argument. Luxury cars aren't rational at any price point; they're primary selling point isn't space or practicality but image. A BMW or Mercedes conveys a certain ideal that's absent on more affordable cars.

And with lease offers being what they are, the spread in MSRP between a Mazda and a Mercedes doesn't look all that big when shown in monthly payment form. This phenomenon killed off the mid-tier luxury market long ago, yet Buick remains insistent on trying to make it work.

Final thoughts. We hope for the sake of the 2021 Buick Encore GX that the automaker can make a go of it. As an enticing offering in a unique price point, it doles out more luxury than the mainstream set but doesn't have the requisite luxury-car price tag. Modestly priced and well-appointed, the Encore GX ably upholds the torch first held aloft by the original Encore.

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