Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: October 17, 2020
GM has consistently tasked Buick with the tricky job of straddling the fine line between mainstream and luxury. It’s a position that requires the marquee to be luxurious enough to separate itself from the more mainstream Chevrolet label, yet be accessible enough to not scare away buyers with a Cadillac-like price-point. Buick has challenged the market with entrants like the Encore and until very recently, the Regal Sportback.
The Encore GX is all new to the lineup, and is the latest to step onto the compact crossover canvas, one of the hottest segments in Canada. And while the GX sounds like a specific trim, here it actually stands for Grand Crossover, a bit of a confusing misnomer as its actual size slots in between the subcompact Encore and the larger Envision.
Thankfully, while the sheet metal on the Encore looks like an Enclave that has gone through a trash compactor, the GX more closely resembles the Enclave Avenir and upcoming Envision. The new look really stems from the grill, which is devoid of the vertical slats found in Buicks to date. The new grill ties in better with the headlights, giving the front fascia a more integrated look. It’s been designed with purpose, as opposed to the Encore which looks like they pulled a grill from the Enclave’s assembly line and slapped it on a Chevy Trax. It really helps the brand differentiate itself from the rest of GM’s lineup, giving further credence to its mission of looking more upscale. Speaking of which, the headlights and taillights are all LED here too.
Being a Buick (and the top Essence trim), the cabin gets treated with a more premium approach. Starting with the seating surfaces, the Essence trim comes loaded with leather appointed seats, a heated leather steering wheel, and even a leather wrapped centre console. The dash looks mighty familiar too with soft touch surfaces, and leather surrounding the 8-inch infotainment screen. Where the cabin pulls inspiration from the more mainstream Chevys are apparent in the button layout beneath the screen, the HVAC controls, and the shift lever - all of which can be found in various other Chevrolet products, including the Encore GX’s platform sibling, the Trailblazer. Ultimately, Cadillac's residence at the top of the GM totem pole represents a bit of a glass ceiling to what Buick can offer. Thus, while the in-cabin experience does fall short against a Cadillac XT4, on the whole however, the GX doesn’t feel that far off. That’s a really good thing.
Beneath the hood sits one of two engine choices, either a turbocharged 1.2L, or a 1.3L EcoTec 3-cylinder. The 1.2L base power plant comes equipped on all front-wheel-drive versions of the Encore GX. Naturally then, all-wheel-drive models will receive the larger 1.3L 3-cylinder as standard (Select, and Essence trim levels). As one can expect with a 0.1L displacement delta between the two motors, the increase in HP (even in force fed applications) isn’t substantial. The 1.2L produces 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, while the larger unit generates 18 hp and 12 lb-ft more. Though this may make a great case in swinging for the front-wheel-drive exclusive option, the AWD is still the one to get, and that’s mostly due to the 9-speed automatic transmission on the 1.3L, as opposed to the CVT mated to the 1.2L.
On the road, the 9-speed shifts seamlessly, shuffling between cogs almost imperceptibly. The transmission does its best to make the most of the 174 lb-ft of torque. Off the line, the Buick feels peppy and eager to move, largely thanks to the transmission and the peak torque that becomes available very early in the powerband. Dip into the throttle when engaging in a highway pass or on-ramp though, and the diminutive Encore buzzes and wheezes, struggling to generate forward momentum. Body motions are well controlled, with the ride never feeling harsh, but the suspension has been tuned with some semblance of sporty handling in mind. It’s here I would’ve liked to see it focus more on comfort, to further that plush Buick factor. Instead, the handling feels closer to the downmarket sibling, the Trailblazer RS.
And it’s here where things can get a little tricky. The base price for the Encore GX Essence starts at $32,598. There’s also an Encore GX ST model which is identical in MSRP and adds a sportier body kit, an exclusive grill, and body coloured side mouldings which I happen to quite like. This vehicle as-tested rang in at $37,683, which included three major option packs: a $1,195 White Frost tricoat, a $2,195 Advanced Technology Package (adaptive cruise, park assist, and a heads up display), and the $1,695 Experience Buick package (navigation and a panoramic roof). You can easily pare down the options list by getting rid of the tricoat paint but even so, you’re still dangerously close to Audi’s Q3, a true luxury compact crossover. There are an abundance of rivals from the downmarket as well. For example, the Mazda CX-30 can be had in loaded GT guise for $34,300 and not to mention the impressively agile and adorable Chevrolet Trailblazer RS which rings up less than the Encore GX too. All of this only seems to underscore the daunting challenge that Buick faces, and ultimately proves that the fine line between mainstream and luxury remains ever so thin.
Model: 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence
Paint Type: White Frost Tricoat
Base Price: $26,098
Price as Tested: $37,683
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,354 / 1,814 / 1,628
Curb weight (kg): 1,485
Engine: 1.3-litre turbocharged inline-three
Horsepower: 155 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 174 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.0 / 8.0
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.3