TORONTO, ON – Buick survived the purge at General Motors primarily due to its strong sales in China. With Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Hummer and Saab all gone, GM's original nameplate was left alone to bridge the substantial gap between Chevrolet and Cadillac.
Perhaps because of that Chinese success, the division immediately began developing products based heavily on GM’s global resources.
The first “new” Buick out of the chute after the corporate reorganization was the big Enclave SUV which had been under development before the bankruptcy. Since then, there has been a steady stream of new cars, all of them based on platforms developed in and for Europe and/or Asia.
The second generation Lacrosse, based on GM’s mid-size Epsilon II global platform, appeared as a 2010 model. A global effort, it is sold and built in North America, Korea and China.
It was engineered in Germany, based on a new global mid-size platform, the stiffest structure ever engineered for a GM passenger car.
The Regal name had disappeared after the 2004 model year, but was resurrected for 2011 on an Americanized version of the Opel Insignia which was under development as a new version of the Saturn Aura when the plug was pulled on the Saturn division. The fifth generation Regal, built in Oshawa, went on sale in the spring of 2010.
The compact Verano shares its global small car (Delta II) platform with the Volt and Chevrolet Cruze, but Buick went to great lengths to ensure it fits above that class with extensive work on NVH and other refinement issues.
Encore continues the practice
This steady stream of new product continues with the 2013 Encore, the smallest Buick yet. It is a sub-compact crossover that shares its platform with the Opel Mokka sold in Europe, the Chevrolet Sonic and the recently introduced Chevrolet Trax.
Another global product, the Encore is built in South Korea. It allows Buick to sandwich the SUV/CUV segment with the big seven-seat Enclave at the other end.
To get an idea of just how small the Encore is, think Honda Fit or Chevy Sonic. With a tiny but tall body, it is city-friendly, fitting into tight spots and easy to maneuver in crowded areas.
While the Encore shares most major components with the Chevy Trax, Buick’s development team has done a great job of moving it upscale in appearance, inside and out, and refinement on the road. On the outside it is readily identified as a Buick by the big waterfall grill, silly fake vents on the hood and big 18-inch alloy wheels.
Roomy for its size
The first thing you notice when climbing aboard is the tall seating position and excellent visibility. There is ample room for four adults, although those in front will rub elbows if they are of any significant size.
The tall cargo area provides 532 litres of cargo space behind the second row and 1,371 with it folded down.
The next thing you will notice is a level of refinement and luxury unavailable in anything else of this size, with rich, warm colours, and an overall look and feel of luxury. The design staff has ensured nobody will mistake this for an economy vehicle.
A look through the leather-wrapped steering wheel reveals a quartet of clear analog instruments. A big 18-cm touch screen tops the centre stack. The trim on instrument panel and doors is subtle and classy, with some faux wood and chrome trim, but not too much.
The optional leather trim is a significant cut above that normally found in GM products. The Encore also impresses for its use of rich and warm colours compared to the dark preferred by most others these days.
Once you get underway, the visual impression of luxury and refinement is reinforced by an extremely quiet ride. This is the single greatest impression I took away after a few hours with this new baby Buick.
Extensive “Quiet Tuning” efforts have paid off. An acoustic-laminated windshield, thick sound-deadening blankets beneath, an acoustically-treated headliner above and a Bose noise-cancelling system (using the same technology as their earphones) makes this an exceptionally quiet vehicle.
The Encore comes in three trim levels: Convenience, Leather and Premium. Front-wheel-drive is standard and a new AWD system is optional.
Standard equipment on the least expensive model includes: power windows, locks and mirrors, OnStar, automatic climate control, cruise control, remote keyless entry, tilt & telescope steering wheel, power driver’s seat, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and Buick’s voice-activate system for audio and phone.
Strangely, a backup camera and heated seats are not included in the base trim.
I drove a $37,000 example here during the Encore's Canadian introduction without a navigation system so obviously there are some strange gaps in the equipment specs.
The safety bases are covered by the mandatory ABS, electronic stability and traction control systems, as well as 10 airbags.
The Encore gets its motivation from the smallest engine ever used by the brand, a 138-horsepower, 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. It's the same one used in the Chevrolet Cruze, Sonic and Trax.
The engine and transmission are suitable for city work, but lack the suds for effortless highway passing or long hills.
The Encore is a fuel-sipper of major proportions, however. Natural Resources Canada says 8.7 litres/100 km in the city and even if that number is as far off as most NRCan ratings, it will still be a benchmark for Buick.
The body is very solid and the suspension tuned for ride quality rather than canyon carving. But there is very little lean when it's pressed in the turns and and it has an impressive ride for such a light and small vehicle.
Al in all, the Encore is a good-looking, well-finished sub-compact crossover that could bring a whole new set of consumers to the brand.