2015 Buick Encore: The All-Seasons Crossover

By Sue Mead, March 14th, 2015

I grew up in New England so I know snow and ice. The Northeast is my home and is where my flights land when I'm not testing vehicles and traveling the globe.

Though warmer weather is finally here the truth is I'm always looking for the opportunity to motor in snow, especially on closed-course tracks that allow me to push the throttle and get "sideways" safely. It's great fun. But, more than that, I can benefit from all the practice I can get driving on traction-compromised surfaces and checking out the newest AWD and traction control systems. So, I was quick to say "yes" in response to a recent invite from Buick to test its AWD system in the 2015 Encore, at Lime Rock Park located in Connecticut.

Our drive day began on snowy secondary roads of northeastern Connecticut as we navigated to the Lime Rock Race Track's autocross courses. The ride-and-drive was designed to show off the Encore's maneuverability and confidence on surfaces with limited and poor traction, aided by GM's automatic on-demand AWD system that uses sensors and computer technology to preserve traction.

We were impressed with nary a slip on the roads and found the Encore's "preemptive" system -- which automatically sends torque to the back when launching from a stop -- works like a charm. During the snowcross drives, the Encore powered through deep snow and showed great prowess when cornering at higher speeds than would be advised on public roadways.

While snow driving might be an unusual or unique opportunity for folks who hail from Florida or Southern California, Buick has found many buyers choose AWD, even in the Sunshine Belt, for the extra measure of safety and security that sending traction to all four wheels provides on rain-slickened freeways and dirt roads, for example. We learned that 38 percent of Encore overall buyers select the AWD version and 69 percent of customers in New England chose AWD.

The 2015 Encore is among Buick's most popular models. Buick believes one of its virtues is its fuel economy, estimated at 33-mpg highway (for FWD models), which is greater than competitors such as the MINI Countryman with the automatic transmission (30 mpg) and Volkswagen Tiguan (26 mpg).

Responding to today's ever-growing demand for advanced in-vehicle communication and infotainment programming for drivers and riders, the 2015 Encore is now upgraded with OnStar with 4G LTE and is a mobile hub with standard Wi-Fi hotspot that comes with a three-month 3-gigabit data trial. The hot spot is activated whenever the vehicle is turned on; OnStar's technology brings Advanced Crash Response System, emergency assistance as well as navigation and verbal directions.

Encore is notable for its premium styling and smart packaging for everyday goods and gear, as well as top-notch safety and infotainment/technology offerings that make it an amenable and appealing urban runabout. Although a subcompact, it is clearly attractive to buyers of many ages and different life stages that find its diminutive size just right.

What you'll notice first is its exterior styling, which adopts Buick's signature cues including a waterfall grille, chrome accents and surrounds, portholes on the hood, and painted lower panels, along with blue-accented halogen composite projector beam headlamps and taillamps.

Slipping inside, you'll find a flowing instrument panel that wraps into the door panels. The IP houses the 7-inch, high-resolution, full-color display for IntelliLink and also features displays for the SiriusXM Satellite Radio and Encore's standard rearview camera, as well as the available GPS-enabled navigation system.

Encore holds 18.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the split-folding rear seat and as much as 48.4 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down. The front passenger seat also folds flat to accommodate items up to 8 feet long.

Under Encore's hood is an Ecotec 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that gets 138 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed auto transmission.

Things we liked during our drive of the Encore: Buick's engineers have given this turbocharged engine a wide rpm range and that means power-on-tap from low speeds to high, the variable-effort electric power steering turns the Encore with ease, and the four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution provide a strong measure of stopping power. We also appreciated the quietness of the cockpit, which comes from a combination of design and engineering elements.

Starting at $24,065 for base front-wheel-drive models, the 2015 Buick Encore is available in both front-wheel or AWD in four trim levels: Encore (1SB), Encore Convenience (1SD), Encore Leather (1SL) and tops out at $31,860 for Encore Premium (1SN) with AWD.

Specifications

Base price $30,465 (as tested: $34,615)
Curb weight 3,358 lbs.
Displacement 1.4-liter
Engine type 16-valve Ecotec 4-cylinder w/SMPFI
Epa mileage rating 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 14 gal.
Horsepower (net) 138 at 4900 rpm
Overall length 168.4 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 148 at 1850 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD compact CUV
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