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December 2, 2013

Buick Encore fits luxury amenities into small package

There was a time when the Buick logo out front was synonymous with big fenders out back and enough room inside to seat eight people and their luggage. The Riviera and Electra nameplates were all the rage.

Today the General Motors product line has dwindled, and the Buick Encore is one of the smallest sub-compact SUVs on the road.

New this year, the Encore offers upscale amenities in a small package with high-end fuel economy at an affordable price.

The Encore is similar in size to the less expensive Nissan Juke and more expensive BMW X1, and it's nearly 10 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4 by comparison.

Standing at 65 inches tall and 14 feet long, its looks are deceiving. Inside the cabin, the Encore feels larger, and the ride is surprisingly agile with road noise muffled and suspension somewhat firm.

Encore can be ordered in four trim levels: Base, Convenience, Leather and Premium Groups. Each is available with front- or all-wheel drive. Pricing starts in the mid- to high-20's, depending on your thirst for options.

The test car, a Premium Group edition, came loaded with leather, climate control, Bluetooth, On Star with mobile apps, lane departure warning, remote start and a heated steering wheel. Just as impressive, the Encore delivered on its EPA mileage estimates and then some, making it a real bargain at the pump.

All Encore models are powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine tied to a six-speed automatic transmission.

While no racer, the Encore holds highway speed in a quiet and capable manner. About the only way to tell there is a four-cylinder under the hood is on the way up to highway speed; it's a chore for the small engine pulling the Encore's 3,200 pounds.

A noise leveling Bose sound system, together with tuning tweaks and sound deadening material, helps keep down the noise level. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph took 9.3 seconds, about average for this size SUV.

Attractive styling with standard 18-inch wheels gives the Encore curb appeal over rivals Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and the VW Tiguan.

A look around the interior shows generous use of soft touch material and metallic accents with good head room and leg room for four adults. The Encore sits high off the ground and provides a perch that SUV drivers are familiar with but that sedan owners will find attractive for ease of entry and exit.   

Rear cargo space reaches 48 cubic feet with fold-flat rear seats lowered; it's just under 19 cubic feet with seats in their upright position.

With 10 standard air bags, rear vision camera on all models and an available suite of safety technology, the Encore is a real standout. In its first year, it has recorded strong sales matching its longstanding competition.

If you are interested in this size SUV, be sure to include the Buick on a test drive along with its imported competition. It might be enough to sway you into buying domestic.

Len Ingrassia is an automotive columnist. Contact him at lenscarcorner@ptd.net

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