Slotting into the Buick SUV lineup beneath the big-sib Enclave and the middle-child Envision, the Encore distills the almost-luxury ambience of its older brothers into a bite-sized niblet. Its interior is comfortable, well designed, and more premium than most of its rivals, but it never quite reaches full-luxury levels of comfort. High-tech infotainment features abound, and the Encore has room for four adults, so long as each one packs lightly. This baby Buick aims high but ultimately falls short of competing with luxury-branded crossovers with similarly diminutive footprints such as the BMW X1 and the Lexus NX—but then it’s not nearly as expensive as those models, either. Instead, it makes a case for itself as an in-betweener by outluxing subcompact crossovers from mainstream makers Nissan, Honda, and Chevrolet. With the Encore, you pay more, but you get more.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
- Preferred: $41,195
- Essence: $43,195
- Premium: $49,295
- Avenir: $54,695
Even in its most luxurious Avenir spec, the Enclave doesn’t deliver Audi or Volvo levels of luxury and refinement. As such, you might as well save the $11,500 and go with the midrange Essence. The Essence still offers plenty of desirable features that any suburban family will appreciate, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, onboard Wi-Fi, perforated leather seats with heat and power adjustments for the driver and front-seat passenger, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Interior, Infotainment, and Cargo
Likes: Space for seven, crisp infotainment display, practicality is the Enclave’s number-one feature. Dislikes: Interior trimmings not up to luxury-brand expectations, navigation not standard, unsupportive seats.
The Enclave’s cabin is as roomy inside as you’d expect from a vehicle this size, and Buick has integrated many comfort and convenience features. Altogether, the interior’s design is handsome and practical, but material quality and attention to detail are what holds the Enclave back from being competitive with its luxury-branded rivals. The wood trim looks and feels chintzy, the sunshades for the optional panoramic roof aren’t power operated, and only the passenger-side second-row seat slides forward to allow third-row passengers in and out—a clear cost-cutting move that compromises convenience.
Nestled into the dash between two asymmetrical air vents is the Enclave’s standard 8.0-inch IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system. The interface is user-friendly and rendered in a lovely arrangement with crisp graphics and an abundance of features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and users can connect their devices to the internet via an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot powered by a 4G LTE data connection. Navigation with real-time traffic and weather updates is optional, as is a wireless charging pad for smartphones. All three rows of seats have two USB ports for charging devices, too.
If cargo space is your main concern, the Enclave is the best choice in this segment, as it offers the most cubic feet of storage space in each of its configurations. In our testing, it swallowed a whopping 38 carry-on boxes with all of its seats down and provided space for an impressive five carry-ons behind its power-operated third row of seats.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Likes: Punchy optional turbo engine, optional all-wheel drive, compliant ride. Dislikes: Slow standard engine, pronounced body lean in corners, lacks driving enjoyment.
Two turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinders are offered to power the Encore. The first makes 138 horsepower, but the optional 153-hp version—which also delivers 20 percent more torque—is the one to buy. Our front-drive test vehicle was fitted with the more powerful engine and felt peppy around town. In our testing, the optional engine motivated it from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. We haven’t tested an Encore with the base 138-hp engine, but the Buick’s corporate twin, the Chevrolet Trax, comes with this engine exclusively and delivered a much more leisurely result of 9.3 seconds.
Sitting high atop a short wheelbase lends the Encore a more top-heavy feel than lower-set rivals such as the Mazda CX-3, and as a result, the Encore leans more heavily in corners. Steering is well weighted if not particularly engaging, but it’s accurate and will be agreeable for buyers seeking a comfort-oriented small crossover. Speaking of comfort, the Encore’s suspension soaks up bumps admirably, and harsh impacts are dutifully dampened.
Interior, Infotainment, and Cargo
Likes: Upscale interior, plenty of infotainment features, surprisingly roomy for cargo with rear seats folded. Dislikes: Top-spec Essence’s price puts it in competition with luxury-brand rivals, fussy seat-folding mechanism, too-narrow seat bottoms.
Within the Encore’s compact body lies an interior that is very nearly premium save for a few missteps. There are some hard plastics in the door panels and lower center console, and the glossy black trim on the center stack of our test vehicle didn’t match the glossy gray panels on the doors. However, soft-touch sections on the armrests and dash pad provide a more upscale atmosphere; the flush-mounted infotainment touchscreen and jewel-colored background accents help, too. Front-seat ergonomics are quite good, with controls that are straightforward and redundant knobs on the dash for climate controls. We appreciated the high seating and comfortable driving position, but larger drivers may find the seat bottom too narrow.
The Encore comes standard with a host of tech goodies, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system—dubbed IntelliLink—with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 4G LTE data connection with onboard Wi-Fi. Navigation with live traffic and weather updates is optional. A six-speaker audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio is standard and can stream audio from smart devices via Bluetooth, USB, or an auxiliary input jack; a Bose premium audio setup with seven speakers is also available.
The Encore’s talents as a utility vehicle start and end with a good performance in our carry-on test: It held 20 of our suitcases with the rear seats folded. Otherwise, the little Buick’s interior measurements, difficult-to-fold rear seat, and class-average storage space for small items do little to impress.
Buick Encore Pricing and Which One to Buy
- Base: $24,195
- Preferred: $25,595
- Sport Touring $26,795
- Essence: $31,795
We’d spring for the mid-level front-wheel-drive Sport Touring model. It’s our choice not only because it adds visual punch to the Encore’s appearance by way of a rear spoiler, 18-inch gray-painted aluminum wheels, and fog lamps, but because it’s the least expensive trim that can be had with the optional 153-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder. No matter which Encore you choose, high-end options are included, such as an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot, passive entry with push-button start, and active noise cancellation.
A crossover in more ways than one, the 2019 Buick Enclave is part car, part SUV, part luxury, part mainstream—and part Chevrolet. Essentially a Chevy Traverse in a snazzier package, it’s the more elegantly styled of these two size-large three-row offerings. The Enclave is a cargo-hauling champ, and both its powertrain and its on-road demeanor are smooth and agreeable. Infotainment and driver-assistance technologies are broad, although the latter requires upgrading to costly versions. Buick’s overly ambitious pricing pits the Enclave not against mainstream crossovers but rather luxury-class leaders, and in that arena its imperfections are magnified.
Engine, Transmission, Performance, and Towing
Likes: Adequate power, quick-acting automatic transmission, serene ride. Dislikes: Not a soul-stirring powertrain, bland handling.
Under the hood of every Enclave is a 3.6-liter V-6 making 310 horsepower driving either the front or all four wheels via a smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s not the quickest crossover, but the Enclave is fast enough that there’s never any cause for anxiety when driving around town or merging onto the highway, and the engine goes about its business while leaving the passenger cabin undisturbed. For those who need brawny towing capacity, Buick offers a Trailering package that ups the Enclave’s capacity to 5000 pounds.
A well-damped suspension helps the Enclave hide its mass, but it never feels as athletic as the Audi Q7. Instead, it trades on comfort with a smooth, luxurious ride, gliding over pockmarked asphalt and barely registering harsher impacts. The steering provides an appropriate amount of feedback for a crossover, responds relatively crisply, and is nicely weighted.