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Dave's Garage: 2021 Buick Encore GX

Eric Peters on

It's an irony of history that Buick -- once upon a time known for its BarcaLounger big cars -- now sells one of the smallest cars you can buy.

With one of the smallest engines on four wheels -- just three cylinders and only 1.2 liters.

Many motorcycles have bigger engines.

But they don't have 50.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity -- enough to take a motorcycle along for the ride (if you take it apart), and the little Buick's back seat, as it turns out, has almost exactly as much legroom as one of the biggest Buicks ever, the 1970 Riviera.

Which was almost 4 feet longer overall than this Buick.

So, the size is still there.

Just not outside.

Or under the hood.

What It Is

The Encore GX is a small crossover SUV in the same class as models such as the Mazda CX30 and Honda HR-V.

It differs from others in the class in being the only vehicle in the class with such a small engine.

Two of them, actually.

Prices start at $24,200 for the base Preferred trim with the standard 1.2-liter engine and front-wheel drive. If you buy the available all-wheel-drive system, you get upgraded to a slightly larger 1.3-liter engine, which is also optional by itself with the midtrim Select ($25,800) and the top-of-the-line Essence ($28,600) trim.

What's New

All trims come standard with satellite radio and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

What's Good

There's lots of room -- without the size.

It comes standard with a turbocharged engine.

It has an available heated steering wheel, Bose premium audio system, heads-up display and a wireless charging pad.

What's Not So Good

It costs significantly more than rivals such as the Mazda CX30 -- which comes standard with a much stronger engine that doesn't need a turbo.

The small engine only uses a bit less gas than larger -- stronger -- engines in rivals.

Many desirable features such as the heated steering wheel, heads-up display and wireless charger are only available with the top-of-the-line Essence trim -- and some (such as the charger) still cost extra.

Under the Hood

Both of the Buick's engines are so small they need a boost -- literally.

Turbocharging breathes four-cylinder power (137 horsepower) into the standard 1.2-liter engine and 155 horsepower into the optional 1.3-liter engine.


The transmission you get depends on which drive configuration you select.

The standard 1.2-liter engine is automatically paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission and front-wheel drive only. The optional 1.3-liter engine is available with a nine-speed automatic transmission, if you select all-wheel drive.

If you stick with front-wheel drive, this engine is paired with the continuously variable automatic.

Mileage with either engine isn't as high as you might expect given the smallness of these engines. The 1.2-liter engine in front-wheel-drive configuration returns 28 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. With the slightly larger 1.3-liter engine and all-wheel drive, the number drops to 26 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.

For a reference point, the Mazda CX30's much larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder posts 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive version and 25mpg city, 32 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.

It also makes 186 horsepower.

On the Road

The main benefit of the Buick's tiny turbocharged engines isn't fuel efficiency. It's ease of movement, the main benefit of turbocharging a gas engine. Which gives it the low revolutions-per-minute muscle of a diesel engine -- without the rattle and smoke.

The Encore's optional 1.3-liter engine makes its peak torque (174 foot-pounds) at just 1,500 rpm, which is only slightly faster than the engine idles. Which means that just a little pressure on the accelerator gives immediate and substantial acceleration.

In a weird way, the Encore is very Buick. Weird because this is a tiny thing -- with a tiny engine up front.

Not a road sofa like a '70 Riviera with a 7.5-liter 455 V-8 engine up front.

But the feel is similar -- and that's remarkable.

At the Curb

Even though it's barely half a '70 Riviera on the outside, there's actually more room on the inside.

The driver and front-seat passenger enjoy 41.7 inches of legroom, and there's 35 inches of back-seat legroom -- almost exactly as much as in the '70 Riviera.

And there's 17.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the back seats -- 42.7 cubic feet when you lower the back seat.

Which is more than twice as much space as a '70 Riviera had in its trunk.

The Rest

The Encore is more expensive by several thousand dollars than rivals, in this class in part because it's a Buick. Which is held to be a notch up in prestige -- and price.

But the standard/optional equipment that comes with -- or can be had -- in the Buick is similar to what comes standard -- or is available -- for much less in rivals from Mazda and Honda.

If this Buick's turbocharged engines gave it a significant mileage or power advantage over its bigger engined/lower-cost rivals, the price difference would be easier to overlook.

The Bottom Line

A smaller price would probably help sell this small crossover better.


Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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