CHATHAM, Mass. – In the historic General Motors hierarchy, Buick was the “near luxury” brand: large cars with distinctive “portholes” on the front fenders often portrayed as the choice conveyance of America’s doctors who would ride the country roads visiting their patients. Buick still means premium design, appointments and features, but doctors rarely make house calls and if they did them in a Buick, it most likely would be a sport utility vehicle (SUV), not a car.
Since some 90 percent of the brand’s sales are SUVs, Buick offers a range from the small compact Encore through the three-row large mid-size Enclave. In 2020 it added a slightly larger compact, the Encore GX which Buick says is “stylish, intelligent and nimble enough to keep up with your life.”
The 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence AWD (all-wheel drive) I sampled did a superb job of providing me and my traveling companion with a quiet, comfortable environment, with surprisingly room for our luggage and stuff, for an extended 650-mile round trip to New Jersey for a family visit.
And even with gasoline prices on the decline, the 32-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency was a welcome surprise, especially considering I did nothing to stretch the numbers (cruising quite comfortably at 70+ miles per hour for much of the trip through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey; one of the impacts of the pandemic is much reduced traffic in the normally packed Northeastern corridor).
The Encore’s federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating is 29 mpg highway/26 city/28 combined, so our results were, as has been customary in the vehicles I’ve driven during the past year, better than expected.
A full complement of advanced driver-assist systems
Befitting a car of this, near-luxury class, all Encore versions come equipped with a reasonable set of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) including:
- Forward Collision Alert
- Automatic Emergency Braking
- Front Pedestrian Braking
- Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning
- Following Distance Indicator
- IntelliBeam headlamps with automatically adjusting high/low beams
The more extensively equipped Essence variant with optional Advanced Technology and Convenience packages added:
- Rear Park Assist
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert
- Adaptive Cruise Control – Camera (camera-based)
- Automatic Parking Assist with Braking
- High Definition Surround Vision camera system
A feature generally not considered part of an ADAS suite, but one I think belongs in this category because when properly designed, allows the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road, is a Head Up Display, which was part of the Advanced Technology Package. The HUD projects information like vehicle speed, ADAS alerts, navigation directions and audio-system details onto the windshield at eye level and worked great even in bright sunlight while I was wearing sunglasses.
Connectivity a central design factor
Buick touted the connectivity abilities of the Encore GX at its introduction including the built-in Alexa app in the infotainment system. The driver can press the steering-wheel mounted voice-activation button or the Alexa button on the touch screen and (if registered as an Alexa user) command the digital assistant to do a variety of things from dialing a phone number to finding directions to interacting with smart-home devices connected to Alexa (anything Alexa can do at home, it can do from the Encore).
Connectivity continues with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, the ability to pair two smartphones over Bluetooth, OnStar driving support services and the Buick Marketplace. The latter is an app within the Encore’s infotainment system which allows owners to link directly to favorite brands and allow purchases of food, fuel, hotel rooms, parking and the like easily from the car.
Wireless mobile-device charging as well as USB power ports front and rear and a 110-Volt outlet in the rear console allow virtually any device to remain fully charged and ready to go.
The infotainment system centers around an eight-inch color touch screen supplemented by a full complement of traditional buttons making it simple to navigate. Speaking of navigation, the Technology Package adds this feature.
Interior provides comfort, convenience and room
The Encore GX is a cozy place in which to travel, but thanks to a tall roof and large windows, feels more spacious than its appearance suggests. The front-seat passengers can find a comfortable position, thanks to power adjusted (10-way with memory for the driver; eight-way for the passenger) perforated, heated leather buckets. The automatic climate-control system features separate settings for both driver and front-seat passenger.
Additional convenience features include hands-free power liftgate, heated steering wheel and a Rear Camera Mirror, which provides a wide, less obstructed rear view while parking and driving (even if the rear window is blocked – which mine as on the return to Massachusetts, so this was a real help).
Active SUV owners might block that rear window as they take advantage of Buick’s configurable interior space. A front passenger seat which can be folded flat combined with folding at least the smaller (40/60) section of the second row allows for an eight-foot object to be transported inside the Encore GX along with up to three passengers. Folding the entire second row provides up to 50.2 cubic feet of cargo space, while keeping all seats upright allows 25.3 cubic feet of space in the rear.
Power to the pavement
AWD versions of the Encore GX come with a 1.3-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 155 horsepower and 174 pounds-feet of torque, and a nine-speed automatic transmission. The power is adequate for daily driving and I never felt at a loss while maneuvering around the mixed travelers on I-95, a challenging task for any car and driver.
The total package
The 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence AWD carries a $30,500 list price and as tested, came in at $35,720 (including a $995 destination charge), making it competitive in this segment. There are a LOT of small compact SUVs to choose from and the Buick Encore gives you another model worthy of consideration. And a country doctor could easily make housecalls regardless of the weather thanks to the all-wheel-drive capabilities of the Encore GX.