BUICK ENCORE GX –
Buick’s Encore Gets, Well…an Encore
At one time, Buick – even outside of GM headquarters, regional offices and showrooms – was a big deal. Located just south of Cadillac as America’s automotive ideal, I still have clear memories of the first Riviera I saw, and the ’73 Le Sabre 2-door my folks bought – new – in the spring of ’74. Buicks were, for the most part, big (but not too big) and flashy (but not too flashy). And they weren’t, notably, Cadillacs. To be sure, they lacked the prestige of Cadillac, but they weren’t off-putting to the ‘unwashed masses’ like a Cadillac. And back then, now almost 50 years since that ’73 Le Sabre, we would never have envisioned something like the Encore GX sitting on a Buick showroom.
That, of course, was then – and this is now. And nothing quite so defined ‘now’ as walking through Buick’s display at last winter’s DC Auto Show and seeing no cars on the Buick stands. Cars – three, all Regal derivatives – were still offered in the 2020 model year, but Buick’s suits had decided not to show them. Instead we got the crossovers, car-based SUVs ranging from the subcompact Encore to the 3-row Enclave. And in between those customers could consider the 2-row Envision or just-introduced Encore GX. And while it took a few months to arrive on our driveway, we have the Encore GX for you now.
Despite its descriptive – Encore GX – this is not a trim level of the smaller Encore, but sits almost mid-point between Buick’s subcompact crossover and the midsized Envision. Buick’s press materials didn’t identify its direct competition, but I’ll walk out on that limb and suggest Mazda’s new CX-30, Hyundai’s Kona and Tucson, Kia’s (hybrid) Niro and Sportage, Honda’s HR-V and Subaru’s Crosstrek and Forester. That’s quite the competitive set, and its members are more frequently seen on America’s highways and byways than most models emanating from a Buick showroom.
Thankfully for Buick’s dealers, the Encore GX brings more than a bit to the consumer conversation. In the walk-up, I was impressed by the GX footprint. Sitting on a 102 inch wheelbase, and with an overall length of 171 inches, the GX offers a mature proportion missing in the subcompact Encore. The sheetmetal is a not-unpleasant mix of organic and angular, and seems more than a little reminiscent of both bigger Buick crossovers and Mazda’s CX-5. And unlike a lot of crossovers, which seem to dwarf their wheel-and-tire packages, the Encore GX is properly planted on 18-inch wheels shod with 225/55 all-season rubber.
Inside, our up-level trim was attractively furnished. The ‘leather-appointed’ seating is perforated, and in a saddle/black combo seemed to punch well above its price point. An added bonus is room for four adults (and their luggage) within its compact profile. The control layout is reasonably intuitive, and visibility is good in all directions…except – of course – to the rear; the GX’s C-Pillar is simply too wide to make visibility easy when changing lanes. The electronic nannies will help, but I still enjoy unrestricted visibility, and too many vehicles in 2020 have stopped offering it.
Under the hood, for reasons known only to them, Buick’s product team elected to offer both a 1.2 liter turbocharged three and a 1.3 liter turbocharged three; from here that seems absolutely daft, especially when the bump to the 1.3 is but $400. The 1.3 delivers both more hp and slightly better fuel economy, so it’s a win/win. However, not a ‘win’ is the resonance sent into the cabin from the turbo’d three, an intrusion we would have never found acceptable in 1973.
For those of you residing in zip codes where you can easily locate a Buick dealer, the Encore GX might deserve a look. It’s more compelling at $25K, where it starts, than the $35K where it ends. (I’d put my $35K in the now-discontinued Regal TourX wagon, while those are still around.) But it’s significantly more impressive than the smaller Encore – thank God, then, for its encore.