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2024 Buick Encore GX Avenir

Car Reviews


Buick’s Encore GX


To be blunt, my first reaction to the tiny, $36,000 Buick Encore GX Avenir was an unpleasant surprise. Reared in an age when Buick was ‘the doctor’s car’, I expected smooth serenity but experienced instead rough disquietude.

A Buick dealership these days has nary a Riviera, Skylark, Regal, or Lucerne; rather, under the tri-shield are four 2024 crossover SUVs ranging from large to subcompact: Enclave, Envision, Envista, and Encore GX.

With a wheelbase of 102 inches and starting at $25,395, the Encore GX is Buick’s most popular North American model. With fresh front-end styling inspired by the Wildcat EV concept and new grille design framing winged LED headlamps, the 2024 GX certainly looks like a Buick.

On the road, though, a thumping intrusion of road and wind noise makes the GX sound and feel more like a generic Asiatic commuter car – and that’s exactly what it is.

Good at what it does

The Encore GX, not to be confused with the discontinued Encore, is assembled in Korea and most of its content is either Korean or Chinese. Assessed not by biases but by intended market and purpose, the little GX is rather good for what it is.

Indeed, were I a young professional living in one of the world’s three dozen or so megacities – defined as having populations ranging from 10 to 25 million and, thus, housing about a fourth of the planet’s population – I would be inclined to select something small so it would be easy to park, highly maneuverable, and with a sound system and technology allowing me to communicate or just relax as I shuttled from one traffic jam to the next. 

About that engine

In such a milieu, the Encore GX is almost a great car. With good cause, tiny, turbocharged engines are questioned for their durability; still, this Buick, powered by an optional 155-hp, 1.3-L straight four, is as quick as a scalded cat. A slightly smaller, 1.2 liter powertrain is standard on the entry-level model, but that seems a bad bet. The larger engine works hard enough as it is, and both deliver around 29 mpg.

That may sound good, but in a day when 50, 80, and 100 mpg are attainable numbers, Buick’s lack of hybrid technology is glaring. The Toyota Corolla Cross, for example, is in the same price range and delivers 42 mpg.

It is also likely far more reliable. The problem with small, turbocharged engines is that they eventually send oil everywhere, past the rings, into the exhaust system, or the evaporation system. Those things can cause catastrophic failures and engine fires. There is plenty of evidence to suggest these issues will start to become common in GM’s small engines around the 90,000-mile mark.

A hybrid gets a torque boost through an electric motor that supplants the gas engine; thus, a turbocharger, and all the problems that come with it, isn’t needed. It is common to find engines in Toyota hybrids that are still running strong at 250,000 to 300,000 miles. I know. I own one.

Fun to drive

Despite my reservations, I found myself enjoying my week behind the GX’s wheel.

Weighing in at just under 3,100 lbs., Buick’s Encore GX is nimble and quick. The suspension is compliant enough to give a decent ride on city streets (not so much on poorly maintained county roads) but taut enough to provide sharp handling. 

An electronic drive-by-wire steering rig responds crisply. Four-wheel disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power. The net effect is a sharp-handling little car that zips nicely through a slalom.

In the cabin, hard plastics abound but have a textured feel that makes them feel less cheap. A virtual cockpit system features 19 diagonal inches of high-definition screens – an 11-inch infotainment center and an 8-inch driver information cluster. With a good-but-not-great sound system, built-in Wi-Fi® hotspot, and flawless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, the Encore GX allows occupants to stay linked to their digital lives.

Upcharge for safety

A suite of driver-assist technologies on the Encore GX is substantially less than those found on vehicles costing $15,000 less. Standard are lane-keep assist with lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, forward collision alert, following distance indicator, and auto high beam.

The lane-keep assist is a little better than the system found on most GM models, but it is still reactive rather than proactive. That is, the system waits until it touches a lane marker before correcting the steering, which is useful for avoiding rollovers and head-on collisions.

The reaction is so severe, however, that the car ends up ping-ponging between lanes, increasing the angle, until it eventually gives up. All the lane-keep systems we see from Korean and Japanese manufacturers simultaneously monitor both edges and keep the car centered. You would think American manufacturers would wave enough cash to lure one of the other guys’ whiz kids.

Our tester was an Avenir model, which adds about $2,700 to the price. It included leather seating, a heated steering wheel, and the rest of the driver-assist package that Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, and Mazda make standard: rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with enhanced emergency braking.

We found the Encore GX’s digital rear camera mirror and high-def 360-degree cameras quite useful.

Competitive niche

We found zero reviewers willing to put the Encore GX among the top 10 in a highly competitive market niche. On the other hand, that means Buick offers attractive cash and financing incentives on this vehicle. 

On the third hand, the BMW X1, Lexus UX, Mini Cooper Countryman, and Audi Q3 are all better built and offer much more of a premium feel. In recent weeks, the car business has shifted sharply into a buyer’s market, so incentives should soon be common across the board.

The General turns to China

Maybe it’s patriotism. Maybe misplaced loyalty. Whatever my now obscure reasoning, I still hang on to a small slice of GM stock, though that cost a bundle when the General declared bankruptcy in 2009.

GM knows it cannot continue to profit from massive pickup and truck-based SUVs. Not only will that trigger multibillion-dollar environmental fines, but the company knows it must compete on a world stage that is turning increasingly to electricity as the primary source of propulsion.

General Motors seemed to have a path mapped in that direction but, like Ford, it concentrated its fire on six-figure chariots that catered to the wealthiest buyers. Those in the middle, however, want vehicles they can afford and a charging network they can rely on. Failing that, buyers want the convenience of carbon-based fuel for longer journeys.

Last week, GM announced it will soon sell the Equinox Plus PHEV in China. Equipped with a 1.5-L gas engine, a hybrid electric system, and a small rechargeable battery that goes up to 96 miles on an overnight charge from a common, 110-volt outlet. 

The net result is a midsize SUV that goes from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds, has a top speed of 112 mph, and averages 224 mpg.

If GM were to build and sell that car in the States, it could call it the better mousetrap.

In four decades of journalism, Bill Owney has picked up awards for his coverage of everything from murders to the NFL to state and local government. He added the automotive world to his portfolio in the mid '90s.

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