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- Highs Attractive exterior design, SUV practicality, good value compared to luxury-branded rivals.
- Lows Too many plasticky interior parts, inadequate three-cylinder powertrains, unexciting to drive.
- Verdict Although it's meant to challenge premium-branded small SUVs, the Encore GX is most appealing when cross-shopped with mainstream models.
Slotting in above the small Encore in the Buick SUV lineup, the 2021 Encore GX offers the brand's semi-luxury attributes in a handsome, compact package. Two different turbocharged powertrains are offered here, but oddly they are both three-cylinder engines—a 1.2-liter is standard while a 1.3-liter is optional—and neither provide quick acceleration. If you can get past the poky powertrains, the Encore GX's other traits are more agreeable: it offers a smooth ride and well-controlled body motions, good interior room, and pleasant cabin surroundings. It straddles the line between mainstream and luxury markets, so those comparing it against a Nissan, a Ford, or its corporate twin, the Chevrolet Trailblazer, will find it an attractive and well-equipped alternative. However, when up against premium models from Germany and Japan, the Encore GX isn't nearly as compelling.
What's New for 2021?
For its second year on the market, the Encore GX receives only a few small updates. Both SiriusXM satellite radio and wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become standard features across the lineup, and adaptive cruise control is now available on the Preferred model as part of the optional Safety package.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
The best value in the lineup appears to be the mid-range Select model. It comes with handsome 18-inch wheels, roof-rack side rails, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a rear-seat center armrest, remote start, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Experience Buick package adds navigation and a power sunroof. All-wheel drive is optional and adds $2000 to the price of any Encore GX.
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Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Encore GX is powered by two different turbocharged three-cylinder engines. The base version is a 1.2-liter that develops 137 horsepower followed by an optional 1.3-liter that makes 155 ponies. The former pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive. While the more powerful engine is available on fancier front-drive models, it's included on every Encore GX with all-wheel drive. Likewise, the slightly bigger engine exclusively uses a nine-speed automatic transmission. At our test track, the Encore GX with all-wheel drive, the nine-speed automatic, and the larger 1.3-liter four-cylinder required a slothful 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph. The Encore GX's luxury-branded rivals–the Audi Q3, the BMW X1, and the Volvo XC40–all offer more powerful engines and far quicker acceleration times. On the road, the Encore GX feels peppier than its acceleration results suggest, particularly around town where the small turbo engine delivers good low-end grunt. The Buick's ride is also agreeably smooth and controlled, but it doesn't offer any handling thrills.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Ironically, the larger of the two three-cylinder engines receives the highest fuel economy ratings from the EPA. With front-wheel drive and the CVT, the turbocharged 1.3-liter is said to achieve up to 32 mpg highway. Going with the smaller 1.2-liter mill drops that figure to 30 mpg and going with the 1.3-liter with all-wheel drive and the nine-speed automatic drops it further to 29 mpg. However, on our 200-mile highway fuel economy test route, the Encore GX with the larger engine, all-wheel drive, and nine-speed automatic managed 30 mpg, beating the EPA's estimate by 1 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Encore GX's quiet cabin features leather upholstery, heated seats, and more passenger space than the smaller Encore. Buick's positioning in the market straddles the line between luxury and mainstream, so it's better equipped than base-level versions of rivals such as the Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek, but it doesn't provide the same level of fit-and-finish as the Audi, BMW, and Volvo. The Encore GX's front-passenger seat folds flat to aid in loading longer items and we expect the rear cargo area to be more generous than the smaller Encore. We fit five carry-on suitcases behind the GX's rear seats and 16 with the rear seats folded, which is only a few less than the slightly larger Cadillac XT4.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Its infotainment system supports a nicely integrated touchscreen that comes standard with features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The Encore GX employs GM's latest infotainment software interface, which is both snappy in its responses and intuitive to use. A head-up display is an available option and buyers can choose a high-definition 360-degree camera system as well.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Overall Safety Rating (NHTSA)
The 2021 Encore GX earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not released ratings. The Encore GX offers numerous standard driver-assistance technologies; a rearview camera mirror and 360-degree camera system will be optional. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Encore GX offers more warranty coverage than mainstream rivals such as the Kicks and the Mazda CX-3 as well as luxury-branded offerings such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA-class and the Audi Q3. Where the Buick falls short is against the X1 and XC40, which both offer free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 6 years or 70,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for the first visit
2020 Buick Encore GX AWD
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED
$35,720 (base price: $27,095)
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline-3, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
82 in3, 1338 cm3
155 hp @ 5600 rpm
174 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
Suspension (F/R): struts/torsion beam
Brakes (F/R): 11.8-in vented disc/10.4-in disc
Tires: Hankook Kinergy GT, 225/55R-18 98H M+S TPC SPEC 3139 MS
Wheelbase: 102.2 in
Length: 171.4 in
Width: 71.4 in
Height: 64.1 in
Passenger volume: 92 ft3
Cargo volume: 24 ft3
Curb weight: 3335 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.3 sec
100 mph: 31.2 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 10.1 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.8 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 7.0 sec
1/4 mile: 17.0 sec @ 80 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 174 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.84 g
Standing-start accel times omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 22 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 30 mpg
Highway range: 390 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 28/26/29 mpg