The Buick Encore paves the way for a new market segment: The very-compact upscale SUV. The Encore is smaller than the Chevrolet Equinox. In fact, it is 13 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4. When it launches next year, the Encore may be the first vehicle of its kind in America. The BMW X1 and Audi Q3 are its natural competition, but the Buick is expected to beat them to market here, assuming those Germans even make it here at all.
The Encore fully utilizes the global nature of GM’s vehicle development system. Developed in the United States, the Encore will be built in South Korea. Although the Encore is expected to sell modestly here, Opel and Vauxhall variants will likely ring up more sales in Europe. And given the popularity of Buick in China, the Encore is expected to do well there.
I was able to sit in the Encore for a bit while filming our auto show video. It’s a bit odd--like sitting in an Enclave that was squeezed out of a tube. You sit up high, but the cabin feels really narrow. Rear-seat leg room is surprisingly decent, but the dramatic upward sweep of the beltline reduces the rear glass area to the detriment of visibility.
The Encore’s 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine is shared with the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic. If the Encore’s curb weight sticks to the claimed 3,300 pounds for an all-wheel-drive version (just a bit more than the Cruze), it should have reasonable performance. Active noise cancellation, a Buick first, aims to help the Encore achieve the quietness that’s always been a brand hallmark.
But how will the Encore do when cross-shopped with other small SUVs? Directly on the other side of Cobo Hall from the Buick booth were several 2013 Ford Escapes. This Escape has a nicely-done interior with much more room, and it also can be had with a small-displacement turbo engine. No pricing was announced on Encore (or Escape yet), but it’s likely that the Encore and Escape will overlap in price. Then there is that new RDX that was also introduced in Detroit. It all comes down to price, and whether American shoppers are looking for the premium attributes the Encore offers, yet not coveting space that is available in competing models.
We’ll see how this new direction for Buick works when we buy one in early 2013 to test.