Has Buick become the most forward-thinking division at General Motors? There’s another reason to answer that question with a “yes” now that the 2013 Buick Encore has arrived. After cracking open the compact luxury segment with the Buick Verano, the brand’s latest entry is poised to inaugurate another fresh market segment as the first lux crossover of its size in the U.S. It was introduced to the public at the 2012 North American International Auto Show, aka the Detroit Auto Show.
The Encore is a tidy 168.5 inches long—about 15 inches shorter than the Verano—yet it remains big on premium amenities, including Buick’s first application of an active-noise cancellation system, as well as:
• The brand’s IntelliLink connectivity/infotainment setup with advanced voice recognition and a seven-inch, full-color display radio
• Remote vehicle start
• Dual-zone automatic climate control
• Standard electronic stability control and an available all-wheel-drive system
• Rainsense wipers
• Bose premium sound system
• Heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
• Heated front seats and a six-way, power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment and driver memory
• Ambient lighting
• 10 airbags, including knee airbags for both the driver and passenger
• Available safety technologies like forward collision alert, lane departure warning, front and rear park assist, and a rearview camera system
Providing the power will be GM’s highly successful 1.4-liter turbo I4, tuned to make 140 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque in the Encore. As a result, the vehicle should offer strong fuel-efficiency numbers: The same engine helps the Chevy Cruze Eco turn up 42 mpg on the highway.
To further attract younger buyers, the Encore was engineered with a highly versatile interior that provides the flexibility that active owners expect from a crossover. Thus, the Encore’s rear seats fold flat to provide 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space, edging both the Audi Q3 and BMW X1—neither of which are expected to reach the U.S. market before the Buick anyway. The interior has two gloveboxes, too, and its front-passenger seat folds flat to carry longer objects.
The exterior design of the Encore is an impressively executed application of the current Buick design vocabulary, complete with portholes and a bright chrome waterfall grille, and designers did a fairly good job at giving the short vehicle the kind of flowing character lines that adorn the much longer Buick Enclave.
Now, as mentioned, the German manufacturers are slated to start introducing compact lux crossovers in the mid-term future, and while the Encore doesn’t seem like a good match for that pair, it isn’t necessarily targeting the same customers. As a gateway vehicle for the brand, the Buick is likely to be more affordable, for one thing, and it’s also about 4 to 5 inches shorter. That might not seem like a lot, but it could enable a more agile driving experience, especially considering the Encore rides on a new global platform and fresh suspension setup that were specifically designed for GM’s small crossovers. FWIW, the Q3 and X1 ride on platforms borrowed from their makers’ cars.
But the real differentiator here isn’t so much the vehicle itself as it is Buick’s aggressive market approach. After years of trying to play catch up with its rivals, the brand is in the vanguard with vehicles like the Encore and Verano that will set the pace in new market segments. And make Buick one of the leading luxury brands in the U.S.—literally.