by Frank A. Aukofer

In automobiles and basketball, anticipation and making the right moves assures success and continuity, which is what happened with the 2017 Buick Encore, now a right-sized crossover sport utility vehicle.

When it was introduced four years ago, it was an oddity—a small crossover sport utility vehicle that essentially was a tall four-door hatchback with optional all-wheel drive. About the same size as the Nissan Versa four-door hatchback, it was bigger than most other hatchbacks but smaller than the compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape that were then starting to take over.

2017 Buick EncoreNow the Encore no longer is alone. It is one of a proliferating fleet of small and compact crossovers that are alienating the affections of buyers who previously were wedded to compact and midsize sedans.

It parks in the small-car lot with newcomers like the Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V and the all-new 2017 Kia Niro. But like other Buicks, the Encore elicits a luxury-car persona, which delivers a suite of desirable features but makes it more expensive.

For 2017, it has been freshened with new exterior styling that includes headlights with LED accents, a new hood and front fenders, as well as a rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels on some trim levels. The new interior features a redesigned instrument panel and new gauges.

2017 Buick EncoreIt is possible to buy a base front-drive Encore for $23,915 but most customers opt for versions with more power and features. The base car comes with the original 138-horspower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. But there’s a new four-banger of the same size that delivers a zesty 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.

It’s a $895 option even on the tested top-line Premium model driven for this review. It’s well worth the price for its prompt surge off the line and strong passing power. The zero-to-60 miles an hour acceleration has been timed at less than eight seconds but it feels quicker. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at a respectable 26/31/28 miles to the gallon on regular gasoline.

The base drive setup is front-wheel but the test car had the optional all-wheel drive, which seamlessly transfers power to the wheels with the best traction. It not only enhances capability on slippery roads but improves handling around curves.

2017 Buick EncoreObviously, the Encore does not perform like a sports sedan but the steering enables secure handling and composed straight-line cruising. The tidy dimensions contribute to a nimble feel.

From the beginning, the Encore has earned luxury chops with a comfortable ride and plenty of sound deadening material for a serene cabin with minimal intrusion of mechanical, road and wind noise. On the Premium version, it also displays high quality interior materials and extensive amenities.

Comfort is first rate with supportive seats and airy head and elbow room up front. The outboard back seats, though not quite as accommodating as those up front, would not be punishing on a long trip. The center-rear seat, however, is cramped and uncomfortable, and should be reserved for large purses or small backpacks.

2017 Buick EncoreThe cargo area out back looks small but can accommodate 19 cubic feet of cargo. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat for an extra 29 cubic feet but it requires flipping the seat bottoms forward, which truncates fore-and-aft space for the driver and front passenger.

Built in South Korea, the Encore resembles the appearance and feel of the better models from Hyundai and Kia, which are establishing new benchmarks for workmanship and reliability.

Full safety equipment includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, stability and traction control, rear-vision camera, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

Also, standard on the Premium version: leather upholstery, push-button starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, XM satellite radio, OnStar communications, WiFi hotspot, auto-dimming inside mirror, cruise control, remote starting, front and rear parking assist, and heated front seats and steering wheel. One anomaly: Both front seats have power controls for lumbar support and fore-and-aft adjustment but the seatbacks have only manual adjustments.

2017 Buick Encore
2017 Buick Encore

The tested Encore arrived with options that included the more powerful engine, a motorized glass sunroof, an eight-inch color touch screen, navigation system, Bluetooth streaming, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smart-phone connectivity. Options bumped the Premium’s starting price of $32,890 to a total of $35,575.

In 2013, its first year on the market, Encore sales totaled 31,956. It has been climbing each year since, with 78,565 sold in the U.S. in 2016.

2017 Buick Encore
2017 Buick Encore

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Buick Encore Premium AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:4-liter four-cylinder; 153 hp, 177 lb-ft torque
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,358 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $32,890.
  • Price as tested: $35,575.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017 Buick Encore
2017 Buick Encore

Photos (c) General Motors