2013 Buick Encore, Catskill Mountains, New York, Feb 2013Enlarge Photo
It's a subcompact. It's all-wheel drive. It's sort of a crossover, sort of a small wagon.
It's also a Buick.
We recently spent four days and covered 373 miles in a 2013 Buick Encore, the newest and smallest entry in the five-car lineup from GM's near-luxury brand.
Despite its subcompact size, the Encore isn't quite the least-expensive Buick. Its base price of $24,200 is more than $1,100 higher than that of the Buick Verano compact sedan.
But our top-of-the-line Encore all-wheel drive with the Premium package came in almost $9,000 higher, at a breathtaking $32,975 (including a mandatory $750 delivery fee).
And we seriously wonder whether Buick is going to find much of a market for a tall mini-crossover that really only holds four adults and has some head-scratching compromises that make it seem very expensive for what you get.
Gas mileage: 28 mpg
To be fair, our 2013 Buick Encore was a pleasant enough way to travel, and it did everything we asked it to do--including passing our driveway test by scampering up a snowy, icy, rutted dirt and gravel track.
And, on our usual test cycle--about two-thirds highway, one-third city and suburban--it returned a creditable 28.1 miles per gallon, higher than its EPA combined rating of 26 mpg (23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway).
The front-wheel drive Encore, incidentally, gets better ratings, at 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway).
2013 Buick EncoreEnlarge Photo
The competition among all-wheel drive small crossovers is a mixed bag, ranging from the less luxurious, more utilitarian Subaru XV CrossTrek to the sportier Nissan Juke hatchback and Mini Countryman crossover.
There's also an all-wheel drive version of the Fiat 500L coming in a year or so, and the now-discontinued Toyota Matrix AWD version and departed Suzuki SX4 hatchback would have qualified as well--though none of the cars on this list are anywhere as luxurious as the Buick.
Brash looks, puzzling features
The Encore's lines probably look better in person than in photos. It sits tall and looks larger than its actual size, helped by the optional 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels that give it a brash look.
Buick calls it a five-passenger small luxury crossover, but in reality, three adults will not be willing to travel long distances in the rear seat.
Just getting in the car reveals some of the not-quite-luxury features. There's no proximity key, for instance, just GM's standard fob with a flip-out key (a feature we like, but we'd have expected a proximity key anyway).
Then there's the driver's seat, which has power adjustment only for the bottom half of the seat--the backrest recline angle is controlled by a lever at the base of the seat.
2013 Buick EncoreEnlarge Photo
There's only a single armrest, on the driver's seat--the front passenger doesn't get one. And the turn signal stalk is identical to the one in the Chevrolet Sonic that costs half as much.
It's these kinds of things that seem a bit odd in a $33,000 "luxury" vehicle.
Black buttons, 33 of them
Based on the interior plastics, one passenger guessed that the Encore cost $24,000 to $26,000.
"It's a nice interior for an economy car," he said, "but it's not luxury."
The interior of our Encore was all black, although a two-tone interior is offered--and, we think, conveys a more luxurious feel.
The Encore continues with Buick's annoying habit of putting a large grid of black pushbuttons on the center stack; we counted 33 of them.
At least Buick provides rotary controls for temperature (but not for the fan), a round pushable controller for the navigation and IntelliLink system, and a radio volume control.