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 Encore
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 Encore
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.
2013 Buick Encore
We'd also ask Buick's engineers why it's necessary to have the radio on to use the navigation. If you want a map without music, you have to take the extra step of turning the volume down to zero, but not turning off the radio (unintuitive, at least to us).
Who makes these decisions?
Small turbo engine
The 2013 Buick Encore is offered only with a single powertrain: a 138-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional.
It's a sign of the increasing push for fuel efficiency that an engine this small propels a 3,300-pound vehicle. It's the same engine, incidentally, used in Buick's Verano and Chevy's Cruze, both compact four-door sedans.
The engine performs fine, though getting it to provide power takes a push through much of the accelerator's travel.
Like many powertrains tuned for efficiency, getting maximum power for hard acceleration requires the transmission to shift down not just once but through two gears--and in one memorable fast merge, through three gears.
The Encore is very quiet inside at pretty much any speed, making it a restful way to travel. But the electric power steering is numb, and it tended to wander at highway speeds, requiring vigilance to avoid drifting to the outside of a lane.
It was also susceptible to side winds, perhaps not surprising in a tall car with a short wheelbase.
Three-quarter vision #FAIL
The 2013 Encore comes standard with 10 airbags, a large number for a small car. But it fails on another measure of safety: outward vision.
The little Buick's rear three-quarter visibility is atrocious, making us very glad the rear-vision camera is standard equipment. Between a tall passenger-seat headrest, a rising rear window line, and a very thick roof pillar, the Encore's blind spot is as large as any passenger car we've driven in recent years.
2013 Buick Encore
GM seems to have some of the thickest pillars in the business--both windshield and roof--and we wish it could meet the new and tougher roof-crush standards without making its new cars impossible to see out of. Other makers can; why not General Motors?
We do give Buick credit for its fold-down rear seat headrests, though, which opened up the full expanse of rear hatch glass in the rear-view mirror.
We wish more makers would follow suit, so we don't have to keep pulling out rear-seat headrests (which roll around on the floor) just to be able to see out the rear.
Buick that should have been a Chevy?
The price of our 2013 Encore AWD with the Premium trim package was $29,690. On top of that, our test car added snazzy 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels ($995), white pearl tricoat paint ($745), and an AM/FM/satellite audio system with navigation and Buick IntelliLink, including a 7-inch touchscreen display ($795).
Add that $750 delivery fee, and the $32,975 sticker price is just 20 percent less than the starting price of the larger and undeniably more luxurious Lexus RX crossover.
Which leaves us wondering, who exactly is this Buick aimed at?
The 2013 Chevrolet Trax
We'd have considered the vehicle a much more sensible choice if it were sold as the 2013 Chevrolet Trax, which has different styling on the same basic vehicle--and is sold in Canada, but not the United States.
The base price of a front-wheel drive Chevy Trax in Canada is C$18,495, meaning it tops out in the mid-20s.
Which would make this subcompact crossover a much more understandable small utility vehicle choice.
Which would you pick, the Buick Encore or the Chevrolet Trax--and why?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.