Behind The Wheel: Buick adds turbo to Encore

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The hot-selling Buick Encore has a new, peppier model for 2016 that makes the affordably priced, easy to maneuver and surprisingly refined SUV even more appealing.

The new 153-horsepower 2016 Encore Sport Touring joins all Encore models in providing the first two scheduled maintenance visits to the dealership for free during the first two years/24,000 miles. Plus, warranty coverage on the powertrain, which can typically entail the most expensive repair costs on a vehicle, lasts for six years or 70,000 miles.

The Encore also earned five out of five stars in frontal and side crash testing by the federal government, and Consumer Reports lists Encore reliability as 66 percent above average.

No wonder that the Encore, which is a small, tall SUV that debuted in 2013, outsold every other Buick — car or SUV — the last two years and is doing so again in 2016.

The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for the 2016 Encore is $24,990 with front-wheel drive and the base 138-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This is the second-lowest base price for a Buick, after the Verano compact sedan.

The starting retail price for a 2016 Encore with all-wheel drive is $26,490.

The base Encores are decently equipped, with a standard rearview camera, six-speed automatic transmission, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and music streaming, keyless entry and attractive cloth seats with leatherette accents. The Encore doesn't feel or look cheap, even as a base model.

Size matters

Another appealing attribute is the Encore's size. At 14 feet long, this subcompact SUV is just 8 inches longer than a Honda Fit hatchback and is a full foot shorter than the Honda CR-V SUV, which is classified as a compact.

Still, the five-seat Encore offers good headroom and legroom in its front and second rows, and there are all the flexible storage and seating options of a typical SUV, only in a smaller package.

For example, there are 18.8 cubic feet of storage space behind the second-row seats — more than in most compact car trunks. This room expands to a 48.4 cubic feet with rear seats folded down.

The 5.5-foot-tall Encore can feel a bit narrow for big, burly folks. It is 69.9 inches wide, which is 1.5 inches or so narrower than the width of larger SUVs. So, shoulder room in the Encore's front and second rows is some 4 inches less than what's in a CR-V.

The new Encore Sport Touring model for 2016 replaces the somewhat anemic 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a new 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder that maximizes power by using direct injection of the fuel.

This new engine can generate 177 foot-pounds of torque at 2,000 rpm, compared to 148 foot-pounds from the base engine, and it's more responsive.

But it can sound buzzy when pressed hard to accelerate, and it comes standard with a stop-start system that automatically turns off the engine when the car is at idle, such as at stoplights, and restarts it when the brake pedal is released.

Still, fuel economy is lackluster for such a small vehicle. The test-driven Encore Sport Touring with all-wheel drive averaged 24.3 mpg in mostly city driving with one or two occupants. The federal government rating is 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on highways.

With a 14-gallon fuel tank, the Encore tester could go just 340 miles on a single tank before requiring a fill-up. It needs only regular gasoline.

The Encore handled confidently, was easy to park and rode well.

The test-driven model allowed some noise from nearby vehicles to intrude into the passenger compartment. An occasional rattle came from around the moonroof.

The front-seat legroom of 40.8 inches and 35.7 inches in back is commendable. It was nice to have rear windows that recede all the way into the doors.

But the seat cushions, particularly in back and the front passenger seat, seemed short and didn't provide long-distance comfort.

The front seats had manual, not power-adjusting recline.


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