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TMCNet:  Detroit Free Press Mark Phelan column

[December 13, 2012]

Detroit Free Press Mark Phelan column

Dec 13, 2012 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Buick may have the New Year's first hit on its hands with the * * * * 2013 Encore, a mini-crossover that packs an extra-large serving of goodness into a pint-sized package.

Almost 20 inches shorter than a Chevrolet Equinox, the Encore is an early entrant into the next hot market segment: subcompact luxury crossovers. It goes on sale in February.

Prices for the 2013 Encore start at $24,950 for a front-wheel drive model. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 option across the line. All Encores come with a 138-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

I tested a very well-equipped front-drive Encore with leather seats, Bose audio, lane-departure warning, front-collision alert, heated steering wheel and front seats, sunroof, navigation system and 18-inch chrome wheels. It cost $30,780. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Encore's closest competitors as extra-small luxury crossovers are probably the BMW X1 -- 8.0 inches longer and considerably more expensive, but with loads more performance -- and the Mini Countryman -- 6.7 inches shorter and with far less interior space. It's nearly the same size as the front-wheel drive-only Fiat 500L that goes on sale midyear.

The Encore packs a lot of useable room into a small package. It offers expansive headroom, even with the optional sunroof. Front and rear leg room are also good. Shoulder room is more than adequate, though I wouldn't recommend long drives with three passengers in the rear seat. The hatchback opens onto a large and practical cargo space with 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 48.4 cubic feet available with the seat folded.

Buick trimmed the interior in attractive, high-quality materials and contrasting color combinations. There's a handy second glove box, but the driver could use more storage in the center console and a better receptacle for phones and iPods.

The Encore got a cut-rate version of Buick's excellent Intellilink controls for audio, navigation, phone, etc. The voice-recognition is superb, but it takes too many steps and too long to switch the audio from one source to another.

Pushing a button again and again to scroll past AM, FM, satellite radio, Bluetooth and iPod on the way to the CD player gets annoying when you know other Buicks have a touch screen that lets you go directly from one to another. You can switch sources with spoken commands but that, too, takes longer than simply touching a button or screen.

The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and six-speed transmission provided more than adequate power on a long drive that included plenty of fast highway miles up and down the Appalachian Mountains. Quicker throttle response would be welcome when you're measuring a gap in traffic, but the Encore's EPA fuel economy rating of 25 m.p.g. in the city, 33 on the highway and 28 combined matches or beats the BMW X1, Ford Escape 1.6L, Countryman and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The Encore runs on regular gasoline, which gives it an advantage over the premium-burning X1, Countryman, Nissan Juke and VW Tiguan.

The Encore shares its styling and much of its engineering with the Opel Mokka, which just went on sale in Europe. That pays off in responsive steering, good on-center feel and excellent brakes.

The Encore is also quiet at high speed. The suspension provides a comfortable ride and good road-holding, though there's more body roll than I'd like in quick corners.

The small SUV is remarkably easy to park. At one point I laughed out loud when I saw how much spare room I had in a space I'd thought would be too small.

The Encore's big lights and carefully conceived proportions give it a substantial appearance that belies its small size.

Surprisingly roomy, efficient, comfortable, fun to drive and affordable, the 2013 Buick Encore sets a high standard for the small luxury SUVs that are likely to follow it.

Contact Mark Phelan at 313-222-6731 or mmphelan@freepress.com.

More Details: Buick Encore with premium package Front-wheel drive five-passenger small luxury crossover SUV Price as tested: $30,780 (excluding destination charge) Rating: * * * * (out of four stars) Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, looks, features, interior room Shortcomings: Interior storage, audio controls, body roll Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings (Automatic transmission models; front-wheel drive except rear-drive BMW X1) Buick Encore: 25 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway/28 m.p.g. combined. Regular fuel.

BMW X1 sDrive 28i: 24 m.p.g. city/34 m.p.g. highway/28 m.p.g. combined. Premium fuel.

Ford Escape SE 1.6L: 23 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway/26 m.p.g. combined. Regular fuel.

Mini Cooper S Countryman: 25 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway/28 m.p.g. combined. Premium fuel.

Nissan Juke SL: 27 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway/29 m.p.g. combined. Premium fuel.

Volkswagen Tiguan S: 21 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway/26 m.p.g. combined. Premium fuel.

2013 Buick Encore FWD Front-wheel drive five-passenger small luxury crossover SUV Base price: $24,950 Price as tested: $30,780 (excluding destination charge) Safety equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front and rear-seat side air bags; curtain air bags; front-seat knee air bags; daytime running lights; Bose audio; front and rear parking assist; lane-departure warning Specifications as tested Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged DOHC variable timing 16-valve four-cylinder.

Power: 138 horsepower at 4,900 r.p.m.; 148 pound-feet of torque at 1,850 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic EPA fuel economy rating: 25 m.p.g. city/33 highway/28 combined. Regular fuel.

Dimensions Wheelbase: 100.6 inches Length: 168.5 inches Width: 69.9 inches Height: 65.2 inches Curb weight: 3,190 pounds Where assembled: Bupyong, South Korea Comparative base prices (not including destination charges) (All-wheel drive models with automatic transmissions) BMW X1 sDrive 28i: $30,650 Ford Escape SE 1.6L: $26,820 Mini Cooper S Countryman: $27,050 Nissan Juke SL: $25,000 VW Tiguan S: $24,700 2013 Buick Encore at a glance Vehicle type: Front- or all-wheel drive five-passenger small luxury crossover SUV Power: 138-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder .

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Price range: $24,950-$28,940 (Excluding options and destination charges) Key features on vehicle tested: Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front and rear-seat side air bags; curtain air bags; front-seat knee air bags; daytime running lights; Bose audio; front and rear parking assist; lane-departure warning; cruise control; front-collision alert; remote start; memory for driver's settings; power front seats; power windows, locks and mirrors; heated front seats; heated steering wheel; dual-zone climate control; leather seating; 110-volt outlet; front fog lights; rain-sensing wipers; twilight-sensing headlights; voice recognition for phone, audio and navigation; Bluetooth phone and music compatible; AM/FM/CD; three months service from XM satellite radio; iPod compatible; USB port; two glove boxes; 60/40 split folding rear seat; six months' OnStar service.

Options: Sunroof; navigation system; 18-inch chrome wheels.

___ (c)2012 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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