The 2017 Buick Encore is another home run for Buick, especially with Android Auto being included as a Standard feature.
Buick has undergone a pretty significant facelift in the past few years. The car maker has been looking to reinvent itself and get out of the stereotype that older people drive Buick's. And they've done a pretty good job with that. They have redesigned a number of their models to look a bit more modern, and their vehicles have been a pleasure to drive - as they always have been. We already took a look at the 2017 LaCrosse, and thoroughly enjoyed our time with that vehicle. Now we're in the sub-compact SUV category of Buick's fleet, checking out the 2017 Encore, which is the second vehicle in their lineup to have Android Auto (the Envision also has it, as of writing this review). Now the Encore is a somewhat small SUV, hence the fact that it's a sub-compact SUV, but does it stand up to the other SUV's out there? Is it worth picking up? Well let's find out.
The model of the 2017 Encore that we are reviewing is the Encore Sport Touring - AWD. The build comes out to about $31,220, while the standard price (before any additional features) is actually $27,065. This model includes a 4-cylinder, 1.4L turbo engine, along with the Bose Premium audio system, an 8-inch infotainment system, and the safety package.
When it comes to the Encore, the cheapest model will cost you $22,990 which is actually fairly cheap. In fact, it's a bit cheaper than some of their sedans. It is available in a few different trims, including 1SV, Preferred, Sport Touring (what we are reviewing here), Preferred II, Essence and Premium. Each one is available with front-wheel drive or in all-wheel drive. Of course, as you'd expect, having all-wheel drive is a bit more expensive, around $3,000 more.
When it comes to the outside of the Encore, it looks pretty modest. It's not fancy like some of the other SUV's on the market, but it does look good. Especially in the Winterberry Red color that our model had (as seen above). The back mirrors had a bit of a tint (including the back cargo door), which made it much nicer to drive at night, especially when people are driving with their high beams on. The side-view mirrors were a bit lower than I would have liked, but it was fairly easy to get used too. Speaking of the side-view mirrors, as you can see they do have the signal indicators on them, making it easier for everyone to see when you are signaling to turn. They also have the blind-spot detection there. So when there is a car in your blindspot, you'll be notified, this way you don't accidentally run into another car. Of course these two features are present on most cars these days, but with the Encore not having as many bells and whistles as some other models (like the LaCrosse) it's still nice to have them available.
On the front of the car, there are the LED head lights, as well as fog lamps below. These lights weren't as bright as some others we've used recently, but for the most part they were able to get the job done. And the job being, allowing the driver to see at night, and not run into other cars or people. The grille actually looks quite nice, I'm a sucker for a nice looking grille and while this one isn't my favorite it does look good. Of course, the grille isn't a big deciding factor in buying a car for most people. There's no collision warning in the front, so if you are getting to close to the car in front of you, there's nothing that will tell you to stop. Which isn't a big deal, you should be paying attention to the road anyways, but that feature is a nice one to have.
Continuing with the mantra of the Encore not being fully loaded with a lot of the bells and whistles you'll see on other cars, there is no button on the keyfob for popping open the trunk. So you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way. A bit of a bummer, but not a huge deal. Now, Buick does have a rear camera, helping you back out of parking spaces without running into people. Since this is a SUV, there are bigger blind spots, so it is nice to have this rear-camera. Of course, this is a feature that you see on almost every single car these days, so not a big surprise to see it. As per usual, it will warn you if there are cars driving nearby, even if they aren't going near you, which is a good thing. Allowing you to wait to pull out until the vehicle is out of the way.
The design of the Encore may not be the most eye-catching, but it does look good. I'm a bit biased towards the Winterberry Red here, which looks pretty nice. Now there are a few features that are missing on the outside of the car, that I would like to see available here, but this is a sub-compact SUV, so it's not meant to be priced high like something like the Envision of the Enclave, which starts around $30,000 and up.
The interior comes in a couple of different colors, ours was the Ebony color, and personally I was a big fan of this color. Now the inside is not leather, which is probably a good thing on hot days, but it's still fairly comfortable. Typically when I hear the term "sub-compact" I immediately think that the car is going to be pretty uncomfortable and packed. But that wasn't the case here. I was able to sit in the driver's seat and drive the car without feeling like I was in a tiny car. Even sitting in the passenger seat or the back seat, it felt pretty comfortable. Now the car can fit up to five people, but four would probably sit comfortably. While many can sit in the middle of the back seat without an issue, there won't be much room on either side of them.
Now the back seat actually has a standard AC adapter back there. And honestly, that is the first time I have seen that in any of the cars that we have reviewed in the past couple of years. It's a great thing to have one back there - although it would be nice to have one in the front too. This means that people could plug in their laptop and get some work done. Definitely nice for those long road trips. The backseats do fold down, and actually, they fold down flat with the rear cargo area. Making it great for those trips to Ikea when you need that extra space.
Speaking of the cargo area, there isn't a ton of room back there, but for most things, you should have enough room. As you can see in the picture above, I was able to put a small suitcase and backpack in the back with plenty of room to spare. My guess is that you'd be able to fit around three checked bags back there with no problem. There are also hooks on the left and right side back there for hanging grocery bags. This is also nice to see (and you typically only see these in mini vans these days), as you can hang the bags there and not worry about them shifting on your way home. As the last thing you'd want to do is come home with broken eggs, or smushed bread.
Coming back to the front of the Encore, you'll see plenty of buttons. The steering wheel does have plenty of buttons for infotainment controls, which we'll cover more in a bit. The steering wheel is leather, but it's not heated like the LaCrosse's is. Now you may not think that's a big deal, but after using it, especially in a colder climate, it's an amazing feature to have. There is dual-zone climate control here, so you can have the driver's side nice and warm and the passenger side a bit cooler. It's pretty easy to control, and can even be controlled through IntelliLink, Buick's own infotainment system. OnStar is also present here, allowing you to get directions somewhere, get help, and so much more. OnStar has really turned into a pretty big part of GM's vehicles, and for good reason. It also has 4G LTE included, which you can read up on our experience with the hotspot here. The inside of the Encore isn't anything to write home about, but it's more than comfortable. And everything is easy-to-use and find in a hurry.
Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system is actually fairly straight-forward and easy to use. As you can see from the image above, you have different buttons at the top, for music, phone, navigation and messages. You can connect your smartphone via Bluetooth to IntelliLink and then be able to take phone calls through the speaker system in the car, the same goes for messages as well. Navigation is pretty good, it's not quite as good looking as Google Maps is, but it is actually more functional. One of the features I really liked is the fact that IntelliLink will alert you to construction and accidents ahead. Whereas Google Maps just shows it on the map, IntelliLink actually announces it over the speaker system.
You can also get your weather from IntelliLink and see just how cold or warm it actually is outside. Now the picture above shows "Projection" which is for either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, depending on the device you plug in. Once the device is plugged in, that will change to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Of course, in our review, it was Android Auto all the way. Which we'll touch a bit more on that in a minute. IntelliLink is pretty easy to navigate through. It's actually set up pretty similarly to Chevy's infotainment system. IntelliLink may not be the perfect infotainment system out there, but it's definitely usable and has loads of features.
Now we're onto Android Auto, the real reason why we were checking out the Encore. Setting up Android Auto is basically the same as it is with any car. Plug in your phone to the USB port closest to the display, and then walk through the setup process on your smartphone. Beneath the display, there are two USB ports and a regular car charging port. Plug in your smartphone to either of those USB ports, and you'll be able to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Android Auto hasn't really changed a whole lot, since it launched nearly two years ago. So what we were looking for here was more about how well Android Auto works in IntelliLink, along with the steering wheel controls and the GPS signal in the car. Typically when we plugged in our smartphone - which we used the Huawei Mate 9 during the review - Android Auto would pop up right away, as it should, and you would see the screen above. Typically showing what music is playing or was last playing, along with some locations you may have searched before (or Home, if you have that set in Google Maps). There will also be missed calls and text messages there.
On the right-side of the steering wheel, you'll find all of your controls for Android Auto. Voice control on the left side works in both IntelliLink and Android Auto. Just pressing it will open up the voice commands for IntelliLink, to use it in Android Auto you'll need to long-press it. And this is the case with every vehicle on the road with Android Auto. So to search for a location in Google Maps, just press it until Android Auto responds then give it the destination you want to go to. In the middle, you'll see a couple of arrows. These work for changing the radio station in IntelliLink, but also for skipping or going to the previous song in Android Auto - no matter what music provider you use. And then on the right side is your volume control, which is pretty much the same whether you are in Android Auto, or IntelliLink.
To no surprise here, the GPS signal in the car works pretty much perfectly. It didn't have us somewhere off-road or where we weren't actually at. We used Google Maps to navigate to a few places during our time with the car, just to see how well (or not so well) it performs with GPS and navigation. There were no real surprises here. Although, I will mention that Google Maps is still missing a few key features like showing the speed limit (although that was in Android Auto, but it appears to have been taken out at some point recently).
During our week with the Buick Encore, the car was no longer connecting with our smartphone, the Huawei Mate 9. We're not sure why, but we did uninstall Android Auto, make the car forget the phone, etc. and it still wouldn't connect. But a factory reset of the Mate 9 fixed this for us. So we're not sure what happened there, but it's worth mentioning. It could be a bug with Android Auto, could be one with IntelliLink, it's hard to say (although we are leaning towards it not being IntelliLink's issue since it was connecting over Bluetooth and still ringing when calls came through).
Overall, Android Auto worked just as it should have, no surprises there. Buick has made Android Auto work really well with their infotainment system. It still would be nice to not need to plug in our smartphone to the car every time we get in or out of the car, but that's something that Google will need to introduce. It shouldn't be hard to do wireless Android Auto, since Apple does it with CarPlay. But we believe that Google is keeping it wired because Android Auto uses a good amount of battery and charging it while it's being used for Android Auto is a better experience for users.
Perhaps more important than anything we talked about in this review so far, is how the Encore actually drives. And in a short answer, smooth. Of course with a car that has less than a thousand miles, you would expect that anyways. The Encore is pretty bare-bones, compared to a number of other cars on the market right now (that we've reviewed: LaCrosse, Malibu, Accord, etc). It handles very well, even in the harsh Michigan weather (which we did end up driving it in some snow, but nothing crazy like what the Northeast got last week). It does have traction control, making it easier to drive on slippery roads.
There's a 1.4-L Turbo engine inside this particular Encore, but it's still somewhat slow to get to 60 MPH. This is actually quite normal for the Encore, as older models did also go quite slow. It can get there fairly fast, but compared to smaller cars, it is a bit slow. Putting in a smaller engine does help the Encore get slightly better mileage out of a tank of gas though. The Encore is rated at getting about 26 MPG on city streets and about 31 MPG on the highway, for a combined score of 28 MPG. During our review, we did plenty of driving on city streets and highways, and according to the built-in computer, we were getting just shy of 30 miles per gallon. Which is pretty good, for a SUV, even a sub-compact SUV. Meaning that you could likely get around 300 miles on a single tank of gas. Of course, that all depends on how you drive, what speed you're driving at and a bunch of other variables.
The Encore is also outfitted with a Bose speaker system, much like the LaCrosse. I was actually a bit surprised to see this in the Encore, as Bose is typically only in higher-end cars (like the 2017 Audi Q7 we reviewed last year). But definitely glad it was there. The Bose system worked really well, it was nice and loud without making the music playing sound terrible. The highs were still crystal clear with the lows being nice and bassy. This is exactly what you would expect from speakers from Bose, though. So again, no surprises here.
One of the cooler features of the Encore - and actually this is part of any GM vehicle these days - is the myBuick app for Android and iOS. With this app, you can see where your car is parked. But you can also choose to remote start the car from your phone. This is very useful in the winter, especially in the Northern states, where you need to let the car warm up a bit first before you drive off (also it means you're getting into a warm car instead of a cold one). It's part of OnStar, and definitely nice to have available. Now, GM or Buick just needs to bring this functionality to Android Wear, like some of their competitors have done (namely, Hyundai).
So the 2017 Buick Encore, what's the verdict on this sub-compact SUV? Well, that's a bit of a mixed bag. I have to say, when I took delivery of it, and drove it the very first time, I wasn't too impressed by it. It felt rather "meh". But after driving it for a few days, I slowly began to fall in love with it. I'm not a big fan of SUV's, I actually prefer smaller cars, sedans really. But the Encore is one I could see myself buying because it's a sub-compact SUV, so you still get plenty of cargo space, some rather decent fuel economy, and it can handle a wet, snowy winter rather well. Of course, being a fan of Bose, that's also something that would make me buy this car.
Now the real question is, whether or not this is a good car for families, and I think it is. Now if you are looking to seat more than three additional people, room might be a bit tough to come by, but it is definitely a family-friendly vehicle. The Buick Encore has a lot going for it. In fact, there's not a lot to complain about here. And for a starting price of around $22,990, it's not a bad vehicle to pick up. Add in the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay features, and it might just be the best sub-compact SUV on the market right now. What makes it even better is that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard features. So you won't be paying extra for this. That's something that GM has been doing with their brands (GMC, Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac in the US) for Android Auto, and it's really appreciated. Seeing as some of the other car makers out there are charging extra for this feature.
You can check out the 2017 Buick Encore at your local Buick dealer today. Definitely worth taking it for a test drive, especially if you are in the market for a new car.