2020 Buick Encore: Is This the SUV’s Saving Grace That’s Attracting Buyers?

As the smallest of Buick’s lineup, the Encore is a subcompact SUV that has grown ever more popular among buyers. And the Buick Encore typifies the brand because it’s more upscale than, say, its corporate twin the Chevy Trax, yet it’s not as luxe as a Lexus NX.

But the reviews for the 2020 Buick Encore range from mildly positive to barely lukewarm. So why is the new Encore like catnip for buyers who want a subcompact SUV? We turned to Consumer Reports and other reviews of it to find out.

Growing sales for the Buick Encore

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As a part of the surging SUV market, sales of subcompact SUVs expanded by 18 percent in 2019 and have been breaking records every year since 2010, according to CarSalesBase.com. At the top of the sales chart is the Buick Encore along with the Trax, giving General Motors more than 28 percent of the subcompact SUV market share.

Ever since Buick rolled out the Encore, its sales have been climbing steadily. In 2013, the SUV’s first year of production, Buick sold almost 32,000 Encore models. The Encore passed the 100,000 sales mark in 2019. There’s no question that buyers are drawn to this SUV. But its reviewers? Not so much.

The SUV’s mixed reviews

While the 2020 Buick Encore didn’t receive terrible reviews from some of the well-respected car websites, glowing praise wasn’t forthcoming, either.

For instance, Car and Driver gave it a three out of five in part because reviewers liked its comfortable cabin but shunned its sluggish 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbo engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Its EPA ratings were a middling 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive Encore and 24 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the all-wheel-drive version.

C&D reviewers appreciated the Encore’s luxurious touches but felt it needed more driver-assist features for its asking price. The Buick was No. 10 in the automotive website’s ranking of SUVs in this segment.

Reviewers at MotorTrend thought its powertrain’s automatic stop-start system was tuned with a heavy hand, but they did find the Encore’s styling attractive. They believed that it wasn’t luxurious enough to keep up with premium rivals in its class. Yet, it wasn’t practical enough to compete with its less expensive competitors. Overall, the MT reviewers believed that in such a large field of subcompact SUVs, buyers could choose something else that would suit their needs.

Consumer Reports testers gave the Encore a score of 71 out of 100, which placed it in sixth place behind deluxe models such as the Audi Q3 and the BMW X2 and ahead of the Mini Cooper Countryman and the Jaguar E-Pace. CR testers approved of the Buick’s driveability and parking ease as well as optional frills such as a heated steering wheel. 

But they found several key flaws in the Encore, too. Its gawky tallness and narrowness combined with a small footprint gave its cabin an overly confined feel. The awkward body design also limits visibility out of the Encore’s rear windows. 

Testers also found it odd that an SUV that aspires to luxury has a manually adjustable driver’s seat instead of the power seat recline found in luxury models. And like the Car and Driver reviewers, they had no love for the Encore’s plodding 138-hp engine or its so-so fuel economy.

The Buick Encore’s main redeeming feature, according to Consumer Reports

Despite all of the Buick Encore’s shortcomings, the CR testers thought it had one major strength: its outstandingly comfortable ride. This, along with its nearly noise-free interior, saved the Buick from its weaknesses.

On the road, the Encore is stable and solid – just like a larger, heavier luxury SUV. Its suspension absorbs pavement irregularities well. Highway driving in the Encore was smooth and serene, according to the testers.

This is encouraging news because this means that Buick understands that buyers expect a smooth, comfortable ride in luxury vehicles. Even more importantly, the automaker knows that this characteristic is rare in “smaller than small” SUVs. Good ride quality is usually found in SUVs larger than the subcompact class, from the compact Acura RDX all the way up to the large Lincoln Navigator.

The automaker still has many refinements to make in the 2020 Buick Encore, which starts at $23,200. Its engine needs a boost, and its body design needs some re-engineering for starters. But buyers are still flocking to this SUV, so that does point to the things – like its superior ride – that Buick is doing right.