Would You Buy a Three-Cylinder Buick?

Three-cylinder engine cars have gotten a bad rap over the years. This reputation reaches back to the days of the tiny struggling Geo Metro in the 1980s and the boxy wheezing Subaru Justy in the ’90s. Whether by chance or by design, three-cylinder vehicles are hard to find in the U.S. these days.

For example, both of the EcoBoost versions of Ford Fiesta and Focus have turbocharged three-cylinder engines. But next year Ford is discontinuing them in the U.S. The Mitsubishi Mirage, the MINI Hardtop, the MINI Clubman, and the Smart Fortwo are among the other few that run on three cylinders.

So it’s a bit surprising that General Motors is jumping into the three-cylinder market with a semicompact Buick crossover. According to GM Authority, the automaker announced the new 2020 Buick Encore GX for the U.S. market in May 2019. GM intends for the Buick Encore GX to fill a niche between the current subcompact Buick Encore and the compact Buick Envision.

A Bigger Sibling with a Smaller, Quicker Engine

GM offers buyers a choice between two turbocharged three-cylinder engines in the Encore GX. The less powerful of the two is a 1.2-liter engine codenamed LIH that produces 137 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. The second is a 1.3-liter codenamed L3T that makes 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque. The LIH is available only with a CVT transmission. Buyers who want the L3T can choose between CVT in the front-wheel-drive version or a nine-speed transmission in the all-wheel-drive version.

For comparison, the “regular” Encore has a 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine codenamed LUV that makes 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. In previous model years, buyers could opt for a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque.

The new Encore GX has already been presented to the Chinese market in July this year. The 1.3-liter inline three-cylinder L3T engine that makes 163 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque is the only available option in this market, and it specs out slightly higher than American estimates.

Other Differences between the Encore and the Encore GX

A key difference between the regular Encore and the Encore GX is that the latter provides an extra five cubic feet of cargo space, which would be somewhere around 23.5 cubic feet This somewhat bigger footprint will make the Encore GX slightly heavier than the junior Encore’s curb weight of about 3,200 pounds.

Another difference is that the GX is built on GM’s new VSS-F (Vehicle Strategy Set) platform. The original Encore is built on the Gamma platform, which dates back to 2000 with the popular Opel Corsa.

The Encore GX will be available in three trim levels, as compared to the Encore’s four. The Preferred, Select, and Essence trims are all available for the 1-2-liter LIH engine. The Select and Essence trims are available for the FWD version of the 1.3-liter L3T engine. For the AWD version of the L3T engine, all three trim levels are offered.

Although there aren’t a lot of details about the features offered at each trim level, GM does say the Encore GX will come standard with safety features such as forward collision alert, front pedestrian braking, and lane-keep assist system with lane departure warning. These features are optional on the standard Encore. The Encore GX will also have automatic emergency braking, which isn’t even an option on the Encore.

Pricing and Launch Date

GM has not yet released information on pricing for the Buick Encore GX. But if the 2019 Encore has a starting price of $23,200 and the 2019 Envision starts at $31,995, buyers can expect the price of the GX to fall somewhere in between.

It’s unclear what GM’s pricing strategy is for the Encore and the Encore GX at this point. It’s possible that the automaker may discount the former while offering the latter at a regular price, as Sam McEachern at GM Authority suggests. Regardless of how GM markets the budget-friendly Encore and the more upscale GX, though, adding an additional SUV to the lineup offering seems to support GM’s strategy of gradually phasing out Buick sedans

The Buick Encore GX will be manufactured in Korea. It is scheduled to arrive in U.S. dealerships by early 2020.

GM might be on target in its offer of a subcompact-plus SUV to buyers who want more space and luxury than what the regular Encore offers. However, it’s hard to predict whether they will like the idea of a three-cylinder Buick, even it’s turbocharged.