Buick has been making automobiles for an unimaginably long time. The company made its first cars back in 1899, though the company was then called Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company and focused more on marine engines. Like many American car manufacturers, Buick has risen and fallen through the decades and has ended up with a reputation for stodgy cars that your parents might like, but probably nothing to check out if you want modern, sporty, stylish vehicles. Which is a problem, because it turns out that Buick has a terrific lineup that emphasizes its history while offering all the latest tech and safety systems you could possibly want.
It should be no surprise that when Buick reached out and offered me a week behind the wheel of a brand new 2020 Encore GX I jumped at the chance. It’s one thing to see them on the lot or at an auto show, and another thing entirely to have one in your driveway and have the chance to drive enough to really get a feel for the vehicle. And overall, the Encore GX is a pretty sweet ride:
As you can see, it’s ready for the urban life with its sweeping lines and modern grill. But notice that it also has top rails, nice, sporty wheels and, of course, a gorgeous color. This is Deep Azure Metallic and though you can’t really see in the photo, it’s sparkly. In fact, my youngest is now wanting to repaint her car this color it’s so cool in direct sunlight.
The drive experience is solid too, powered by a ECOTEC 1.3L Turbo engine with a continuously variable transmission. It’s definitely fun to drive and gets reasonably good mileage too, around 30mpg. Let’s look inside so you can see that it’s not really your father’s SUV at all:
In fact, if you replaced the Buick logo on the steering wheel with a Honda, or Lexus or even Audi logo, people might well have a different impression even as everything else remains the same. It’s a classic American car design in many ways too, with environmental controls that haven’t evolved much for a few decades. There are some nice features you can see in this photo too, like the adjustment on the driver’s door to let you specify if you want your back hatch to open to maximum height or 3/4 open instead.
There are also plugs galore too, as one expects on a modern vehicle:
Notice it’s USB-C, USB-3, an AUX input jack and an OG 12V cigarette lighter. More interestingly, below that is a Qi wireless charging pad where you can just slip your Qi-compatible smartphone and have it charge while you drive without any wires involved. Nice.
Above that is the infotainment system which doesn’t break any new ground in user experience, but instead trades funky and unique with understandable and logical. It’s easy to work with whether you’re plugging in and using your phone via CarPlay, Android Auto or just a wired or Bluetooth device. It also has Amazon Alexa built in, but I’m still not sure what the actual benefit is when I have a smartphone.
The main gauge display shows that the Encore still has some classic Buick roots too; this display of tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right hasn’t changed for quite a few years:
Now, why does a car need a tachometer when it’s an automatic transmission? Never really understood why car manufacturers bother with this given that most people are going to be ignoring it the entire time they own the vehicle. The CarTalk guys have a theory: “Some cars are so quiet now that it’s actually hard to tell if they’re running… so I’ll admit to glancing at the tachometer from time to time, to make sure I’ve turned off the engine”.
While we’re talking about the interior driver’s experience, I have to say that I really didn’t like the atypically small rear view mirror. As you can see in this photo, it’s small and doesn’t offer a great view of what’s happening behind you:
In front of you, however, Buick’s added something cool. The Encore GX has is a little heads up display. Unlike my Mazda HUD where the information is just reflected off the windshield, however, Buick has a tiny plastic sheet that pops up for the display:
It is very useful, though as you can see the size of the displayed information compared to the size of the plastic is a bit wanting. Why not make it bigger? Also note the green vehicle icon: I have no cars directly in front of me but the forward proximity sensor is still identifying that there is a vehicle within my safety zone. Presumably that’s the vehicles coming towards me on this road, but as long as we all stay in our lanes, is that really a safety concern?
Speaking of which, I was startled by the complete lack of power and controls for rear seat passengers. It’s become so de rigueur for rear passengers to have some environmental controls and a USB power plug or two that I was quite surprised when I couldn’t find anything at all for those in the back. Worse, if you’re a tall driver or passenger, there sure isn’t much legroom for those rear seat kids either:
Even airlines offer more legroom than that, Buick! As I’ve said before, if car manufacturers just stretched out their vehicles 3-4 inches, it could make a world of different for the rear seat passengers. And that USB power? A definite omission.
Fortunately Buick didn’t stint on the rear cargo space, it’s plenty of capacity for sports equipment, camping gear or lots of grocery bags from the latest expedition to the supermarket:
If there was an optional configuration that lost 6″ of depth but gave that six inches as additional legroom for the rear passengers, I wonder how many people might opt in. What’s more important to you and your family?
And, finally, another exterior shot:
The Encore GX really is a stylish and attractive SUV, props to the Buick design team.
Not only that but at night, when you get close to the vehicle with your keys in your pocket, it does that trendy thing of projecting the car’s logo on the ground behind your vehicle:
Pretty sure there’s no actual utility or purpose to this, but at least it’s interesting and fun, right?
Overall, I have to say that the few problems I encountered with the 2020 Encore GX (rear seat space, lack of amenities for rear passengers, small rear view mirror) were more than balanced out by the many positives of the vehicle. The fact that it has a peppy drive experience, good handling and 30mpg are great, as is the uninspired, but easy to use infotainment system. You might not have Buick on your short list for your next SUV, but it’s definitely worth checking out and giving a test drive.
CONFIGURATION: 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence FWD – Ecotec 1.3L Turbo with CVT, in Deep Azure Metallic. Options included in the vehicle I drove: Advanced Tech Package, Convenience Package, Liftgate Package, Deep Azure Metallic color and Ecotec 1.3L engine. BASE PRICE: $28,500. AS DRIVEN: $33,465.
Disclosure: Buick loaned me the 2020 Encore GX for a week in return for this writeup. Thanks, Buick!