Buick aims Encore at empty nesters
ATLANTA -- Buick is trying to carve a new niche -- again -- with the rollout of the Encore, its small crossover.
Much like the Verano compact sedan that went on sale in late 2011, the Encore doesn't draw many easy comparisons. General Motors hopes that's because nobody has thought to offer a premium small crossover that can be had for less than 30 grand.
The Encore's diminutive size -- think Mini Countryman -- might be jarring to some Buick customers. But its interior is roomier than it looks from the outside. And Buick executives during a media launch here said they're out to poach customers from non-GM brands, especially empty nesters accustomed to nicely appointed SUVs who want to downsize their vehicles and monthly payments.
The basics: The Encore, on sale by the end of January, is small. It measures about 19 inches shorter and 3 inches narrower than a Chevrolet Equinox. The decision to make 18-inch wheels standard was a key to preventing the sculpted exterior from looking too petite.
It is powered by a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same powerplant offered in the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic, which is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel-drive version delivers 25 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. The optional on-demand awd model gets 23/30.
Produced in Korea, the Encore is among the first vehicles built on the crossover version of GM's global subcompact architecture. It also will be sold in China and was recently launched in Europe as the Opel Mokka.
Notable features: GM deployed some interior packaging tricks that make the Encore deceptively roomy inside. It offers as much rear seat legroom as the larger Volkswagen Tiguan and more than the Countryman.
Its 18.8 cubic feet of rear cargo space is more than the just-released BMW X1's 16.9 cubic feet. The Encore's rear seats and front passenger seat fold flat to accommodate a few pairs of skis, lumber or other bulky items. There's headroom to spare, even for tall occupants.
Building on a hallmark trait for the Buick brand, the Encore's cabin is quiet, thanks to ample use of sound-absorbing material under the hood, in the wheel wells and throughout the cabin. The crossover gets Buick's first use of Bose Active Noise Cancellation, technology that deploys microphones and sound waves to counteract unwanted engine noise.
What Buick says: Buick will bill the crossover as "functionality and luxury in a right-sized package," says Tony DiSalle, Buick's vice president of marketing. While aimed at 30-somethings, GM also is targeting empty nesters who no longer need SUV-like space but still want a versatile package.
"Luxury has always been tied to size. We've decoupled that," DiSalle says.
Shortcomings and compromises: The 1.4-liter turbo engine is the largest that can fit under the hood. The power felt adequate enough to pass trucks on two-lane country roads. But the Encore is underpowered compared with its closest competitors: the BMW X1 and the turbo version of the Countryman.
The market: GM expects the market for small crossovers to grow faster than the U.S. market overall. It won't provide a 2013 sales forecast for the Encore. AutoPacific projects U.S. sales of 13,600 Encores next year. IHS forecasts 18,500 units, growing to nearly 25,000 by 2015.
The skinny: While the vehicle is more important for GM in China and Europe, the Encore is a key addition to Buick's broadening U.S. lineup. If Buick dealers surpass sales targets and achieve a 40 percent-plus conquest rate, it could build momentum for an eventual crossover slotted between the Encore and the popular full-sized Enclave.
|The Mini Countryman is the Buick Encore's closest rival in the budding small luxury crossover space.|
|2013 Buick Encore||2013 Mini Countryman|
|Wheelbase||100.6 in.||102.2 in.|
|Length||168.5 in.||161.8 in.|
|Width||69.9 in.||70.4 in.|
|Height||65.2 in.||61.5 in.|
|Curb weight||3,190 lbs.||2,954 lbs.|
|Base engine||1.4-liter turbocharged I-4||1.6-liter I-4|
|Horsepower||138 @ 4,900 rpm||121 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque, lbs.-ft.||148 @ 1,850 rpm||114 @ 4,250 rpm|
|EPA mpg||25 city/33 hwy.||27 city/35 hwy.|
You can reach Mike Colias at email@example.com.