Drive: Buck’s 2020 Encore GX Essence is exudes quality and excellence

The Buick Encore, introduced for the 2013 model year, holds the distinction of being the first subcompact sport-utility vehicle we actually liked. All of the others in its class seemed cramped, especially for tall drivers, and delivered unimpressive performance on the road.

For 2020, the Encore grew up to become the Encore GX. It’s a slightly bigger version of the original Encore, which is still available. We test-drove a top-of-the-line 2020 Encore GX Essence with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $28,500, rising to $33,465 with optional equipment. The base GX Preferred starts at $24,100. The original Encore, in base trim, costs $900 less than the base Encore GX.

Buick is one of General Motors’ premium brands, and as such, its offerings cost more than comparable Korean or Japanese models. For example, the Kia Seltos, which slots between subcompact and compact SUVs, is priced as low as $21,990.

Interestingly, the Encore is built in South Korea by GM Korea, descended from Daewoo — a Korean brand that failed in the United States in 2002 after a five-year run. Whatever one thinks of Daewoos and other models by GM Korea and its predecessors, the two Encores we’ve test-driven have exhibited excellent build quality, and seem up-to-date in their technological features, performance and styling.

2020 Buick Encore GX Essence

Price: $33,465

Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged inline Three, 155 horsepower, 174 lb.-ft.torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Ground clearance: 7.5 in.

Weight: 4,409 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear

Wheels: 18x7-in. machined aluminum with painted pockets

Tires: 225/50R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 23.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 50.2 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Like the original Encore, which we test-drove in 2013, the Encore GX is uncommonly roomy for a subcompact SUV and rides comfortably. It’s also quite quiet inside, thanks in part to its active noise-canceling system. It features a 1.3-liter, 3-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers unexpectedly strong performance — quite unlike the other 3-cylinder car we’ve driven, a Mitsubishi Mirage. It’s rated at 155 horsepower. Lesser Encore GX models come with a 1.2-liter, 137-horsepower turbocharged Three, while Encores based on the earlier design have normally aspirated 4-cylinder engines. Our test car was rated at 30 mpg city, 32 highway, using regular unleaded gasoline.

The Encore GX is easy to live with. Access and egress are easy for drivers and passengers of all shapes and sizes. The controls are clearly marked and intuitively designed. The ride is quiet and comfortable, and handling is good enough to inspire confidence. While the front bucket seats are on the small side, they were comfortable enough for an eight-hour round trip across three days. Tall drivers had plenty of leg room and head room. In this respect, the Encore and Encore GX continue to enjoy a significant advantage over most subcompact SUVs.

Our test car came with a long list of standard features, but even the Preferred line is well equipped. Standard with the Essence are keyless start, 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay infotainment systems, 4G WiFi, satellite radio, power heated front seats, heated steering wheel, perforated leather upholstery, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings.

Major competitors include the Mazda CX-30, Fiat 500X, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Kia Soul and Seltos, and Hyundai Kona.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.