2021 Buick Encore GX ST: A little more of a good thing
It's easy to assume the 2021 Buick Encore GX is a simply a slightly stretched version of the company's groundbreaking luxury subcompact crossiver first introduced in 2013. But in fact, despite looking alike, the two are substantially different, with their own engines, sheet metal, and interiors. But it's safe to say that those who like the original Encore will like the larger and more refined GX even more.
In the heated race to offer more of the crossovers that most consumers now prefer, some manufacturers have offered different-sized versions of the same SUV. A few years ago, Hyundai sold a two-row Santa Fe Sport and a longer three-row Santa Fe. Today, Volkswagen is selling a two-row Atlas Cross Sport and a longer three-row Atlas. Aside from the additional length for the extra row of seats, everything else about them was and is the same.
But that's not what Buick did when it created the Encore GX last year. Instead of making it a new compact model that would have competed against the upcoming Envision, Buick slotted the GX between it and the original Encore, sort like a subcompact-and-a-half. Although the GX is only about three inches longer and two inches longer, it has enough additional interior space to feel substantially roomier than the original Encore. And although the wheelbase is only 1.6 inches longer, the ride feels even smoother.
Like the Encore, the Encore GX is available with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. But they do not share engines. The Encore comes standard with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower. Two different engines are available in the GX and, surprisingly both of them are three-cylinders, which are very rare. A turbocharged 1.2-liter version generates 137 horsepower and a turbocharged 1.3-liter version pumps out a healthier 155 horsepower.
Our test GX was a top-of-the-line Essence model that came with FWD and the optional 1.3-liter engine, which proved peppy enough to make it fun around town and adequate on freeways. But our tester also came with the Sport Touring package that includes 16-inch aluminum wheels and special trim to give it a sportier look and feel. Because of that, our Encore was technically a GX ST, for those of you who like abbreviations in car names.
In a week of driving, I found the 2021 Buick Encore GX ST to be a comfortable and entertaining daily driver that was also capable of keeping up with fast freeway traffic. That's was a little surprising, given its three-cylinder engine, which I thought might be underpowered. That was because the last three-cylinder car I tested was a Geo Metro many years ago. But Buick's standards are a lot higher and turbocharging makes a big difference. Most Encore GX owners will quickly forget they're driving a three-banger.
Our tester also handled well around town. I can't say how big a different the ST package made, but it was surprisingly smooth over rough rides and nimble during cornering. The interior was well appointed, with high quality leather where it counts and a full range of infortainment and safety tech systems. My only complaint is that the front bucket seats seem to have been swapped over from the smaller Encore and could have been wider, given the available space between the doors and center console.
The concept of a luxury subcompact crossover (or even a luxury compact crossover) might seem puzzling. Why pay extra for a small vehicle, no matter how well made, when larger ones are available for less? It's a good question, but not one that has stopped their proliferation. Since the Encore was first introduced eight years ago, Audi, BMW and Mercedes have all introduced their own versions. Affordable manufacturers like Chevy, Ford, Honda, Jeep, Mazda and Toyota have also entered the subcompact crossover market. The 2021 Encore and Encore GX splits the difference, being more refined than those offered by the affordable manufacturers but less expensive than those from the well established luxury brands.
Naturally, the Encore GX costs a little more than the original Encore. Those considering a luxury compact crossover should drive the two back-to-back to decide whether the additional room and refinement are worth. I think the answer will be yes.
You can read another Pamplin Media Group review of the 2020 Buick Encore GX AWD here.
2021 Buick Encore GX ST
Base price: $30,500
Price as tested: $34,215
Type: Subcompact Crossover SUV
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder (155 hp, 174 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic; Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 26/29
Overall length: 171.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,273 pounds
Final assembly: Bupyeong, Korea
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