Expert Reviews

2020 Buick Encore GX Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

In a very odd marketing decision, the 2020 Buick Encore GX isn’t just another trim level on its popular subcompact sport-ute. Instead, it’s an all-new model, slotting in between the smaller Encore and the larger Envision, with the “GX” standing for Grand Crossover.

Built in Korea, the Encore GX comes in three trim levels, starting with the Preferred that’s $26,098 for a front-wheel-drive model, and $28,098 for all-wheel drive (AWD). The other two are AWD-only: Select at $30,098, and my Essence tester at $32,598. The one I tested had three option packs, bringing it to $37,183 before freight and taxes.

Styling: 8/10

The Encore GX makes the most of its compact footprint; it’s well-proportioned, and with a swept-back roofline for a tapered look, but not so much that it eats up all the rear-seat headroom. The sharp side creases give it character, and the front end is interesting, if a hair away from being a bit too busy. All trim levels get 18-inch alloy wheels. The Select and Essence get a hands-free power tailgate that projects a Buick logo onto the ground to show you where to kick as you approach.

Inside, the Encore GX has a well-crafted interior. The dash is sculpted with long, horizontal lines to make the cabin seem roomier, and the materials look and feel high-quality, with accent stitching and patterns in the seat perforations.

Safety: 7.5/10

The Encore GX has been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received an overall rating of four out of five stars. As of this writing, it hadn’t yet been rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

All models come with emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights, while blind-spot monitoring is optional on the base Preferred, and standard on Select and Essence. My vehicle was further equipped with some high-tech safety features, including adaptive cruise control, rear park assist, a surround-view camera, head-up display, and a rear camera mirror, which broadcasts a video of what’s behind you without window pillars or rear-seat occupants in the way.

Practicality: 8.5/10

Despite its relatively small size, the Encore GX has some tricks up its sleeve for handling whatever you need to carry. The cargo floor can be removed and slid into one of two height positions – although there’s a spare tire under it, rather than a bunch of storage cubbies.

The second-row seats are easy to fold, and they go down flat. The front passenger seat also folds down flat, and has a hard-plastic panel at the top of the seatback. That lets you carry long loads almost the length of the cabin, and without damage that you might get on a cloth-backed chair. There’s also a fair amount of cubby space for small items as well.

User Friendliness: 9/10

I’d prefer a dial to the pair of buttons for turning the climate fan up or down, but beyond that, everything is easy to use. The cabin temperature uses a pair of dials that look and feel very upscale, with their knurled edges and buttons inside – and it’s the little things that make a difference.

The infotainment system is simple to use, and the engine stop/start function, which shuts it off at idle, can be temporarily disabled by tapping a button. What I really like is how my tester’s optional head-up display is handled. Most of these systems require that you page through computer menus to adjust the display – a frequent necessity when differently sized drivers share the car – but Buick adds buttons to the left side of the dash for instant accessibility. That said, I’m not quite as impressed that the head-up is projected on a piece of plastic that rises out of the dash. You look through a windshield projection, but you must look at the Encore GX’s plastic panel.

Features: 7.5/10

All trim levels include heated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, and a remote starter, and while the base Preferred has “semi-automatic” climate control, the Select and Essence have a dual-zone automatic system. All trims also include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar, and “Teen Driver,” which restricts speed, stereo volume, and seatbelt use, and gives a “report card” of what a young driver did while using the vehicle.

I’d have given the Encore GX a higher score for its features list, but its options are scattered across pricey packages. If you want a panoramic sunroof, you need the $2,295 Experience Buick Package; it’s not a standalone option or part of any other bundles. For adaptive cruise control, rear park assist, and head-up display, you need the $2,195 Advanced Technology Package, but if you’d like the rear camera mirror along with those other driver assist items, now you need the $895 Convenience Package, too. Or if you want navigation and wireless charging, that’s two option bundles. (The Experience and Advanced both include navigation, so you get a discount when ordering both, as on my tester.)

Power: 8/10

All Encore GX models come with a turbocharged three-cylinder engine. In the base Preferred in front-wheel drive, it’s a 1.2L that makes 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). With all-wheel drive – optional on Preferred, and standard on Select and Essence – you get a 1.3L that produces 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, along with a nine-speed automatic transmission.

That’s decent power for a sport-ute this size, and when driven moderately – say, a daily commute – the Encore GX is peppy. It’s less satisfying for passing power, however. Put your foot down hard, and there’s an annoying dead spot as engine and transmission sort out how to react before they deliver a noisy spurt of acceleration. There’s a lot of sound deadening in the engine compartment, but that three-banger’s rough idle is evident as a low vibration through the steering wheel.

Comfort: 8/10

The Encore GX is roomy inside, including in the rear seat. I found the front seats comfortable and with enough support, although those with longer legs might wish for a bit more length to the seat cushions.

If you’ve historically associated Buick with a floaty or squishy ride, that stops here. The suspension is firm but not in a bad way, and all but the worst bumps get soaked up before they reach the cabin.

Driving Feel: 6/10

The Encore GX obeys you well enough, but the steering isn’t smooth. The wheel jerks when it straightens out after a corner, and the tires tend to follow road imperfections, requiring corrections to stay in a straight line.

There’s also torque steer – pulling to the right on acceleration, and something most automakers have long since engineered out of their vehicles. The AWD system is driver-selectable, and engaging it moderates the torque steer a bit, but it’s still there. The all-wheel is an on-demand system that sends torque to the rear each time you take off from a stop, and then any time it detects slippage, but otherwise remains in front-wheel drive. For the slight bit of fuel you save in starting off in front-wheel only, I’d rather leave it in AWD so it’s there if it’s needed, such as if you unexpectedly approach a wet or gravel-slippery patch and don’t think to hit that button as soon as you see it.

Fuel Economy: 8.5/10

The 1.3L is officially rated at 9.0 L/100 km in the city, 8.0 on the highway, and 8.5 in combined driving, and in my week with it, I achieved 8.7 L/100 km.

Removing a cylinder doesn’t make a huge difference, since the Encore GX’s fuel figures are close to or marginally better than most four-cylinder competitors. But I still found it sipped enough fuel to give it a good score.

Value: 7.5/10

Buick can be a bit tough to cross-shop, because it’s one of the few midrange entries where most multi-brand automakers have just mainstream and premium. Its AWD starting price of $28,098 is more than something like the Mazda CX-30, but much less than you’d pay for, say, a Volvo XC40 or Lexus UX.

But that midrange classification also means that some premium features aren’t standard equipment, and they can be pricey to add in. My tester was nicely equipped, but felt a bit too expensive at $37,183. You’ll have to watch how you check the option boxes.

The Verdict

With only the Regal in its car category, Buick is slicing the sport-ute market ever thinner to put four of them in front of customers. The Encore GX has a gruff little engine and its steering could be dialled in better, but it’s a nice size, the interior is well-done, and if you’re willing to pay for some of them, it has a lot of features. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time explaining that no, it isn’t an Encore, it’s another Encore.

Engine Displacement 1.3L
Engine Cylinders I3
Peak Horsepower 155 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Peak Torque 174 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.0 / 8.0 / 8.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 665 / 1,421 L seats folded
Model Tested 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence
Base Price $32,598
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,800
Price as Tested $39,083
Optional Equipment
$4,585 – Convenience Package, $895; Experience Buick Package, $1,695; Advanced Technology Package, $1,995