We've known quite a bit about the 2013 Buick Encore ever since this upline compact crossover SUV made its debut appearance at the Detroit Auto Show last January. On sale in early February, the 5-passenger baby brother to the larger Buick Enclave shares much of the design and engineering philosophy with its 7-seat kin. However, its market mission is decidedly different: to extend the reach of the division's current product line while conquesting buyers from both the younger urban professional set and those falling into the empty nester arena in the process. While it's a bit early to be assessing its ultimate success in achieving that ambitious dual-mode quest, we did get behind the wheel of the new Encore earlier this week for a brief but enlightening hands-on encounter. 

Even at a glance, the 2013 Encore leaves no doubt about its heritage. From the waterfall grille and obligatory faux portholes to painted lower panels and prominent lighting elements, it says Buick all over -- albeit with a slightly more contemporary twist. That same upscale character is evident in the Encore's passenger cabin which has the kind of style, space, features and flexibility that should please a pretty wide range of potential owners. Available in four trim levels, even the base Encore comes with a full complement of power assists, air conditioning, cruise control and a 6-way power driver's seat as well as Buick's IntelliLink systems with a 7.0-inch center touchscreen, AM/FM/CD, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with Travel Link with a 3-month free subscription, USB port, Bluetooth and more. Stepping up through the Convenience, Leather and Premium grades adds even more distinctive features, including a Bose premium audio system, GPS-enabled navigation, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert.

Once on the road, we quickly found the Encore's decently formed front buckets to be equally long on comfort, whether wrapped in cloth/leatherette or available full leather. They're teamed with a 60/40 split rear bench that has adult-friendly outboard positions that flank a kid-capable center slot. The Encore's flat-folding rear backs expand cargo capacity from 18.8 cu ft to a very usable 48.4 cu ft, while a flip-down back on the passenger-side bucket also allows it to handle up to an 8-foot long payload.

Like the new Verano, the Encore has been endowed with all of Buick's current Quiet Tuning techniques, from a laminated windshield and thicker side glass to loads of supplemental noise attenuation and rejection materials that surround the entire passenger compartment. However, the Encore also adds a new tool to this bountiful box. It's the first model in the division's lineup to feature Bose Active Noise Cancellation circuitry that quite effectively helps filter out unwanted low-frequency din from the engine.

Speaking of what's underhood, all versions of the Encore - in either front-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations -- are motivated by GM's familiar 1.4-liter turbocharged EcoTec 4-cylinder that makes 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. It's backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission that features manual-style Driver Shift Control on front-drive variants. Buick touts the front-drive Encore's 25/33/28-mpg city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy ratings as making it the most fuel-efficient crossover from any domestic automaker as well as being better than its two prime imported foes, the Mini Countryman and Volkswagen Tiguan. While those figures dip a bit to 23/30/26 mpg on the AWD versions, the fact that the engine was designed to sip regular unleaded gasoline and not premium like many of its rivals also should play well with potential buyers. While the turbocharged 1.4-liter proved quite capable of moving the 3,190-pound FWD and 3,309-pound AWD Encores we drove through city traffic and freeway cruises with just two aboard, we do wonder how it -- and its real-world mpg stats -- will fare when charged with propelling fully loaded versions of either model, especially in hilly terrain.
Based on GM's global crossover platform which it shares with the Chevrolet Trax and Opel Mokka, the Encore's core structure is made up of 60 percent high-strength steel and provides a solid, rigid foundation for the suspension as well as a secure passenger environment. While lacking the dynamic edge of a Mini Countryman, the new Encore does bring its own advantages to the party in the form of smoothness, serenity and ride compliance. A well-tuned suspension ensures the Encore feels exceptionally composed and ensures that it tracks cleanly and confidently through corners with minimal body roll. All versions are shod with a single-spec Continental 215/55 all-season tire on an 18-inch painted or polished alloy wheel. Despite its mileage-abetting low-rolling-resistance formulation, this rubber impressed us with its surprising level of grip. Less laudable was its inclination to sing out rather lustily over certain road surfaces, a trait that even the Quiet Tuning efforts failed to fully mask.

Pricing for the 2013 Buick Encore will start at $24,950 with the Encore with Convenience Group opening at $25,760, Encore with Leather at $27,460 and the Encore with Premium that brings all of Convenience/Leather equipment plus front/rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Bose audio and more, begins at $28,940. While making a successful entrance into one of the world's most hotly contested market segments will be no easy challenge, it appears the new Buick Encore is set to hit the showrooms fairly well prepared to do battle in this realm.

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