Truth be told, I was skeptical of just how suitable the freshly revised 2017 Buick Encore would be for a roughly 100-mile trip from San Francisco International Airport north to Calistoga. While Buick's subcompact crossover SUV has certainly struck a chord with younger buyers seeking an easy-to-maneuver premium vehicle in city dwellings, it wouldn't be my first thought when considering a car for a long slog involving lots of highway miles.  

Hours later, though, most of those doubts proved unfounded as we arrived at our destination no worse for the wear.

Sanity in the City

Before getting onto the open road, we had to navigate our way through downtown San Francisco and its notorious congestion. My co-driver and I were unfamiliar with the area and, for that matter, our precise destination. Good thing that one of the best new features in this refreshed 2017 Encore is that it's compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We plugged in an iPhone and were immediately in business, able to use the smartphone's mapping app to get us where we needed to go. And because this Buick, like other GM models, is outfitted with it 4G LTE connectivity with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, we were able to use the car's data plan instead of our own to stream maps, music and more.

Once our route was plugged in, guidance worked without qualm. One aspect that potentially could have didn't and one that was unexpected did. The former was the Encore's auto start/stop system, which cuts engine power at idle to save fuel. In a city with dense traffic like San Francisco, there's often more stopping than going. That meant the Encore frequently shut down its engine as we lingered behind at traffic signals. While none of these gaining-in-popularity systems are perfect, some are better than others, and the Encore's is among the least offensive, restarting quickly and quietly once you take your foot off the brake. Thank its small, 1.4-liter engine for that.

The unexpected nit was the climate system. Already a bit odd in this day with its analog dial for temperature setting, we found the Encore abruptly put out air that fluctuated more than it should. For example, turned up or down just one notch, and the temperature would go from too hot to too cold, and vice versa. When asked why, a Buick official was just as baffled as we were. For what it's worth, I hopped into a different Encore the next day and was unable to re-create this issue.

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Highway friend

Not surprisingly, the Encore was adept in the city, and threaded its way through narrow streets with ease. Once on the highway, it surprised in how well it presented itself for such a small SUV. One of Buick's signature qualities has long been comfort and quiet, and the Encore is about as good as it gets among subcompact crossovers.

But it was the little things that ultimately helped the most. A right-side armrest on the driver's seat, for example, aided greatly in comfort, while controls for audio and climate -- even with the funky temperature setting -- are easy to see and use.

As for power delivery and drivability, the Encore will never be mistaken for a barn burner, nor does it have the athleticism of a Mazda CX-3. But the turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder was adequate. I'd recommend the optional higher-output variant, which brings 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque to the party, vs. the 138/148 figures on the base engine.

Our trek from city to countryside proved that, while the Encore is most at home in the former, it's impressively capable of longer hauls to get you to the latter.


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