As you might imagine, nobody at Buick is keen for me to review their cars lately. It’s a shame, because there’s not necessarily a correlation between the quality of the cars that bear the “Buick” logo and the failure of the Buick business model in the United States (to recap, move Encore and Enclave to GMC, kill the rest of the brand with fire).

But no matter — we have access to our own Buick, thanks to the lovely Luisa and the Encore Preferred she recently leased. So I decided to put a few hundred miles behind the wheel of the Opel Mokka Encore and give you guys the lowdown.

Spoiler alert: it’s not terrible. In fact, for the price, it’s downright good. Click the jump for more.

Luisa’s requirements for her first car were pretty simple: she wanted to sit up higher for (perceived) safety, she wanted to be able to get good gas mileage, and she needed to be able to transport small children in the back seat, as she works in the pre-K education space. Lu had checked out all of the models in the segment at the New York Auto Show earlier in the year and put together a list of the cars she liked. Encore wasn’t on her original list, but it’s Mokka stablemate, the Chevy trax, was — she hadn’t even gone to the Buick display in New York, since it wasn’t a brand she was familiar with.

Since she had never owned a car and had only recently acquired a license, she wasn’t able to draw any real comparisons between the Encore and the other competing models, which is why she invited me to come along for test drives.

As I mentioned in our last Death Watch installment, we checked out the Honda HR-V and the Hyundai Kona before looking at the Encore. We drove the Honda and found it lacking in many ways — even though we tested an EX-L model that was likely above her desired price point, the HR-V felt cheap. The interior was cobbled together from a variety of unattractive plastics, and the motor/CVT combo was painfully lacking in power or torque.

The Kona was worse. The suspension was brutally rough, which is critically important on the less-than-stellar surface streets of Miami-Dade. While I’ve read a lot of glowing reviews about how the 1.6 turbo worked on the roads of Hawaii, the base 2.0 four-banger felt sluggish. Plus, Luisa couldn’t get past the bizarre visuals of the Hyundai’s exterior.

So the Encore was the winner, thanks to its more pleasing styling (beauty is in the eye of the beholder here), upscale-feeling interior, Apple CarPlay, and more responsive motor/transmission combo. The other requirement that she had was being able to transport children. A rear-facing child seat fits, if not entirely easily, in the middle seat, but you can’t fit anybody else back there when the seat is installed, so it’s a one-child solution. For Luisa’s purpose, that’s not a problem, but anybody with two kids in child seats would have issues.

Plus, let’s be honest — the fact that Buick is giving the things away on leases didn’t hurt. Lu’s neighbor is leasing an HR-V for $349 a month, and he jealously eyes the Encore and its $200 price tag every day (and also Lu). She’s had it for three months now and she loves driving it every day, and her friends are all saying that they’ll be getting one as soon as they can. Great.

But it’s easy to impress somebody who’s never had a car before. What about a jaded old man who can find fault with just about anything? Enter the Bark.

Interior

First things first — I have to admit I like the seating position and the ergonomics of the Encore. It’s just an easy car to drive. Forward visibility is superb, and while rear visibility isn’t exactly what you would want, it’s sufficient. Everything about the layout of the interior is intuitive. The touchscreen works perfectly for Apple CarPlay, but there are real knobs and buttons for volume and track advance functions, which is the right combination for me.

In fact, the CarPlay integration has been the most flawless of any car I’ve seen. Certainly that could be specific to this one VIN, but I’ve never had issues with CarPlay in the Encore finding my device, regardless of the multiple cables I’ve tried. The sound system is best described as “above adequate.” Everything from Shakira to Wes Montgomery to Vulfpeck translates fairly well, and Spotify runs flawlessly from the touchscreen.

Daily Driving

Generally speaking, the Encore is a nice place to be in Miami traffic. The air conditioning works well and it cools down the all-black interior quickly. Road noise is surprisingly low for such a small car, and the tire noise is limited. The adjustability of the driver’s seat is such that there’s no difficulty switching between 5’3″ Luisa and 5’9″ Bark, and lumbar support is similarly easy to adjust.

For the surface streets of Miami, the Encore is ideal. The small size of the baby crossover means it’s easy to sneak into the rapidly disappearing gaps in traffic for those difficult lane changes. I genuinely like the speed and feel of the steering rack — it’s light and easy but still precise enough for quick maneuvers. Parking is a breeze, as well, and the rearview camera is positioned well for good visibility.

Highway driving becomes more problematic. First and foremost, other drivers treat the Encore like the little kid on the playground — you quickly get used to people cutting you off and shoving in front of you in merges. You don’t really have enough power to fight back, either. While the little Mokka is a tad more spritely than the competition, it’s not ready to do battle on the Palmetto. When you drive an Encore, you are forced into the role of defensive driver at higher speeds, as you simply lack the available juice to drive your way out of trouble. And since this is TTAC and y’all are likely to ascribe the political belief of your choice to me in the comments, regardless of the validity of the statement I’m about to make, I’ll give you the following trigger warning:

What I’m about to say may make you call me a sexist. Good? Here we go.

I have never seen another man behind the wheel of an Encore. There’s no readily available sales data on this, but I would wager that Encore buyers are at least 70 percent female. I have to wonder if that’s why men seem to drive so aggressively in my general vicinity when I’m behind the wheel — I often see shocked looks on the face of other drivers when they realize the person they’ve honking at non-stop is, in fact, a dude.

Fuel Economy In the Real World

Regardless, that lack of juice doesn’t come with the commensurate economical benefit. Most of Lu’s driving has been around the streets of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables —she’s not entirely comfortable with doing battle on the highway yet. While there’s no doubt that some highway driving would help pump up her economy, thus far she’s averaged about 21.3 mpg over the 1600 or so miles that she’s had the car—comparable to what you’d see from, say, a Boss 302. This is a far cry from the EPA estimates of 30 mpg combined or even 25 mpg city. Because Lu isn’t a high volume mileage driver, she hasn’t worried too much about this — yet. Safe to say that with my typically heavy foot, I didn’t see any improvement during the time that I drove her car.

The Verdict

Ultimately, when you evaluate the Encore, you have to take into account the fact that it can be leased for the same payment you’d have for buying a $6,000 used car over 36 months. Of course, you’d own that used car at the end of the 36 months, but you’d also run the risk of having unexpected repairs, and you’d likely have to replace brakes and tires on any car at that price point.

With the Encore, you’ll have a car with above average reliability that’s relatively pleasant to drive (in comparison to other sub-compact CUVs) for $200 a month. For me, it’s enough to declare that the Encore is a good value, and for Buick, that value prop’s been enough thus far to make the Encore their volume model (they’ve sold more Encores than Envisions and Enclaves combined) — the prospect of a attractive car with several standard features that can be leased at a bargain price.

Is it enough reason to keep Buick alive? Of course not. Would I own one? No. But is it a good car? Yes.

[Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/TTAC]





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