2024 Buick Encore GX First Drive: Fresh from cosmetic surgery

This article was originally published HERE

About a year ago, Buick showed us its stunning Wildcat EV concept. While that sporty coupe might never see the end of a production line, it signaled a new direction for the brand’s design. For 2024, Buick gave its most popular model in North America, the Encore GX small SUV, a fairly substantial visual refresh. While it doesn’t get the Wildcat’s electric powertrain, the refreshed ute is the first in the lineup to borrow its design cues. It also finally gets the Avenir trim, the epitome of style and luxury previously applied to other Buick models, along with some tech upgrades. So while we’re still not able to get behind the wheel of an electric Buick, the ’24 Encore GX Avenir AWD landing in our driveway gave us the chance to see what a nip and a tuck can do to elevate this baby Buick crossover.

This new face is easy on the eyes, looking more modern and athletic than the previous version. Gone is the somewhat frumpy and bulbous old fascia. Now, we get a sharp nose emblazoned with an all-new logo — the encore GX is the first production car to sport this fresh take on the Buick shields. Below that is the new grille in all its unbroken mesh glory, surrounded by shiny chrome in this Avenir trim. A pair of swoopy winged LED headlights reside just below the elegantly creased hood. From the side, the Avenir gets big, 19-inch aluminum wheels in a Pearl Nickel finish, with that new logo in the center. It also gets body-color fenders as opposed to the black on some of the other trims. In back, we see the new logo repeated prominently again, with the LED taillights looking almost as if they’re pointing it out. Below that is the brand name spelled out large. At the bottom is what looks like a black diffuser, but we can’t imagine it does much but make the car look sporty.

Inside, the big news is the new dual-display “virtual cockpit”, with two screens under a single sheet of glass. On the right side is the 11-inch infotainment touchscreen, on the left is an 8-inch digital instrument cluster. We like the layout of the infotainment home screen, which is easy to use and configurable. Certain information in the infotainment can be sent to the driver’s display — if you want to keep close tabs on your battery voltage, for instance. Prefer the familiarity of your phone? Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across trim levels. Praise be. Perhaps just as important as its functionality, though, is that this dual display immediately elevates the Encore GX’s cabin, giving it a flash of tech-focused modernism without inundating it with heavy, Matrix-style futurism. It feels a little like the dual displays you’ll find in the Hyundai Ioniq EVs or the Kia EV6, which isn’t a bad thing, unless you adhere to the separation of church and state when it comes to instrumentation and infotainment. Also, if you like analog gauges, you’re out of luck.

Thankfully, Buick didn’t go too far into the future with its interfaces. While you can control things like the climate and audio from the touchscreen, there are still dedicated buttons and toggles for HVAC on the center stack, a volume knob between the screens and more audio controls on the back of the steering wheel. Below those controls are 12-volt, USB-A and USB-C ports, with a wireless phone charger in a cubby below those. While cubbies like that often acquire clutter, there’s a convenient open cubby just behind the cupholders that would better serve those odds and ends that cars tend to accumulate (it’s also the perfect size for a Nalgene water bottle). There’s also a small but deep under-armrest bin with a removable tray at the top.

Materials are nice, with soft-touch plastics and leather in most of the places you’d touch, while down by your knees you’ll find harder plastics. The interior design isn’t as inspired in the Encore GX as they are in bigger Avenir models, but it definitely feels luxurious for a trim that starts right around $35,000. The seats are comfortable, upholstered in perforated leather. The front seats are heated, too, but not ventilated, unfortunately.

Some of the convenience luxuries in our tester aren’t included in the base Avenir price. Items like the hands-free power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers and Bose sound system are part of the $1,295 convenience package. And for adaptive cruise control, rear camera mirror, surround-view parking cameras and the aforementioned wireless charger, you’ll have to opt for the $1,395 technology package. We could probably do without that first bundle, but the tech upgrades seem essential at this price point, particularly the adaptive cruise control. While you may not particularly care for the ability to turn your rear-view mirror into a camera feed, we greatly appreciate the crisp, uninterrupted view it provides, even if your rear window is completely blocked by cargo. The 360-degree parking camera is great, too, but this little ute is already quite easy to park.

Moving into the back, the legroom behind a tall driver will be cramped for taller adults, and with a toddler in a car seat, you’ll definitely feel some occasional kicks to the back of your chair. Interestingly enough, the front passenger seat can fold forward all the way to a flat position. That’s great if you need the extra length for certain cargos, but a rear passenger could also potentially use it as a makeshift ottoman. The rear seats don’t have their own climate controls, or even a vent in the back of the center console, but they do get a three-prong plug, plus a USB-A and -C port. So long as you don’t have a passenger in the center, a center armrest folds down to provide cupholders. The rear passengers also get to enjoy the panoramic moonroof.

The Encore GX offers two available powerplants, both sporting three cylinders and a turbocharger. The base mill displaces 1.2-liters, and provides 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque through a continuously variable transmission. It’s only available on the base Preferred trim with front-wheel drive. All other versions of the Encore GX are powered by a 1.3-liter motor making 155 hp and 173 lb-ft. With front-wheel drive, you’re stuck with the CVT. AWD is offered on every trim, though, and is paired with a traditional nine-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel drive is on-demand, selected via a button on the center console, so you can direct power through just the front wheels when you don’t need the extra traction and would prefer to save fuel.

Our tester was equipped with the 1.3-liter and all-wheel drive. Even with the bigger motor, it’s easy to be skeptical of the little three-cylinder’s ability to motivate the Encore GX. Out on the road, though, we found it to provide adequate pep, especially at around-town speeds. It’s not going to win any drag races, but that’s not the point, and it doesn’t feel especially slow. It responds smoothly to inputs from the accelerator. The nine-speed automatic is well suited to this motor, too, shifting smoothly with little hunting. It always seemed to keep the revs right where they needed to be to make the most of the power on hand, with the turbocharger spreading that power across the rev range. Even better, it’s quiet. The sound of the engine rarely intrudes into the cabin even when it’s working its hardest, and is minimally invasive when it does thanks in part to the vehicle’s sound deadening and active noise cancellation system. The fact that you don’t really hear this little motor laboring helps to downplay its lack of outright power and speed.

The ride is comfortable, too, even with the Avenir’s larger 19-inch wheels. The Encore GX does a fine job of keeping road chop from chattering its way into the cabin, but bigger undulations in the road will overcome the Encore’s short wheelbase to put the whole car into motion. This Buick isn’t going to inspire you to press it hard through any corners. It’s not set up for sporty driving, and while it’ll rotate eagerly at low speeds, it doesn’t offer the stiff-legged poise or feedback for higher-speed transitions. Just as well — that’d probably ruin the comfortable cruising that draws luxury-minded buyers to this particular crossover.

Starting at $26,896 for the base Preferred trim with front-wheel drive, and with this line-topping Avenir AWD with its 1.3-liter costing $34,795, the Encore GX offers a step above your basic, mainstream small SUV. It provides respectable style and luxury for well under today’s average price of a new car. If you want something comfortable and usable without needing a rocket under the hood, a tech interface that can read your mind or a German name, the Encore GX is a compelling value. The fact that its well-executed refresh makes it look better in your driveway only sweetens the deal.

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