Behind the Wheel

2020 Buick Encore GX Review: This may be the best SUV Buick makes, but it’s not all roses

The Buick Encore GX is a fresh addition to the company’s lineup for 2020.

Photo courtesy of Buick

Why would Buick go through the trouble of making a 2020 Buick Encore GX? The already popular though smaller Encore subcompact SUV has outlasted two of the three SUVs it matured alongside (Rendezvous and Rainer). The larger Envision is just now, after some engine changes and design tweaks, getting to the point that it's a good consideration for U.S. buyers. The larger Enclave can be found in most suburban American grocery store parking lots on the regular.

The Encore GX name has some immediate brand equity from the smaller Encore and fills a lineup spot the same way the Rogue Sport does for Nissan and the Kona does for Hyundai. It's priced that way too, with the model lining up to start around $25,000 and topping out near $30,000.

2020 Buick Encore GX The Encore GX is easy to maneuver and park.Photo courtesy of Buick

Buick's newest model seems to be a step in the right direction for the company, which has seen its entire cars lineup cut in favor of more profitable and better-selling SUV models. The Encore GX doesn't rock the boat, but merely elevates it.

The car's upgraded turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder power plant is a study in small but mighty. Its 155 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque easily prove plenty for daily driving activities though it's not terribly efficient (26 mpg in the city and 29/30 mpg on the highway, depending on trim level). However, and this is big however, there's a ridiculous amount of turbo lag. This combines with the SUV's light steering and easy maneuverability to make navigating city traffic a challenge.

Think back to the last time you sat in traffic. Imagine, if you will, that the entire left lane has gone and emptied out while you, in the right lane, end up stopped behind a bus, waiting for the throngs to get through the turnstile and seated. There's enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you to maneuver out of your lane and get on your way. You check to make sure it's clear, nudge your way out, and step on the accelerator as to not impede the flow of traffic in your new lane. Now, you wait. Then, eventually, the turbo-three kicks in. That wait is just long enough not make you think, “Should I have done this?" Every. Time.

2020 Buick Encore GX The Buick Encore GX has enough cargo space to meetPhoto courtesy of Buick

That's the type of logistical challenge that's very real to drivers. Now, whether or not they're able to test that in a dealership loop is another story. What they will see when they're at the dealer is a well-appointed interior in high trim levels, with materials as nice as Hyundais and Kias in the same price range (if you haven't checked out their lineups lately, you're missing out). Its seats are comfortable and the model feels spacious enough for two adults up front for extended periods of time behind the wheel.

The biggest difference between the Encore GX and Envision (from a typical shopper's perspective) is in the back row and cargo area. While most adults will be comfortable in the back row of the GX, taller adults will likely want more room to stretch out when traveling for any extended length of time. Premium amenities like leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, as well as a heated wheel, heated front seats, and remote start are available in top trims.

2020 Buick Encore GX The car's various dials and buttons are easily reachable inside the cabin, as is the infotainment screen.Photo courtesy of Buick

The Encore GX's cargo area is plenty big for daily use. On a call with a representative from Buick, he said that he had enough space for all his hockey gear in the back of the Encore GX, which seems like a pretty reasonable way to say that unless you're packing for a weeks long road trip without laundry facilities, the Encore GX has enough cargo space for you.

General Motors has made significant improvements to its infotainment systems in recent years and how you navigate them. Using the SUV's system was a breeze, especially with Apple CarPlay hooked up. One new feature for the company is touting is Amazon Alexa connectivity, which can run directly though the vehicle rather than vehicle to phone to sky and then back. Some like the option and find the innovation delightful.

2020 Buick Encore GX Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.Photo courtesy of Buick

The Encore GX also has Android Auto and comes standard with an 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen, USB ports, and Bluetooth in every trim level.

Buick has given the Encore GX a suitable amount of standard and available safety technology. It's nothing that will blow anyone's socks off, but for the price range, it's a good level of offering, and perhaps more importantly, works as advertised.

With the Encore GX, Buick has put a foot forth on sold ground for its future. It's a right level of premium at the right price at what should be the right time.

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What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

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Electric vehicles

NHTSA looking into Tesla's in-car video games

Some owners have discovered that their car's video games work when the car is moving.

Tesla

Tesla's vehicles are among the most advanced and forward-thinking products of any kind, but serious innovation doesn't come with tradeoffs. The automaker has been in the news recently because of issues with how its advanced cruise control systems function, and now, Autoblog reports that the NHTSA is asking questions about Tesla giving drivers the ability to play video games and browse the internet while driving.

Tesla Arcade hands-on: the Model 3 is your video game console youtu.be

The feature is intended to be used while the car is parked, such as while charging, so the discovery that people can use them while driving is a serious one. Vince Patton, the person who filed the complaint with the NHTSA, tested his car and found that he could play Solitaire and a fairly involved action game while it was in motion. Internet browsing was also possible, meaning the driver could take their attention completely off the road ahead for extended periods of time.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla's screens offer advanced functions that many others do not. Tesla

Tesla was already under investigation over crashes involving its Autopilot feature. Several collisions have occurred between Teslas and emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road. Following the initiation of that investigation, the NHTSA raised other questions with the automaker over a buggy software update that was pushed out, retracted, fixed, and reissued outside of the normal recall process. Despite their names, it's important to clarify that neither the Autopilot nor Full Self-Driving features are capable of driving the cars without driver awareness and input.

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