It wasn’t all that long ago that most analysts were ready to write off the Buick brand, many being shocked by General Motors’ decision not to abandon the long-struggling nameplate – as it did Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Hummer – when it emerged from bankruptcy.
Senior officials said that was something they were loath to do considering Buick’s strong success in China, where it has been greatly out-selling the U.S. But sales in both market are on the rise and a wave of new products, such as the Regal and recently added Verano can explain.
But now Buick is hoping to be out in front, rather than lagging behind rivals as it continues its push to develop a niche it has been describing as “affordable luxury.” And the latest model to target that self-defined segment is the Buick Encore which is getting its world debut at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.
Encore rides on its own unique chassis and slots into the compact crossover size range. Whether or not it’s a first-of-its-kind – as Buick insists – is going to be a matter of debate but it is clearly targeting a growing segment, the niche expected to grow to as much as 500,000 units during the next five years, according to Tony DiSalle, the Buick Marketing General Manager.
For those who still think of the big Buick land yachts of the past, the new Encore is decidedly downsized, though it still carries many of the distinctive design cues of classic Buicks past, including the waterfall grille and portholes – here moved onto the hood, rather than the side of the front fenders.
There are also a number of cues borrowed from recent models – Encore marking the division’s fifth new product in five years – such as the upswept rear quarter panels and hockey-stick character lines that designer Dave Lyon likelns to “calligraphy.”
Inside, there are plenty of functional touches, including a large, second glovebox, that women, Encore’s largest target audience, are expected to appreciate.
The crossover is about the size of a Volkswagen Tiguan – and should be comparable to a production version of the Audi Q3 Vail also introduced at the Detroit Auto Show. Intriguingly, Buick says the Encore will deliver a turning radius smaller than Mini’s Countryman micro-crossover.
As with all Buick models, there’s a sharp focus on ride comfort and quietness – though Buick officials have moved away from the plush “living room ride” of years past and now talk about ride dynamics and handling without apologizing.
The Encore has been based on an entirely new platform, Buick says, one likely to see additional use at GM, though no one is yet ready to say where. The Encore itself will be launched in China as well as the U.S., as one might expect.
In keeping with its affordable luxury theme Buick will load the new model up with a range of standard and optional features, including a touch and voice-controlled infotainment system, rain-sensing wipers and plenty of safety systems: from 10 standard airbags to Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert. There’ll even be a heated steering wheel option.
The Buick Encore will be powered by a 1.4-liter inline-four engine making 140 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. The maker has yet to reveal fuel economy ratings, though it should nudge 30 mpg on the highway.
Initially, the compact crossover will be imported from Korea, though GM President Mark Reuss has indicated it could be moved to a plant in suburban Detroit that handles the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic – and where labor concessions have made it possible to profitably produce a small car or crossover in the United States.