2021 Buick Encore GX Essence FWD Review

Better but still not premium

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Handsome exterior looks far better than the old Encore, excellent safety feature set, sporty red trim adds some attitude.
Negatives: Small-displacement turbo engine is gutless, overly plasticky interior, less premium and more mainstream than intended.
Bottom Line: The Encore GX is a couple of steps up from the awkward looking 2nd-gen Encore, but it has a long way to go to provide the value and style of competitors like the Hyundai Tucson and the Mazda CX-5, which both look and feel more premium than the GX.
The Encore GX was built to upsize the existing Encore compact crossover, and it's an interesting addition to the segment. When you compare the GX to the regular Encore, things start getting confusing. The GX is 3 inches longer, has about 2 more cubic feet of cargo space, and comes standard with the Driver Confidence Package, which the Encore does not have. It's also $400 less than the shorter Encore, which is baffling. It also gets two three-cylinder turbo engine choices instead of the Encore's single naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. We drove the GX Essence trim for a week to see whether ot not it's a compelling candidate in the segment. Read on for our full review.

Driving Experience



Our tester had the upgraded 1.3-liter turbo engine, but it doesn't feel upgraded. For what's touted as a near-premium crossover, the only merits are the ride quality and the handling. The Kia Soul and the Hyundai Kona are way more fun to drive.

Ride Quality: The GX feels composed and absorbs bumps and gaps well. We didn't experience any harshness or choppiness in the ride.

Acceleration: The weak engine combined with the CVT make for slow acceleration times, but it feels quicker than it is, especially off the line. The GX with the upgraded engine will hit 60 mph from a start in a rather unimpressive 8.7 seconds. The Hyundai Kona with the upgraded 175-hp turbo four will do it in 6.6 seconds. That's a big delta.

Braking: We had no trouble bringing the Encore GX to a stop. The pedal feel was decent, and there was no mushiness to speak of.

Steering: The GX's steering is on the light side, and there's not much feedback. Turn-in is good, and it is responsive.

Handling: Even though there' s not a ton of body roll, we didn't feel confident tossing it due to the oversteer exaggerated by our testers FWD configuration.




GM's infotainment system that's used across brands is better than it's ever been. We liked the system, despite the fact that there are hardly any more physical control buttons for it. We do wish more vehicles would have either center console button controls or a controller between the seats.

Infotainment System: While the 8" touchscreen isn't very big, at least the icons are large and legible. The menus are easy to navigate, and the visuals are kept very simple for quick legibility.

Controls: Buick has incredibly small buttons for an older customer base, which we just don't get. The GX does have a few infotainment buttons under the screen, but they could easily be larger. The climate control cluster takes some time to operate easily since the layout isn't ideal. We do like the steering wheel control buttons, and the traditional shifter is welcomed in a sea of pushbutton versions.




The GX is a way better looking version of the Encore and not just because it's longer and better proportioned. The creases and overall refinement have been improved over the last-gen base Encore that pretty much looked like a (cheap) shoe on wheels. Its the interior where further improvements can be made largely due to materials.

Front: The front fascia looks handsome with the winged grille and red trim in the mesh. It's not an overly busy front end, which is the norm these days.

Rear: The taillights are a nice touch since they help differentiate the GX from many competitors' ellipsoid versions.The contoured tailgate also looks handsome with the simple Buick triple crest badge. The red faux diffuser trim is a nice sporty detail.

Profile: While the overall side view makes the GX look stubby, it's well proportioned and has some distinct body creases that help reduce the vehicle's visual height.

Cabin: The cabin does not befit a near-premium crossover. There's a lot of cheap, dark plastic that can't touch interiors by competitors like the Volvo XC40.




The GX adds room for occupants, and the seats are quite good. The passenger seats fold flat for larger item storage, which is a nice added convenience. Even though there's more room, it's not a good cabin for a bunch of six-footers.

Front Seats: The leather seats are of good quality, and the bolstering and cushioning are decent. The fact that the front passenger seat has manual recline is a bit annoying for this near-premium crossover.

Rear Seats: Legroom is on the tight side. 36.0 inches seems a tad small in the segment. The Kia Sportage has over two inches more.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The engine noises and the CVT don't help with the sound levels, but it's not unbearable. Build quality inside is good with no creaks or rattles.

Visibility: Overall sightlines are pretty good especially with the short sloping hoodline. The thick C-pillar partially obscures things out the side rear.

Climate: The climate system worked well, but we'd like to see bigger center HVAC vents for more air flow. They are also mounted a bit high./p>




The GX has been crash tested but failed to win awards from the IIHS. At least the standard Driver Confidence Package makes up for a lot with a big set of safety tech. It's surprising the package is only optional on the smaller and pricier Encore.

IIHS Rating: It received "good" on all crash tests except for the front passenger small overlap test, an area more automakers have been spending money on because of the more stringent criteria.

NHTSA Rating: The GX earned 5 overall stars from the feds. It did suffer a bit in the area of rollovers, earning four stars in that test.

Standard Tech: Our Essence tester came outfitted with Automatic Emergency Braking, Following Distance Indicator, Forward Collision Alert, Front Pedestrian Braking, Intellibeam Auto High Beam, Lane Keep Assist w/ Lane Departure Warning, Teen Driver, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Tire Fill Alert, Lane Change Alert w/ Side Blind Zone Alert, and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Optional Tech: None.




The GX makes good use of its limited space. The cabin has thoughtful small item storage, and the cargo area will work for road trips, even for a small family.

Storage Space: We like the deep tray in front of the shifter, as well as the open binnacle in the center console. The door pockets aren't long, but they're deep enough to hold smaller gear and water bottles without a problem.

Cargo Room: The GX gets a couple more cubes of cargo space over the regular Encore. It comes in at 23.5 cubic feet behind row two and 50.2 cubes when the seats are folded flat.

Fuel Economy



The small displacement engine and CVT are meant to help with fuel economy, but we weren't blown away. There are more powerful, more entertaining crossovers that get better gas mileage with bigger engines.

Observed: 23.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 82 miles.




While we didn't have any major complaints about the Encore GX's stock audio sytsem, it didn't stand out in any way. Overall sound quality was decent, and we had no trouble with its operation.

Final Thoughts

We were excited to see how much the GX would improve over the old Encore. It looks much better and improves on space, but there's not much else we're excited about. It's a reasonably priced compact crossover, but the offerings from Korea impress us more with materials, style, and standard features. The GX isn't compelling when compared with those, but it is a step up from the previous generation.
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