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Friday, Dec 19, 2014

Buick thinks small with new Encore

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Honey, they shrunk the SUV! Say “hi” to Buick’s new baby Encore, the sport-ute that’s big on “cute” and teeny everywhere else.

Take the engine. When was the last time you heard of an SUV with a 1.4-liter four-banger under the hood? The Home Depot sells weed-whackers with bigger motors than that.

And size? From chrome nose to curvy tail, the Encore measures just 169 inches. That’s a whopping 10 inches shorter than Toyota’s pint-sized RAV-4.

Sit behind the wheel and the cabin is so narrow you’ll be rubbing shoulders with your passenger, which may or may not be fun.

While it’s easy to dismiss this brand-new Korean-built Buick as just too teeny for American “throw-it-all-in-the-back” tastes, think about it for a sec.

A lot of us are downsizing. The kids are gone and the house is too big, so more and more of us — my wife and I included — have sold the home and moved to a downtown condo.

Then small is good. It means easier parking, less cash spent on fuel — the Encore averages 25 mpg in the city and a terrific 33 highway — and more nimble handling around city streets.

Yet the baby Buick still checks all the boxes for our basic needs in an SUV, with its sit-up-high driving position, excellent all-round visibility, and plenty of load space for the weekly grocery shop, sports gear or pooch.

And with that turbocharged four-banger driving the front wheels, the Encore is a surprisingly fun ride. While 138 horseys doesn’t sound like much, with a car tipping the scales at just 3,300 pounds, there’s less metal to move.

Take your pick from four trim levels — Base, Convenience, Leather or Premium — though even the Base is nicely loaded. Prices range from $24,950 to $30,440. Add $1,500 for all-wheel drive.

With its small, cute-ute Encore, Buick might just be on to something big here.

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