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  5. 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Test Drive Review

Once known for its luxurious sedans and muscle cars, Buick's current lineup consists solely of four SUVs. The latest addition is the all-new 2021 Buick Encore GX subcompact related to the Chevrolet Trailblazer, which was also introduced for the 2020 year. 

Not to be confused with the Opel-based Buick Encore (which went into production in 2013), the Encore GX is based on a new platform, which allows Buick to offer a roomier, more technologically advanced small SUV at a lower price point. The 2021 Buick Encore GX is the most affordable option in Buick's all-SUV lineup, and I just spent a week in the luxurious Essence trim level and the stylish Sport Touring (ST) package. Read on to find out what I thought of it. 

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Exterior

In contrast to the boxier body of the Trailblazer, the 2021 Buick Encore GX has softer, more rounded lines that better fits in with the current Buick design language. From the outside, the Encore GX definitely has the premium look that Buick is going for, and the proportions of this model look better than many other subcompact hatchbacks and SUVs currently on the market. For a sportier take on this design, the Encore GX is available with the ST package, but unlike Ford's performance-oriented ST lineup, the ST package is a purely cosmetic body kit so there are no changes to the interior or powertrain. It does make the Encore GX look even better, though, with two-tone 18-inch wheels, red accents and painted trim on the fenders and rockers. 

These red accents and monochromatic paint job looked great in this tester's Dark Moon Blue Metallic hue. This paint color is a $495 option, and the cool part is that, in most light, it looks black but in direct sunlight it's a very subtle shade of dark blue. My favorite thing about the Encore GX's design is the chrome accent strip that stretches from the A-pillar back to the liftgate. Overall, the Encore GX is a great-looking addition to the Buick lineup.

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Interior

The 2021 Buick Encore GX is categorized as a subcompact, but it's both longer and wider than the Encore, and has more passenger and cargo volume. On top of that, the Encore GX has a more premium interior than the Encore or the Trailblazer, as shown by this tester's beautiful two-tone leather interior. The Encore GX is offered in three trim levels (Preferred, Select and Essence), and for 2021, all of these come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite radio and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. This tester was also equipped with the $1,790 Advanced Technology Package that upgraded to navigation and brought a retractable head-up display screen, and other options included the $770 Convenience Package (adding a wireless smartphone charging pad and helpful safety features) as well as the $520 hands-free power liftgate.

For as small as the Encore GX, the interior is extremely practical and accommodating. Front passengers have plenty of headroom and legroom, and the seats are perfectly comfortable even on long drives. As expected from a subcompact vehicle, the center console is pretty narrow, but it has plenty of storage capability thanks to a pair of sizable cubby holes, two cup holders and a covered storage area beneath the padded armrest. Rear seating is great, too, with a three-person bench seat that includes a folding armrest. Now, I normally don't focus on armrests too much, but these features aren't always a given in the subcompact segment, so it's worth calling out. The added space inside Encore GX compared to the Encore affords more cargo volume to the tune of 23.5 cubic feet and 50.2 cubic feet, and while this is slightly less cargo space than some of its subcompact rivals, the Encore GX maximizes the use of the space it does have with a reconfigurable cargo load floor and a fold-flat front passenger seat.

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Powertrain

Like the closely related Chevy Trailblazer, the 2021 Buick Encore GX is offered with a pair of turbocharged, direct-injected three-cylinder engine options with displacements of 1.2 and 1.3 liters. This FWD tester was equipped with the optional ($395) 1.3-liter Ecotec engine rated at 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque along with EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 30 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. That's up 2 mpg city and 1 mpg highway compared to the base engine, and after a week of driving, the trip computer showed an average fuel economy of 30.3 mpg. While the AWD models get a nine-speed automatic transmission, FWD versions of the Encore GX are equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

On the road, the little three-cylinder isn't exactly peppy, but this engine is powerful enough that merging and passing tasks are better than many other subcompacts. Heavy acceleration does give the engine a noticeable workout, and the CVT keeps the revs high. But otherwise the cabin is surprisingly quiet for such a small vehicle. Like the Trailblazer, the Encore GX can exhibit a rough ride, especially over interstate expansion joints. Even so, the Encore GX is a great option if you're looking for a fuel-efficient commuter, and the small size and responsive electric steering make this little SUV handle impressively well in tight urban confines. For example, I was blown away when I was able to perform a U-turn in a parking garage without needing to back up! Not surprisingly, the Encore GX has a towing capacity of just 1,000 pounds, so if you need to haul something larger than a utility trailer, this isn't the SUV for you.

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Safety

With a five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2021 Buick Encore GX shows that small SUVs can deliver big on safety. All 2021 Encore GX trim levels come standard with the Buick Driver Confidence package that includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Forward Collision Alert, Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning, Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Intellibeam automatic high beam headlights. 

This tester was also equipped with the Advanced Technology Package that adds adaptive cruise control and the HD surround vision camera as well as the Convenience Package with automatic parking assist with braking, a rear camera mirror and rain-sensing windshield wipers. 

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Overall

With an all-SUV lineup, Buick joins the ranks of Jeep and GMC as automakers that don't offer cars, but like the majority of today's subcompact SUVs, the 2021 Buick Encore GX looks and feels more like a small car than an SUV.

As nice as the Encore GX is, it's surprising that this model's $24,200 starting price is actually $400 less than the non-GX Encore, but on the flip side of the pricing coin, it's also significantly more than the $19,000 Trailblazer. Stepping up to the Encore Essence trim level with the larger engine brings the price to just over $30,000, and adding in all the options on this FWD tester, you're looking at an as-tested price of $34,215, or almost as much as a base BMW X1!

Jeffrey N. Ross
| Sep 20, 2021

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan S FWD Specs


4-door, 5-passenger, FWD


1.5L I3
155 hp, 174 lb-ft
CVT auto



NHTSA Safety Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

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**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.