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DuoBlog: Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales on the 2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick EncoreAnother “He Said, She Said” blather about a new car. Denise McCluggage and John Paul Gonzales take on the small Buick crossover. For more extended conventional reviews check out AutoWeek, Automobile Magazine or Edmunds.

Denise McCluggage, enjoying lunch.Denise McCluggage: My quick early impression: endearing little machine. Right size and demeanor for a city like Santa Fe with its altitude (7000 feet plus and minus) and often bad or snowy roads. The Encore is easy to get in and out of. Maneuverable. Easy to see out of. Versatile in use. Appropriately quick steering. Impressively tight turning circle for 4WD. (An option.) Proper city manners, like the A-pillar and mirrors doesn’t hide a herd of first graders at intersections like so many SUVs and crossovers do. For me the Encore is cocky enough to know it deserves applause and I comply. How do you see it JP?

JP Gonzales, enjoying lunch.John Paul Gonzales: I felt that the Encore was a charming vehicle. I’m generally not one for crossovers because they seem to be compromised some way or another, but the Encore felt much more like a small SUV than any sort of SUV crossed over with a car that I’ve ever driven. It’s comfortable, has surprisingly well-balanced road manners, and is looks like something I’d be happy to be seen in.

DMcC: Two things that I find rather typical of General Motors I find in the Encore, One earns a thumb rising skyward; the other gets a dubious hand rocking. First, the so so-sweet chassis. A strong point all through the GM line I think. Since GM engineers spent all that serious time at the Nurburgring their cars simply handle really well. But alas, there’s the interior design of the Encore, particularly the instrument panel. Seems with GM’s interior guys (Caddy too) if it’s worth doing it’s worth over-doing. Enthusiastic designers hated to leave out any material in the catalog. And this is a small vehicle. Two-tones of leather? Check. Bright work? What would you like outlined? Decorative stitching? Of course. On the steering wheel. Wherever a needle might fit. A slash of “wood” paneling? Hey, someone might have a Jaguar fetish.

Please, guys, just sit in an Audi an hour a day. It’ll do us all good.

JP: You know, for me the highlight wasn’t so much the chassis but instead the driving position. Sure, you need the well-sorted chassis and good steering, but in a vehicle for around-the-town use like this, it was a nice feeling to sit high above the road and look out and actually see the road. And not just in front, in the rear view mirrors as well. One touch I really appreciated about that was the integrated blind spot mirrors. Many cars these days have those blind spot indicators that come on when there’s a car back there, but Buick saw fit to go “old school” and just give the driver some real mirrors to look into. I think companies like BMW should note that these are the touches that make “driver’s cars”, not gimmicks like heads-up displays and whatnot.

As for the interior design, I’d be happy with a plain tan faux-leather or plastic interior. Maybe then the car would be more reasonably priced…

DMcC: A thought—- am I right? Buick seems to have the drive train down better than some other cars that also have turned to the four-banger, direct-injection, turbo engine. I found it quite successful. Did it appeal to you?

JP: Ah, now that’s really the thing I found to be the highlight of the Encore. That turbocharged four was so well designed and mated with the transmission that it makes me hopeful for GM’s future, provided they take this drivetrain and whip up some cars to go with it. It has just enough power that you’re not wanting (much) more, and moves a car of this size around pretty well. And with excellent gas mileage to boot, which is definitely something to consider when looking for an appliance vehicle like this one. I hope this engine finds its way into a light truck, which is what the world so desperately needs.

I think we can compare the drive train in it to another car we had recently, the Dodge Dart. That was quite a nice car to drive, but had some ECU quirks with the transmission and turbo engine that just made the car frustrating to drive, like that hesitation when you want the power from a stop. The Encore takes that same small-displacement turbocharged engine and really completes the package and shows just how well that formula can work.

DMcC: And sounds good doing it, by the way.

I grew up with Buicks and then Oldsmobiles. The first car I drove as a licensed driver (at 13) was Mom’s “Little” Olds. The six-cylinder that was the first Hydramatic. Dad had V8s. The great never-failing Rockets. That’s why I favored GM lopping off Buick rather than Oldsmobile when that decision came along. Particularly with the Aurora and the Alero and black ink visible around the bend. But I knew that Buick would prevail. Not Olds. Two reasons: The name was Ransom E. Olds, not Randy Young. Marketing wisdom knew no “yoots” would buy a car with the word “old” anywhere near it. AND then Buick historically had a big name in China and saying China was a big market was saying Yao Ming was a tad taller than most Chinese school kids. Buick seems to hold that strength in China and China is more important to GM than the smaller U.S. market. Anyway Buick is a fine name with bones in it and elegance implied. So why not? JP, do you think the Encore is a “Buick”?

JP: The funniest thing to me about the car is the faux mouseholes on the hood. I guess that’s the only things that connect to any sort of Buick lineage, except then they face inwards instead of outwards. To me it feels more like a thoroughly modern “global” car intended for those Chinese and foreign markets and they decided—though rightly so—to brand it as a Buick.

Really, to me, a Buick will always be some sort of overbuilt land yacht with a name like Roadmaster or Century that epitomizes the 50’s. That’s really what a Buick is to me: Golden age America—right up there with the poodle skirt and John Wayne movies.

The downside to being a Buick is that it has the old-age stigma. There’s some statistic out there that has the average age of a Buick buyer at over 70 years old. I recently mentioned the Encore to a friend of mine as a vehicle to consider in their quest for a smaller town vehicle, and I was laughed at. I think Buick in the U.S. has a serious image problem.

Thinking about China, though, it’s sort of funny to think that Buick as a premium brand on par with BMW or Mercedes. That’s the new world this new Buick is for, and I think in those respects I hope it’s a knockout. Kind of like how KFC is popular in China, I think GM has really made a solid foothold there and had a new start—like one of those movie stars dropping off of the face of the earth to start anew.

DMcC: I think your age-figures for the Buick are outdated.  I believe it skews younger now. And another thing – Buick gets better J.D. Power marks than most GM cars. It’s noted for reliability. And it ranks high in style as well. Many people do get hung up on old images, but often they are the ones time has left behind. I like to say that I define my cars I don’t let them define me. That’s just arrogant enough to get a laugh. I’d drive an Encore in a minute if the interior were different. I like the exterior. Looks like a piggy bank. Which means to me the dimension are strained but right. It’s cute but not too. You can imagine where the coins clink in – that’s for the economy of the engine. I’d take an Encore full of coins any day. And I actually like many of the features in the interior – tucking places, origami-like flexibility in folding the seats. Reminds me of another GM vehicle – the Aztec. Terrifically usable interior hidden in that monstrosity. The then Design Chief Wayne Cherry kept telling everyone who didn’t dig they Aztec that were too OLD to appreciate it. There’s that word again. Poor Pontiac. Poor Olds.

JP: I think this thing looks like a dragon (probably for the Chinese market). It’s an aggressive fascia and a stout nose—overall it is, as you said in a conversation earlier, “overdone just right”. The rest of the proportions of the car are quite pleasing as well. It looks cool.

DMcC: I’ll summarize my impressions: The torque range is good for high-altitude cities which means it’s fine for most places. Good performance vs. fuel economy balance. That engine design is a winner. But then the Encore “as tested” costs too much money. (Gotta be a way to simplify the IP).

To me the Encore is too impishly conspiratorial to be a Buick, but images are there to be re-molded. I know I smiled a lot when I drove the Encore, and admired it more each time I wheeled it home.. I told people they would like it and insisted they put it on their list. Cars that look like piggy banks need positive reinforcement. (How do you make: “But in a good way!” sound genuine after you point out the piggy bank similarity?)

Said simply: I like the Encore a lot. I think it might make it globally on practicality, general appeal, pleasing blend of cost of use and fun in using it. Applause, applause. How about you, JP?

JP: Really, the Buick is a charming little car. It’s right in all the right ways. I think you can get one less loaded than this one, then the price would be about right too…

DMcC: Last word. Irrelevant, really but it has to do with names. Take the Nissan Juke. If it weren’t called Juke it would be ugly. But it is called Juke so it’s cute. I said last word.

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