While first deep freeze has ended in Michigan, perhaps one of the biggest overachievers was the 2014 Buick Encore, my test vehicle that carted me through Polar Vortex No. 1.
It wasn’t always easy. The heater is loud on full blast, and I have a few quibbles with the vehicle, but overall, the Encore did a bang-up job providing me with cold-weather comforts and was a great ride even when sliding sideways. The Encore used its small stature to create big perks I wasn't expecting.
During the week of test driving, I saw the outside temperature indicator dip as low as -18 degrees Fahrenheit and I certainly wouldn’t doubt the thermometer’s accuracy – simply put, it was freezing outside. Even on the coldest of mornings, the Encore always started on the first try and by the time I jumped into it, it was toasty warm.
That’s because of the Encore’s remote start, which is your best friend in severe cold weather. Starting the Encore and letting it warm up as you sip a cup of coffee makes any -10 degree morning just a little bit nicer. It also makes chipping ice off of the windshield much easier. The only drawback was that the Encore would only stay on for about 10 minutes. Also note: Remote starting a vehicle destroys its gas mileage, so I never even came close to achieving 25 mpg in the city or 33 mpg on the highway.
But mileage numbers are not the chief concern when all your nose hairs freeze with your first breath outside. No, your biggest worry is getting from frozen point A to frozen point B. The tiny crossover performed like the lead dog in the Iditarod during the worst of the weather. In fact, it provided some great bonus features due to its slender stature.
First, due to the snow piling up on the sides of the roads – my slice of the Mitt received about 14 inches of snow, many lanes became narrower than usual and for about three days all of the lines on the road simply disappeared under a layer of brown slush. Fellow drivers swayed back and forth in some lanes, often cutting into my lane. If I had been driving a wider vehicle, its side mirrors might now be laying on the road. But the Encore slipped right through without any problems, like a person sucking in a big breath to skinny themselves up and squeeze through a crowded train.
The short length – 168.5 inches – allowed the Buick to fit into a number of tight parking spaces other cars could not, especially in places where snow plows have piled up snow that refused to melt.
While just a front-drive machine, the Encore seemed to handle the snow and ice very well. It’s higher stance and clearance was especially handy when driving through fresh snow. For the most part, I find front-drive vehicles fairly responsive in the snow, especially if you drive a little slower and don’t maneuver too quickly. Ice? Well, nothing is really that good on ice; the best thing to do is just stay home. An all-wheel-drive model is available but unnecessary.
The turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine provided plenty of power – 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. It never felt lacking during acceleration or cruising. As I mentioned, I was mostly driving slow to begin with. The six-speed automatic transmission sometime whined under aggressive driving but otherwise provided flawless performance.
Some of the Encore’s safety technology, including its blind-spot monitoring system, also played an important role. When a car’s side windows are covered in a fresh snowy glaze, it is much more difficult to detect oncoming vehicles. This becomes even more telling during inclement weather where different drivers maintain much different speeds and someone can easily sneak into your blind spot.
The one piece of technology that did not fair as well was the rearview camera -- constantly covered in grime, it was practically useless. The ultrasonic sensors also seemed to be in hyper mode when they remained covered in snow. It’s understandable but annoying.
For the most part, the Encore did a great job in the bad weather. Perhaps the only time I really noticed how narrow 69.9-inch-wide vehicles can be was when I was driving with a friend. We’re both burly enough men and our shoulders touched for the entire drive. Perhaps Buick could market this as intimate seating.
Another downside to consider is that the nicely loaded Encore had a $33,475, which is not unreasonable and falls right where a Buick should: Less than similar luxury vehicles but more than entry mainstream ones. For a suburban everyday hauler, this is a great vehicle. It wraps the owner in luxury, touts a very versatile interior with a folding second row, provides lots of high-tech driver-friendly features and that lets you look over the tops of cars but still fit in a compact space.
The Encore also holds its own on a road trip, remaining stable on highway trips I’ve taken in the Buick in the past. This particular cold week of testing, however, was much more true to life, trudging through the daily grind of work, snow shoveling and work.
While I hope we don't experience more encore performances of the polar vortex, I will gladly hop into this Buick any time.