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  • 2015 Buick Encore Snow Adventure and Winter Advisory Checklist

2015 Buick Encore Snow Adventure and Winter Advisory Checklist

Winter Wonderland

Sue Mead
Mar 30, 2015
Photographers: Courtesy of Manufacturer
Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Connecticut. I grew up in New England. I know snow and ice. In fact, as a teenager, I tried my hand at ice driving on a lake with my Suzuki motorcycle, beset with knobby tires -- a great exercise in traction and bruised knees! New England is still home and where I land when I’m not testing vehicles and traveling the globe. So, it should be clear that I really know snow, especially in the midst of the winter of 2015! Truth is, I am always looking for the opportunity to motor in snow, especially on closed-course tracks that allow me to push the throttle and get sideways. It’s great fun. But more than that, I believe that I can benefit from all the practice I can get driving on traction-compromised surfaces and checking out the newest AWD and traction control systems. So, it was a quick “yes” in response to a recent invite from Buick to test out its AWD system in the 2015 Buick Encore at Lime Rock Park. The day was not just fun but also instructional and Buick offered a Winter Advisory Checklist (read on) and winter tips from a joint program of Buick and AccuWeather.
First, let take a look at the 2015 Encore, a vehicle that is among Buick’s most popular offerings. The five-passenger crossover benefits from luxury styling and smart packaging for everyday goods and gear, and it has top-notch safety and infotainment technology offerings that make it an amenable and appealing urban runabout. Although a subcompact, it is clearly appealing for buyers of many ages and different life stages that find its diminutive size just right.
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Unveiled at Detroit's 2012 North American International Auto Show, Encore officially went on sale in January 2013 as Buick's first subcompact crossover in the U.S., available in front or all-wheel drive. Since, it has received high praise from customers, who ranked it Number 1 in the crossover utility vehicle segment in both the 2013 J.D. Power Initial Quality and J.D. Power APEAL studies. It was also named Best Compact Crossover/SUV in Kelley Blue Book’s 2014 Five-Year Cost to Own Awards. One of its virtues is its fuel economy, estimated at 33-mpg highway (for FWD models), which is greater than competitors such as the Mini Countryman with the automatic transmission (30 mpg) and Volkswagen Tiguan (26 mpg), says Buick.
Focusing on today’s ever-growing demand for advanced in-vehicle communication and infotainment programming for drivers and riders, the 2015 Encore is now available with OnStar with 4G LTE. It’s a mobile hub with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that comes with a three-month/3gb data trial, and the hotspot is activated whenever the vehicle is turned on. OnStar’s technology brings Advanced Crash Response System emergency assistance as well as navigation and turn-by-turn directions.
The CUV’s unibody structure is composed of 66 percent high-strength steel, as well as ultra-high-strength steel. It’s crafted with a higher driving position and has a number of premium attributes and standard features, including 10 air bags, StabiliTrak stability enhancement, Buick’s voice-activated IntelliLink, and Buick’s exclusive QuietTuning with Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology. IntelliLink has all the basic functions you’d expect and is also highly customizable, capable of linking up to 10 devices, such as smartphones, SD cards, and MP3 players. Improved connectivity and convenience includes a new Text Messaging Alerts feature for smartphone users. It also reads incoming texts through the vehicle’s speakers, with Siri Eyes Free for iPhone 4s or later. Phones with iOS 6 or later bring voice-controlled connectivity to help keep phones safely stored, hands on the wheel, and eyes on the road.
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What you’ll notice first is the exterior styling of the Encore adopts Buick’s signature cues, sporting a waterfall grille, chrome accents and surrounds, portholes on the hood, and painted lower panels, along with blue-accented halogen composite projector beam headlamps and tail lamps. Standard are body-color door handles with chrome strips, a stainless steel exhaust tip, and 18-inch, five-spoke painted aluminum wheels (seven-spoke chromed aluminum wheels are optional).
Slipping inside, you’ll find a flowing instrument panel (IP) that wraps into the door panels. The IP houses the 7-inch, high-resolution, full-color display for IntelliLink and also features displays for the SiriusXM Satellite Radio and Encore’s standard rearview camera, as well as the available GPS-enabled navigation system. Interior trims are an all-Ebony or a contemporary mix of dark and light tones, accented with ice-blue ambient lighting and chrome and woodgrain trim. Seats are comprised of a high-density foam to improve comfort for long drives and are trimmed in either cloth and leatherette or premium leather, with new seat fabrics for 2015.
There are a host of stowage solutions, including eight beverage holders, storage in all four doors, four bins in the dash, pockets in the seatbacks, and bins under the rear load floor around the spare tire. There is 18.8 cubic feet of storage behind the split-folding rear seat and 48.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The front passenger seat also folds flat to allow items up to 8 feet long.
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Under Encore’s hood is an Ecotec 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, mated to a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed auto transmission. The set-up is part of GM’s family of six-speed front- and all-wheel-drive transaxles developed for small cars and crossovers. Tt’s a unique design that makes the powertrain unit shorter fore-to-aft and, thereby, enables a shorter overall vehicle length, increased interior space, enhanced safety crush zones, and lower weight. The turbocharger is integrated within the exhaust manifold for reduced weight and greater packaging flexibility, and the engine has a reinforced crankshaft and forged connecting rods to add strength and to support. The tranny has a steep first gear and a tall overdrive top gear giving a wide ratio spread of 6.14:1 for strong acceleration, fuel efficiency, and lower engine noise when cruising the highway.
The crossover sits on a MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs, a large stabilizer bar, hydraulic ride bushings, and side-load-compensated front strut modules while the rear is set up with a compound crank (torsion beam) design, incorporating a double-wall tubular V-shape beam profile with gas-charged twin-tube shocks. Riding on a 100.6-inch wheelbase, Encore has a wide stance -- 60.6 inches at the front and rear -- that gives a planted feel to driving, while the strong body structure enables greater suspension precision and helps to quiet the ride.
Getting Behind The Wheel
Our drive day began on snowy secondary roads of northeastern Connecticut as we navigated to the Lime Rock Park’s autocross courses. The ride and drive was designed to show off the Encore’s maneuverability and confidence on surfaces with limited and poor traction, aided by automatic on-demand AWD system that uses sensors to control front to rear torque distribution along with yaw damping. We were impressed with nary a slip on the roads and found the Encore’s preemptive system works like a charm, which automatically sends up to 70 percent torque to the rear axle when launching from a stop. During our snowcross drives, the Encore powered through deep snow and showed great prowess when cornering at higher speeds than would be advised on roadways.
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Although snow driving might be an unusual or unique opportunity for folks that hail from Florida or Southern California, Buick has found that many buyers choose AWD even in the Sunshine States for the extra measure of safety and security that sending traction to all four wheels provides on rain-slickened freeways and dirt roads, for example. We learned that 38 percent of Encore buyers overall select the AWD version, and 69 percent of customers in New England chose AWD.
Things we liked during our drive of the Encore: Buick’s engineers have given this turbocharged engine a wide rpm range for its maximum torque – a specific trait of turbocharged engines – and that means power on tap from low speeds to high; the variable-effort electric power steering turns the Encore with ease; and the four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution provide a strong measure of stopping power. We also like the quietness of the cockpit that comes from a combination of design and engineering elements, such as an ultra-quiet engine alternator; the acoustic-laminated windshield and 5mm thicker side window glass; and foam baffle insulation at the opening of body structure cavities, among other traits. Our only complaint: There is a single armrest in the front cockpit for the driver, without an armrest for the front seat passenger, the only notable reminder that Encore is a subcompact!
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The 2015 Encore is available in four trim levels: Encore (1SB), Encore Convenience (1SD), Encore Leather (1SL) and Encore Premium (1SN). The long list of standard features is impressive, including air conditioning, a rearview camera, heated outside rearview mirrors, a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped wheel with infotainment and cruise controls, a rear cargo cover, roof-mounted luggage rails, and a theft-deterrent system, among other features and amenities. Encore trim levels add standard equipment with packages available in both front-wheel and all-wheel-drive models.
Of note is Experience Buick Protection, standard on all 2015 Buick models, that brings 2 years/24,000 miles of scheduled maintenance, including oil changes, oil filter changes and tire rotations. All Buicks also come with a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty and 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.
Buick Winter Advisory Checklist: Bread, Shovels, Technology
While vehicle technologies can neither prevent snow clippers nor replenish empty bread shelves, Buick confidently forecasts they’ll help make getting around more bearable:
All-wheel drive (AWD): Vehicle control is everything in winter driving. The beauty of all-wheel drive -- available on the Buick Regal, LaCrosse, Encore, and Enclave -- is it automatically senses when there is a loss of traction and sends power to the wheels that need it. The driver does nothing. However, as smart as AWD is, it’s no substitute for common sense and adhering to local snow-emergency laws. Packing an emergency kit that includes a folding shovel is recommended too.
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StabiliTrak: Electronic stability control has been proven to be one of the most effective safety innovations since safety belts and air bags. Buick’s standard StabiliTrak system helps drivers control their vehicle in ice, snow, wet pavement and uneven road surfaces. StabiliTrak works by recognizing when the vehicle is in an understeer (fishtail) or oversteer (plow) mode. Sensors detect the difference between the direction the driver is actually turning and the vehicle’s response by “reading” the steering wheel position, the amount of sideways force, vehicle speed, and how the vehicle is turning. If necessary, the system automatically applies precise amounts of brake pressure at individual wheels and reduces engine torque to help safely put the vehicle on its intended path.
IntelliLink and available OnStar 4G LTE: The only thing worse than a blizzard is being isolated in one. Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system pairs with owners’ mobile phones to provide safe, voice-activated connectivity. That means they can keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel in the event of trouble. IntelliLink builds on the safety and security of OnStar, which enables subscribers to access city-by-city weather reports and emergency services. Available OnStar 4G LTE provides additional connectivity including a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.
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Heated steering wheel: Available across the Buick lineup, it doesn’t prevent drivers from plowing into a snowbank, but it’s warm and feels good. Like heated seats, once you’ve experienced a heated steering wheel in cold weather, you won’t know how you lived without it.
Lime Rock Park
Lime Rock Park’s Northeast U.S. motorsports venue is offering Winter Autocross Days. Regardless of the weather and temperature, Lime Rock Park has large-capacity snowmaking and grooming equipment and has scheduled Friday and Saturday winter autocross events open to any licensed driver. “Snowcross” days are held on Lime Rock’s 1,200-foot autocross course in the upper infield area.
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“First and foremost, driving hard and getting ‘slideways’ in the snow is simply a whole bunch of fun,” said Lime Rock's Walter Irvine, business development director. “Who hasn’t booted the tail out or handbraked their car in a snowy parking lot somewhere? “You don’t have to have any previous experience. Doing this under the watchful eyes of our instructors on Lime Rock’s autocross course, not only is it fun, thrilling, and very safe, but you cannot believe what you learn with regard to what we call ‘car control skills’ which will make you a much better, safer driver, whether on snow, ice, in the rain, or in the dry,” Irvine continued.
“Any vehicle -- all-wheel, rear-wheel or front-wheel drive -- can be driven quickly in the snow. We’ll teach those uninitiated in the fun of snow driving some specialized techniques appropriate to each vehicle type.”

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