Buick has done an admirable job over the last few years to shed its geriatric image -- and lower the age of its customers. Its latest offering, the 2013 Encore compact CUV should further that cause, though it'll find buyers among empty nesters looking for something smaller as well as the 30-something professionals Buick is specifically aiming it at.

The Encore, which was developed by a joint Korean and American team, rides on a version of GM's Gamma II global small-car platform that also underpins the Chevy Sonic and Spark. It's powered by just one engine, GM's 1.4-liter turbo Ecotec four-cylinder making 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft at just 1850 rpm, mated to a small car-specific version of the automaker's Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic that mixes a short first gear with a long overdrive in an effort to improve initial acceleration and fuel economy (23-25/30-33 city/highway).

You can get your Encore in front-wheel drive or with an "Active On-Demand" all-wheel-drive system highlighted by an electronically activated BorgWarner torque transfer case that keeps the rear axle's clutch engaged up to 37 mph. Above that speed and with no slip detected, the clutch will disengage, effectively switching the Encore to front-wheel drive. Torque bias is 50/50, front and rear.

With so little power on tap and roughly 3200 pounds to lug around, the Encore isn't fast, but it is decently quick thanks to its low-end turbo punch. Turbo lag is minimal and raspy engine notes (usually associated with a four-cylinder engine) are minimized thanks to the addition of Buick's Quiet Tuning suite of features, including an acoustically treated headliner and window glass and the brand's all-new Bose Noise Cancelling system, which pumps in sounds designed to be the acoustic opposite of penetrating noises via the stereo's speakers. It works no matter if the stereo is on or off.

Compared with the 100-pound-plus heavier AWD model, the Encore's front-drive chassis and Continental rubber transmit a tad bit of road feel through the lightly weighted, electronically boosted helm and cushy power seats. Its tallish body leans through corners, yet it remains planted and predictable, and the gearbox smoothly knocks through its cogs no matter the situation or driver haste. Is it sporty? Yes, but not when compared to the more expensive, more powerful, and athletically biased BMW X1 or Range Rover Evoque - and that's not a bad thing. With a 36.7-foot turning diameter, navigating parking lots is a breeze.

Outside, Buick brand traits abound, including blue-tinged headlamp projectors, waterfall grille, and tri-shield badge. The questionable hood-mounted portholes blend surprisingly well with the Encore's more rugged, cooler cues like gray-colored lower trim, silver "diffusers," hatch spoiler, roof rails, and standard five-spoke wheels.

It smallish exterior dimensions belie a capacious interior that veers little from Buick's current aesthetic, although Michael Burton, Buick brand director of interior design, said his team was going for an "optimistically premium" vibe with "inspired beauty" and "sculptural persuasion." Design jargon aside, the end result is clean, refreshing, and, yes, youthful.

Clean, sweeping lines decorate soft-touch plastics and leather; seats are stuffed with high-density foam; forward visibility isn't a problem. Neither are front and rear head- and legroom (39.6, 38.8 inches; 40.8, 35.8 inches), but with thick C-pillars, a narrow hatch window, and passengers' heads, rear visibility is compromised.

Lay the Encore's 60/40 rear bench seats flat, and there's 48.4 cu-ft of space (18.8 cu-ft with the seats up). Fold the front passenger seat forward, and there's enough room to hold a rolled-up 8-foot-long rug, Buick says. Numerous storage bins in the dash, doors, floor, and cargo area hold everything from pencils and spare change to water bottles and purses. The standard equipment list is impressive and includes power adjustable driver's seat, 7-inch IntelliLink multimedia system (USB, AUX, Bluetooth, XM), cruise control, rearview camera, heated mirrors, and roof rails, among many others.

A choice of three optional amenity packages -- Convenience (120V outlet, dual climate control, remote start, fog lamps), Leather (heated leather seats and steering wheel, driver seat memory package), and Premium (Rainsense wipers, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, cargo mat, front/rear park assist, 7-speaker Bose audio) -- keeps things simple for both the customer and the dealer. Specially ordered models will have to wait around 90 days as the Encore is built at GM's Bupyeong plant in South Korea. Those wanting all-wheel drive will need to budget $1500 more for the option (officials expect 25-30% of the Encore mix will be AWD).

By blending new tech with old philosophy and adding a dash of styling and sportiness, plus a heavy hand of practicality and relative affordability (base prices start just south of 25K), Buick may finally have the recipe to conquer the younger generation of luxury CUV buyers while snaring a fair amount of empty-nesters as well.


2013 Buick Encore
BASE PRICE $24,950
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 1.4L/138-hp/148-lb-ft* turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3200-3300 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 100.6 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 168.5 x 69.9 x 65.2 in
0-60 MPH 8.0-8.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 23-25 / 30-33 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 135-147 / 102-112 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.69-0.75 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2013
*SAE certified