Redesigned 2020 Buick Encore: better look, bigger size, new safety features

2020 Buick Encore

2020 Buick Encore

What changes will make the 2020 Buick Encore different?

Everything, via a clean-sheet redesign that’ll bring a roomier body with new, more graceful styling. An upgraded powertrain and additional features will be part of the changes, which launch the second generation of this popular premium subcompact crossover SUV.

Encore debuted in the U.S. for model-year the 2013 and was a surprise sales success, helping convince Americans that a subcompact-sized crossover could have upscale appeal. BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lexus, Range Rover, and Volvo have since entered the segment Buick helped launch. Assembled in South Korea, the original Encore borrowed much of its underskin engineering from General Motors’ European-market Opel Mokka. For the 2015 model year, GM gave Chevrolet a less luxurious version, the Trax.

Encore fast became Buick’s best-selling vehicle and has remained. Sales are up nearly 15 percent through the first half of calendar 2018 and are on pace to hit 200,000. Helped by pricing that undercuts most premium subcompact crossovers by thousands of dollars, Encore is far and away the segment’s top seller; it even outsells its Trax sibling.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Wait. Spy photographs of what’s likely the 2020 Encore show a crossover that appears to be usefully larger than the 2013-2019 first generation. The wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) looks longer, as does overall body length. Though it’s among the smallest crossovers on the road, with a body no longer than that of a Volkswagen Beetle, the current Encore’s tall roof and efficient packaging let it carry four adults in reasonable comfort. However, a longer wheelbase should give the redesigned replacement significantly more passenger room, particularly for rear-seat occupants, as well as a bigger cargo area.

Expect the ’20 Encore to continue with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine of similar output to the outgoing model. But it should team with a more sophisticated transmission for a smoother power delivery and improved fuel economy. The 2020 lineup should mirror that of the 2019 Encore, starting with a Base model and ascending through Preferred and Sport Touring to the top-line Essence. All-wheel drive (AWD) as an extra-cost alternative to standard front-wheel drive is likely to be available on all but the Base model.

If you’re interested in a first-generation Encore, we recommend buying one only if you get a too-good-to-pass-up deal. Not only will dealers stage clearance sales to make way for the 2020s, GM regularly offers incentives and substantial discounts on its crossovers.

Will the styling be different?

Yes. The spy photos show a heavily camouflaged vehicle, so we can only guess at the general shape of the 2020 Encore. But happily, the awkwardly truncated profile of the first-generation model appears to be going away in favor of more conventional proportions: think a scaled down version of Buick’s Envision compact crossover.

The ’20 Encore’s front will likely adopt an evolution of the brand design language Buick debuted on the facelifted 2017 Encore and LaCrosse sedan. It should consist of a wider, flatter grille with a chrome trim strip bisecting the Buick emblem. Expect narrower headlights to stretch farther back over the front wheel wells and prominent lower cutouts to house available fog lights. A lower roofline and slightly more upright back end will make the 2020 Encore look less ungainly than the first-gen model.

Like the exterior, the cabin design is likely to be a reduced-scale version of the Envision’s, with a three-spoke steering wheel and arching dashboard incorporating a 7-inch central touchscreen infotainment system powered by Buick’s IntelliLink interface. Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto would likely be standard. An upgraded 8-inch screen with imbedded navigation should return as a standard or optional feature, depending on trim-level selection.

The front seating area of the outgoing Encore easily accommodated two grownups and while the rear seat offered good headroom it felt cramped for legroom. Expect the 2020 redesign to correct this, with the back seat becoming at least tolerable for two adults, although still not wide enough to hold a third without serious squeezing. Cargo volume should also improve upon the first-gen’s back-of-the-pack 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 48.4 with them folded.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes. The 2020 Encore is expected to be the first General Motors vehicle underpinned by the company’s new Vehicle Set Strategy (VSS) platform. Like rival platform strategies such as the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) and Volkswagen MQB architectures, VSS is a series of modular understructure platforms upon which a variety of vehicles can be built. The idea is to save on development and assembly so more can be spent on design and features. GM’s VSS-F platform is for front-wheel-drive-based cars and the VSS-C is for crossovers. The next Encore will likely use the latter and again offer front-drive and AWD.

Expect it to again use a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine but to drop the outgoing Encore’s base version, which has 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, and to adopt as standard with 153-horsepower, 177-pound-feet variant available in the 2019 Sport Touring and Essence models. The latter is a more sophisticated engine with modern direct fuel injection and the ability to automatically shut off to save fuel when the vehicle is stopped and restart when the driver releases the brake pedal.

A new 9-speed automatic transmission should replace the current 6-speed automatic.

The upgrades powertrain in combination with the stronger VSS-C platform should translate into a second-generation Encore that performs notably better. It’s apt to have better acceleration, despite likely being larger and slightly heavier. It should improve on the outgoing model’s already pleasant road manners and surprisingly good ride quality. Quietness worthy of a premium-segment subcompact crossover should remain strong suit, too.

Will fuel economy improve?

Most likely, due in large measure to introduction of the more efficient 9-speed transmission. Expect the 2020 Encore to beat the outgoing 153-horsepower model’s ratings of 27/33/30 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 26/31/28 with AWD.

Will there be new features?

Count on it. Buick should bring this crossover fully up to date for luxury, convenience, and most vitally, safety features. The ’20 Encore would finally be available with key driver assists common to even some automaker’s entry-level vehicles. These should include adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, lane-maintaining automatic steering correction, and most important, autonomous emergency braking that could stop it automatically to mitigate a frontal collision. These safety systems should become at least optional on the 2020 Encore. They would join blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, front- and rear-obstacle detection, and lane-departure warning that were available on the ’19 version.

Other standard amenities should include active noise cancellation, pushbutton ignition, power driver-seat, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability with data service provided by GM’s OnStar telematics. Expect the Preferred grade to add dual-zone automatic climate control and possibly leather upholstery with heated front seats. The Sport Touring would have unique exterior and interior trim and possibly a sport suspension. The flagship Essence could include ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, imbedded navigation, power front-passenger seat, driver-seat memory, and a Bose-brand audio system.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll likely increase but expect Encore to continue occupying an appealing middle ground between mainstream- and luxury-brand subcompact crossovers, while again undercutting import-nameplate rivals.

Base-price estimates here are for the 2020 Encore with front-wheel drive and include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $995 on the 2019 model. Expect to add $1,500-$2,000 for AWD.

Estimated starting prices for the ’20 Encore are $26,000 for the Base model, $27,500 for the Preferred, $29,000 for the Sport Touring, and $32,000 for the Essence.

When does it come out?

Expect a fall 2019 release date for the 2020 Buick Encore.

Best competitors

Audi Q3, BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus NX and UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLB, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC40

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]