Archive for the ‘Buick’ Category

Who knew the most charismatic Buick was also the smallest one?

Most people thought that Buick wouldn’t survive GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. Sales were in free fall and the average age of a Buick customer was pushing past 66 (one of the highest in the industry).  What most people didn’t understand was how important Buick was (and is) to GM in China, where Buick is considered a prestigious, desirable, aspirational luxury brand.

Buick is 110 years old this year. It was the first division of GM and for most of its life, it was considered the last stepping stone in GM’s divisional structure before graduating to Cadillac ownership.  In 2009, Buick was spared not just because of China, but for GM to have a near-luxury brand to do battle with the likes of Lexus and Acura.

Last year, when Buick announced that it would sell a Buick version of the Opel Mokka, most automotive insiders scratched their collective balding heads and wondered if this was the right move for Buick.

2014 Buick Encore

2014 Buick Encore

2013 Opel Mokka

2013 Opel Mokka

A very cute Meerkat

A very cute Meerkat

Way back in 2012, aside from the full-size Enclave SUV, Buick’s lineup consisted of three sedans: Verano, Regal and LaCrosse. Each is separated by about 6” in length and they look so similar that most buyers couldn’t tell them apart.

The Opel Mokka/Buick Encore is a subcompact crossover utility vehicle. It’s about the size of a MINI Countryman, but it has a tall, upright look – kind of like an adorable Meerkat.  It’s definitely the smallest car ever to wear a Buick badge.

2013  Buick Encore (Exterior is identical to the 2014 model)

2013 Buick Encore (Exterior is identical to the 2014 model)

So how does this tiny ‘ute fit into Buick’s brand DNA? The size and youthful appeal is so not-Buick that at first blush, it seems like it should be in the Chevy portfolio. After all, Chevy’s smallest SUV, the Equinox, is far larger than the Encore.

What it does have is premium materials like soft-touch plastics and leather seats, luxury car features like forward collision warning, a heated steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers and Buick’s calling card, a quiet interior.

Standard on the Enclave is Buick’s QuietTuning™ which includes a laminated windshield, triple door seals and tight body panels. Also standard is Bose Active Noise Cancellation which uses the same technology in noise-cancelling headphones to eliminate that annoying road noise.

2014 Buick Encore Interior - Premium Trim level.

2014 Buick Encore Interior – Premium Trim level.

But what I found most appealing was its personality and exclusivity. No other luxury or near-luxury brand has such a small offering. The closest comparison for price and size is the much noisier MINI Countryman. The Encore starts at $24,160 and a Premium trim model with AWD tops out at around $33,000. The Countryman starts at $22,100 but a Cooper S All4 tops out at more than $36,000 with a slew of high-end BMW options.

The Buick waterfall grille is very bright. I like the new stylized tri-shield Buick badge.

The Buick waterfall grille is very bright. I like the new stylized tri-shield Buick badge.

People can’t help smiling when they see the Encore. It seems almost silly coming from Buick. You sit in a commanding position behind a very stubby nose with Buick’s large signature waterfall grille and new, stylized tri-shield badge. Forward visibility is great and it’s fun to flog around in town. It’s easy to park too.

The rear view camera (standard on upper trim levels) is a big plus as the rear window is tiny, limiting visibility. The extra visibility provided by the camera sure helps and it should be standard on all cars and trucks. Blind Side Zone Alert and rear Cross-Traffic Alert are new safety options for 2014.

The little 1.4L Ecotec turbo 4 uses all its 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque to entertain. Around town, it feels like it has enough power and while it won’t win a sprinting contest on the highway, I didn’t feel it was severely lacking. I didn’t notice turbo-lag in normal driving and there was only a hint of it when you mash the gas pedal. The QuietTuning™ helps reduce noise inside the cabin.

The double glove box is a nice touch. Great for small electronics.

The double glove box is a nice touch. Great for small electronics.

GM's 1.4L Ecotec engine.

GM’s 1.4L Ecotec engine.

The standard 6-speed automatic works seamlessly to row the cogs. Like all modern transmissions, it loves taller gears to save gas, but I wasn’t annoyed by constant hunting. Drive Shift Control allows the driver to choose the gear – handy when using the engine as a brake doing down hills.

The Encore is only slightly larger than the MINI Countryman, but it’s nearly 10” shorter than the Honda CR-V and 15” shorter than the Nissan Rogue. However, I think what matters to many buyers of “downsized” luxury is fuel economy.

The front drive Encore is rated at 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway; average 28 mpg – nearly identical to the Countryman competition. The AWD option knocks 2-3 mpg off those figures.  It’s no secret that weight is the enemy of fuel efficiency. The MINI Countryman weighs in at 3,020 while the Encore tips the scales at 3,190 – a 170 pound difference.  I’d opt for the the extra weight to escape the noisy interior of the MINI.

2014 Buick Encore

2014 Buick Encore

If you’re a big hauler of bulk items or regularly carry adults in the back seat, the Encore probably won’t fit your lifestyle. It’s best for 1-2 adults and maybe an infant. Total cargo capacity, with the rear seats folded is 48.4 cubic feet. That compares favorably to the Countryman which has only 42.4 cubic feet. But the decidedly more utilitarian Honda Fit, which is 7.4” shorter than the Encore, works magic to swallow 57.3 cubic feet of stuff.

The interior of the Buick Encore. The seats fold flat and the front passenger seat also can fold nearly flat to accommodate longer cargo.

The interior of the Buick Encore. The seats fold flat and the front passenger seat also can fold nearly flat to accommodate longer cargo.

The interior looks like it could hold lots of stuff.

The interior looks like it could hold lots of stuff.

No review is complete without mention of infotainment. My iPhone synced easily with the Buick IntelliLink™ system. While the 7” touch-screen could be a bit bigger, it seemed easy to use and intuitive. I really didn’t go much further with it, but it’s far better than Cadillac’s annoying CUE system.

Buick Encore's IntelliLink touch-screen Infotainment system.

Buick Encore’s IntelliLink touch-screen Infotainment system.

So the Buick Encore is really a niche lifestyle vehicle and GM had no idea how it would go over in the US market. The 2013 Encore went on sale in February and through August, it’s sold nearly 20,000 units – three to four times GM’s original estimates. Days in inventory is a gravity-defying 15 days (normal inventory sits around more than 60 days before it’s sold). And the average age of a Buick buyer has come down by 10 year in only 8 years – so younger buyers won’t feel out-of-place in a Buick dealership.

I don’t know if I could ever own a Buick. I might still hold out for something like the long-rumored rear-drive Riviera flagship. But in the meantime, the Encore is the most tempting Buick I’ve driven in decades.


The 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show opened today with a slew of introductions. I’ll try and go through as many as I can with some color commentary:

Art Center College of Design always has some excellent concepts that the automotive design students present.  This Hybrid Sports Bicycle (HSB) caught my eye. The concept design and body fabrication was done by Tomas Bubilek and the chassis design and fabrication was done by Michael R. Bowser.

Concept Hybrid Sports Bicycle presented by Art Center College of Design students.

I also liked this Mazda concept 3-D mock up:

Mazda Design Concept

Acura: Honda’s luxury brand has a lot of work to do to regain sales that its lost over the past decade by not focusing on a brand image and just phoning in the cars and going a little off the range with the famous Acura Beak aluminum grille.  Acura introduced a new flagship, the 2014 RLX. No, it’s not rear drive, and in some ways it seems like a face lifted all-wheel drive RL, but it does look better. I’m simply not impressed. Maybe it drives well.

2014 Acura RLX – Front. I do like the all-LED headlights.

Rear taillight detail for the 2014 Acura RLX. I like the light show in the rear too, if not the overall look of the tail.

The interior of the 2014 Acura RLX, the brand’s flagship.

Audi: Audi really had nothing new to show the world at the LA show, so instead we were graced with the announcement that Audi would sell the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 with a 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The clean diesel power plant will likely sell well given the significant increase in fuel economy over the gasoline analogs.  This lovely A8L TDI should get 24 mpg city and 36 highway — stunning numbers given the heft of Audi’s flagship.  The diesel engine is rated at 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and powers all four wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic.  Audi says it will do 0-60 in 6.4 seconds.

The 2014 Audi A8L TDI

This A8 had the rear seat package that makes for a very comfortable passenger. Check out the controls for the passenger!

The driver of this 2014 Audi A8L TDI is in the lap of luxury. Audi still sets the bar high for luxury interiors.

Bentley: If you want something a bit more rarefied than an Audi, the Volkswagen Group owns Bentley too. Not much new for LA, but we got another iteration of the company’s Continental GT. This is the “Speed” version with Bentley’s 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine making 616 ponies with 590 lb-ft of gut-wrenching torque to go from zero to 60 in 4 seconds flat and top out at 212 mpg. It’s at least $225,000.

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed.

If you have a bit more money to burn, Bentley also showed the 2013 Mulsanne. It’s sort of the old school Bentley using a thoroughly updated 6.7L V8 making a healthy 505 hp and a stunning 752 lb-ft of torque. It is all channeled thorough the ZF 8-speed automatic used in several other VW Group products.  You get the feeling of a locomotive when you’re behind the wheel because the Mulsanne weights in at 5,700 lbs. Yikes! But if you can afford the $296,000 (before options), who cares?

2013 Bentley Mulsanne. Check out those Gatling Gun headlights!

You may not mind being stuck in LA traffic if you are sitting behind this wheel. Beautiful real wood and top quality switchgear.

BMW: Our friends from Munich showed off the latest iteration of their upcoming i3 electric car. The i3 Concept Coupe is really just the standard i3 less two doors and some length. Still, it looks nice. I’d love to know what the final production version will look like when it shows up sometime in 2014.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe, front.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe side, from the rear.

If you’re not as interested in the i3, BMW dragged out the i8 Concept that was last seen a year ago in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So just to tease you again, here are some pictures. It won’t look quite this amazing and flamboyant when it finally shows up for sale, sometime after the i3 goes on sale.

BMW i8 Concept Hybrid.

The i8 Concept Hybrid certainly has the futuristic interior to match the great exterior.

How about a BMW you can actually buy? This 2013 Gran Coupe is certainly a looker, particular in this expensive matte finish:

This lovely 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe starts at $87,395. The Frozen Bronze Metallic paint is a $3,500 option.

The Gran Coupe has one of BMW’s most sumptuous and well-crafted interiors. You won’t (and shouldn’t) find any cheap plastics inside here.

BMW likes to show off expensive cars, and this auto show is no different. How about the M6 and M5 in the background? If six digit prices offend you, avert your eyes.

The price of the 2013 BMW M6 starts with a six digit number.

Buick: It was kind of lonely at the Buick booth. I mean, LA is not very friendly to Buick. There aren’t many Buick dealers and the brand hasn’t sold well here in decades.  GM’s wants its near-luxury marque to appeal to a budget-minded Lexus customer.  That’s a tough hill to climb, given the years of neglect and the 25 years Lexus has been honing its luxury credentials.

However, to entice younger buyers, Buick is introducing a small crossover called the Encore.  Opel sells a version of it called the Mokka in Europe and, like the Mokka,  the Encore is imported from GM’s South Korean subsidiary.

2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick Encore – from the rear.

The interior of the Encore is nice, but built to a price. I mean, this is a car in the $20,000 range, so you can’t expect top quality plastics. GM did go to great lengths to make the colors pleasing and the dash is distinct, if not a stand-out.

Space isn’t bad for a little CUV. I’m not sure if a young family with no kids and a dog will want this of if empty-nest retired baby boomers will go for it. Time will tell.

Cadillac: Another GM division that’s got fresh product is Cadillac.  The all-important, all-new rear-drive ATS was introduced earlier this year to much fanfare and pretty good reviews. The ATS’ stated target is the BMW 328i and it’s the first time Cadillac has real skin in this game.  While the press is slobbering all over the ATS, I’m not impressed by the interior. The plastics feel cheap, the wood looks fake (even if it is real) and the shiny digital center console with the “Cadillac User Experience” (CUE) featured prominently only looks good when it’s turned on and the sun isn’t shining on it.  The hepatic touch-control feedback is overrated and feels clumsy. Certainly not something I’d like to futz with while driving. Maybe I’ll enjoy the driving experience.

2013 Cadillac ATS

The cockpit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS with CUE. This one looks better without the wood inserts.

The rear seat of the ATS isn’t any worse than the BMW 328i or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Chevrolet: Not to be left out, GM’s mainstream division, Chevrolet, has new product too. First, the “big deal” is the 2014 Impala. It’s basically the Chevy version of the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. It’s big and it looks it. No more rental fleet for this Impala, right? Time will tell.

The 2014 Chevy Impala. Big. New. But I just don’t care, sorry, guys.

Chevy picked LA to show off its new 2014 Spark EV.  The Spark is the smallest car Chevy’s ever sold. It’s a product of GM South Korea (a.k.a. Daewoo). It’s better than the Aveo, but still a bit too rental for me. The EV is a big deal because California requires all the major manufacturers to sell zero emissions vehicles by a certain date. I think the first two markets for the Spark EV will be California and Florida. What it has going for it is price. It’s cheap, as far as EVs go – below $25,000 after a federal tax credit.  The electric motor is good for 120 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque. The Spark EV is quick too – GM says zero to 60 is 8 seconds.  But the big news is the fast charging system. The Combo DC Fast-Charge system promises to deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.  We haven’t seen range figures yet, but the magic target is usually 100 miles per charge.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

The 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack adds a whopping 560 lbs to the Spark. But that weight on the floor should make for a great low center of gravity and add to stability.

The 2014 Spark EV is a bit spartan, but interior parts painted in the exterior color ads some visual interest. It’s not bad for the price point, but there are lots of hard plastics.

This 2013 Corvette ZR-1 is always a crowd-pleaser with its striking good looks, carbon fiber bits and a 6.2L LS9 V8 supercharged engine producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. It can go from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds and its top speed is 205 mph. Take that, Viper! A bargain at a base MSRP of $112,600.

2013 Corvette (C6) ZR-1 from its sexy rear.

The front end of the 2013 Corvette ZR-1. Next year, the all-new C7 (7th Gen) Corvette will be introduced to the world.

Prepare to yawn.  Here is the 2013 Malibu. It should be a contender in the large mid-size family sedan segment, doing battle with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata; however, I think the Malibu will continue to find its place in the rental fleets.

Here it is: The all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu.

The best viewing angle for the 2013 ‘Bu is definitely from its rear.

It’s the best interior of any Malibu in the past 40 years, but that might be damning with faint praise.

Chevy recycled some concept cars too. Both the Code 130R and Tru 140S appeared nearly a year ago at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Nice to see them in the flesh, but they are old news. What remains to be seen is if GM will do anything with these concepts. Of particular interst is the small rear-drive platform for the Code 130R.

Chevy Code 130R Concept. Love the paint.

Chevy Tru 140S Concept

More to follow…..