2021 Buick Encore GX FAQ Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Mar 31, 2021

Buick is now an SUV company. With all of its car models swept into the dustbin of history, the automaker, once known for sleek coupes and stately sedans (with the occasional injection of Gran Sport performance), now sells a quartet of crossover SUVs.

What’s more, they’re all small or compact except for the hulking Buick Enclave. The rest of the lineup includes the tiny Encore, the small Encore GX, and the compact Envision.

If you’re confused about the differences between the Encore and Encore GX, you’re likely not alone. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to think they’re different flavors of the same thing, listing them together on its fuel economy ratings website. In reality, they’re different vehicles sharing a name.

The Encore GX arrived for the 2020 model year, whereas the smaller Encore first went on sale for 2013. They’re both built in South Korea, but that’s where the similarities end.

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For its second year on the market, Buick makes a handful of changes to the small 5-passenger 2021 Encore GX:

  • Standard SiriusXM satellite radio
  • Standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Standard adaptive cruise control

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JDPA_2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Black Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

What are the 2021 Buick Encore GX configurations?

Buick offers the Encore GX in Preferred, Select, and Essence trim levels, each available with a Sport Touring (ST) Package that equips the SUV with unique 18-inch wheels, sport-design bumpers and grille, body-color trim, and red exterior accents. 

The powertrain selection is a little confusing. With front-wheel drive (FWD), a turbocharged 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine is standard. Choose all-wheel drive (AWD), and you must upgrade to the turbocharged 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine. However, with Select and Essence trim and FWD, you can get the more powerful 1.3-liter as an option. 

What is the 2021 Buick Encore GX price?

Prices for the 2021 Buick Encore GX range from $24,200 for a Preferred FWD with the 1.2-liter engine to $30,600 for an Essence AWD with the required 1.3-liter engine. The destination charge to ship the Encore GX from its assembly plant in South Korea to your local dealership is $995.

What is the 2021 Buick Encore GX cargo space/trunk space?

Buick says the Encore GX supplies 23.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind its rear seat, but that figure includes the 2.7 cu.-ft. of space underneath the cargo floor. Fold the back seat down, and this Buick will swallow up to 50.2 cu.-ft. of cargo. A hands-free power rear liftgate is optional and helpfully includes a Buick logo projection system to remind you where to activate the kick sensor.

One handy feature of the Encore GX is its fold-flat front passenger seat. This capability expands cargo space even further and allows the Buick to ingest items measuring 8 feet long.

What is the 2021 Buick Encore GX gas mileage?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2021 Buick Encore GX will return between 28 mpg and 31 mpg in combined driving, depending on the drivetrain combination. Given the SUV’s 13.2-gallon fuel tank capacity, the Encore GX’s maximum driving range is between 370 miles and 409 miles.

The FWD test vehicle, equipped with the 1.3-liter engine, averaged 28.2 mpg on the driving loop. That’s 2.8 mpg short of the official estimate of 31 mpg in combined driving.

Is the 2021 Buick Encore GX safe?

In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2021 Encore GX earns an overall safety rating of five stars. A perfect performance is marred only by 4-star ratings for the front passenger in a frontal-impact collision and a 4-star rollover resistance rating.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) does not give a 2021 Buick Encore GX safety rating because it had not tested the SUV as this review was published.

What is the 2021 Buick Encore GX towing capacity?

Believe it or not, the 2021 Buick Encore GX is rated to tow up to 1,000 pounds when equipped with its available trailering harness and hitch.

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2021 Buick Encore GX Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Buick supplied an Encore GX with Essence trim, front-wheel drive, and the optional turbocharged 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine for this review. The paint job cost $495 extra. It also had the Convenience Package, Advanced Technology Package, Experience Buick Package, and a power hands-free rear liftgate. The price, including destination charges, tallied up to $35,065. 

How is the 2021 Buick Encore GX interior?

At the as-tested price, the Encore GX needs a hefty dose of extra refinement. This is especially true considering how the diminutive Buick is going after the same aspirational buyer Mazda seeks with the stylish CX-30. The Mazda’s cabin is far more upscale, appealing, and refined.

For example, the Encore GX offers a plastic head-up display panel that rises from the top of the dashboard. But when the car is underway, vibrations shake it. This was true of a 2020 Encore GX evaluated last year, and the problem remains. That’s not a good way to impart a sense of quality.

Overall, the dashboard layout puts the controls in the expected locations. The infotainment system and climate system are models of simplicity, but the analog gauges are shoved to the sides of the instrument cluster to make room for a digital driver information center. This approach makes the gauges hard to read.

Is the 2021 Buick Encore GX comfortable?

For a small SUV with undersized front seats, the Encore GX remains reasonably comfortable after a few hours behind the steering wheel. The test SUV’s driver’s seat offered a 10-way power adjustment while the front passenger’s seat supplied an 8-way power adjustment. Heated cushions and a heated steering wheel come in handy on cold days.

Unsurprisingly, the back seat is cramped. Beyond the lack of legroom, the seat itself is uncomfortably shaped. The cushion is flat and featureless, and the backrest is reclined at an uncomfortable angle. Furthermore, Buick does not supply air conditioning vents for rear-seat riders. But the foot room is generous.

Does the 2021 Buick Encore GX drive itself?

No, the Buick Encore GX does not drive itself. It lacks a lane-centering assistance system, so it doesn’t provide a Level 2 advanced driving assistance system (ADAS). But even if it had this feature, it still wouldn’t drive itself. That’s because there aren’t any vehicles on sale in the U.S. that do so. Every existing, approved ADAS technology requires a vigilant driver ready to take complete control of the vehicle.

And that includes Tesla.

It does come with other features. Standard equipment includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic forward emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beam headlights. Blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning is an option with the base Preferred trim and is standard with Select and Essence trim.

Buick also supplies standard Teen Driver report-card technology, which shares with parents how a young driver spent their time in the Encore GX. Teen Driver is free, but you’ll need to pay a subscription to get automatic crash response and SOS emergency calling. A tire fill alert system makes it easy to maintain proper tire pressures.

In use, the Encore GX’s ADAS reflects a need for further fine-tuning. None of the three adaptive cruise control following gap settings proved satisfying during testing, and the lane-keeping assistance didn’t feel natural.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Encore GX a 5-star overall rating. When you research this SUV on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) website, you’ll find ratings for the smaller and older Encore, not the Encore GX.

Does the 2021 Buick Encore GX have AWD?

Yes, you can get all-wheel drive for the Encore GX, but it’s only available with the larger of the SUV’s two engines.

All trim levels come with a standard 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine. It’s turbocharged, but even so, it musters just 137 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) powers the front wheels.

Available with Select and Essence trim (and required if you choose AWD), a turbocharged 1.3-liter 3-cylinder engine generates 155 hp at 5,600 rpm and 174 lb.-ft. of torque starting at just 1,600 rpm. Thanks to the extra power, this engine is more satisfying. Plus, with AWD, it swaps the CVT for a conventional 9-speed automatic and bolts in a more sophisticated Watt’s Linkage rear suspension design.

Is the 2021 Buick Encore GX fun to drive?

In the as-tested specification, the Encore GX is not fun to drive. Aside from riding the engine’s decent torque curve, you’ll find little in the way of driving enjoyment unless light, effortless steering that makes a vehicle easy to park is what gives you a bit of a thrill.

One of this Buick’s dynamic problems is the unrefined ride quality due, in part, to the standard torsion-beam rear axle suspension. In a vehicle claiming to be a cut above mass-market offerings, complete with QuietTuning, you expect more serenity than the Encore GX can deliver. Depending on the road surface, it can feel too firm and unfiltered, too soft and disconnected, or too bouncy over uneven pavement.

Positive notes include the unintrusive CVT, 18-inch wheels and tires offering good grip, and a flat cornering attitude. These characteristics, paired with the turbocharged engine and the Encore GX’s tidy dimensions, made it satisfyingly zippy on some of the narrow, winding, low-speed roads on the testing loop.

But fun? No.

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2021 Buick Encore GX Essence Black Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

When it comes to J.D. Power owner satisfaction data, the jury remains out about whether or not the Buick Encore GX is a good SUV.

As a brand, Buick ranks relatively high in the J.D. Power 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS). Buick scores just below the segment average in the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study (APEAL).

Due to the Encore GX’s late initial rollout to dealerships last year, it was not a part of the 2020 round of J.D. Power surveys. However, the smaller and older standard Encore ranked second in the small SUV segment for dependability and tied for a third-place ranking for initial quality.

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Not long ago, the small SUV segment was, umm, small. Few vehicles were vying for consumer attention and even fewer that might count as legitimately desirable.

Today, the landscape has changed, and significantly. The only mainstream automakers that don’t sell a small SUV are Chrysler, Dodge, GMC, and Volkswagen. And VW is about to change that with the impending arrival of the 2022 Taos.

If you’re shopping for a small SUV, you might want to give the Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Subaru Crosstrek, and Toyota C-HR a try. Chevrolet sells a version of the Encore GX called the Trailblazer.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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