“Do you think they’ll let me keep it?” my younger sister asked the first time she climbed out of the 2021 Buick Encore GX.
There’s a pretty big age difference between us—a solid decade—and my family has been trying to decide what would be a great first car for her to drive when she gets her license. Something small, but not tiny, so she can have space for bags or friends. Something nicer but not too over-the-top. Something with a little pep but a responsible amount of power. And she found herself just adoring the Buick Encore GX.
Yes, you heard that right. A teen is willing to drive a Buick. The brand has come a long way from its longtime associations as being a grandparent’s car and is now something a younger person would actually adore.
If you’ve driven a newer Buick, though, you’ll understand why. This small SUV retains the practicality that had grandma swooning, but it adds luxurious features and an enjoyable drive that will help endear it to another generation.
This is the Buick Encore GX’s second year on the market, so we aren’t talking massive upgrades so much as we are subtle improvements. SiriusXM satellite radio and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android auto are standard across the board.
There are also additional packages that include trailering capabilities, all-weather floor liners and mats, and some additional pieces of bodywork designed to enhance the flow of the car’s looks.
Luxury Feel for a More Affordable Price
Buick is one of the luxury brands of General Motors, though it’s often more of an understated luxury as opposed to, say, a more richly outfitted Cadillac. But if you’re here for luxury comfort but not a luxury price tag, then you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what you’re going to get with the Buick Encore GX Essence.
The leather seats are incredibly comfortable—if you’re a smaller person. They can feel a little narrow for anyone who might fall on the bigger end of the spectrum, but they aren’t awful; you may just not want to have your six-two husband by your side on a longer road trip because he may find himself getting restless. I’d peg this as less of a full-family hauler and more of a mom-and-the-kids commuter.
That being said, it’s a great option if you don’t need leg room or a ton of hip space. In that case, the leather seats are smooth and supple, with the lighter color lending itself to a wonderful summertime experience. The dashboard layout is wonderful, too; it has that wonderful combination of leather, carbon-fiber look, and chrome that feels incredibly modern and high-end. The infotainment system is seamlessly integrated into the dash, and its controls are intuitive and easy to use—plus, there are still buttons and knobs for volume and climate control that are beautiful and perfect for a younger driver that you don’t want looking at a screen while they’re driving.
I think my favorite features here, though, were the well-integrated air vents and wireless charging pad. The vents may be thin, but they’re powerful enough to take on the heat of a Texas summer day, which makes them as practical as they are attractive. And the charging pad is tucked well inside the command center, underneath the climate control buttons. It’s out of the way in a nice, shadowed spot where your phone won’t get too hot—nor will it reflect the sun in awful places. Some higher-end models still include a wireless pad next to the shifter or cup holders, which can cause a lot of unwanted glare on a bright day. It’s all about the little details here. My mom didn’t like that it took away the storage compartment she uses to store things like extra tissues or chapstick, but I thought it was great. It kept my phone available but well out of sight.
This Beauty Has Zip
Don’t be deceived by the meager horsepower on the Buick Encore: it has so much zip. There’s not so much power that you’ll feel like you’re going to get out of control, like you might in a luxury sports car. It’s safe and reliable, but it’s still a lot of fun. Throttle response is incredible, and this baby brakes on a dime. No, you’re not going to take it out to the race track—but you’ll have tons of fun on the morning commute.
It’s also a really fun option for a teen driver’s first car. It might sound counterintuitive—you don’t necessarily want your kid to have too much fun, but I firmly believe that there’s value in understanding a car can be more than a practical hauler. It can be a place to relax, destress, unwind, sing as loud as your heart desires, or simply feel in control. The Buick Encore is responsive and light on its feet, but you’ll always feel grounded. It’s not the kind of car that’ll have you wanting to hit the drag strip, but it’ll make you smile as you round a tight corner. It’s easy to control, so newer drivers can feel confident. It has a gorgeous sound system that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s comfortable.
And that’s something you definitely want, both for yourself and for your first-time driver. You want them to have fun while learning the ropes—but, you know, responsibly.
And while fun is important, so is practicality. Rear seat passengers may not have tons of leg room, but it’s great for teens and younger kids who may not need that much rear seat room. There’s a fair amount of storage behind the second row, enough for the weekly grocery haul or the weekend road trip. The hip height is comfortable, so you’re not squatting down or hauling yourself up in order to get behind the wheel. And once you’re inside, it’s a little bit like being in an upper-scale hotel. No, it’s not a five-star, but you can rest easy knowing you’re still going to have a luxurious experience without breaking the bank.
- Starting price of the Buick Encore GX Essence: $28,600
- Advance technology package with head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and memory card: add $1,790
- Convenience package with automatic parking assist, wireless charging, rear camera mirror, rain-sensing windshield wipers: add $770
- Sport touring package with red sport accents, rocker molding, high-gloss inserts: add $650
- Hands-free liftgate package: add $520
- Ebony twilight metallic shade: add $495
- Ecotec 1.3-liter turbo engine: add $395
- Destination charge: add $995
- Total cost of the vehicle we tested: $34,215
The Essence is the top-of-the-line trim. You can also opt for the Preferred ($25,395) or Select ($26,995) trims.
What To Know
- Ecotec 1.3-liter engine
- 137 horsepower
- 162 lb-ft of torque
- Front-wheel drive
- 8-inch infotainment system
- Bluetooth streaming
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Front: One USB, one USB-C fast charger, one aux cord
- Rear: One USB, one USB-C fast charger, one household plug
- No dedicated climate control for the rear seats
- Seats five but comfortably fits four
- Safety features include lane-change alert, blind zone monitoring, lane keep assist, collision alerts, rear camera, child safety locks
- Teen driver settings that you can adjust to encourage safe driving
What We Loved
- Sporty red grille accents
- A wireless charge pad that’s tucked away where sunlight won’t flash on it
- Household plug for rear seat passengers
- Wireless Apply CarPlay/Android Auto
- Light cream interior (although, if you’re a mom, I can see how this wouldn’t work quite so well for you; there are other options!)
Who Is This Car For?
- Teen or first-time drivers who are looking for a little luxury
- Couples or single folks who want something smaller but with a little trunk space
- Small families with one or two kids who have graduated from booster seats but still don’t need tons of leg room
- Anyone looking for a higher level of luxury but a slightly more affordable price tag
What to Listen To?
If you’re looking for a little music to kick your Buick Encore GX experience up a notch, we’ve got you covered with this playlist of remade oldies—you know, since Buick has done wonders revamping its image.
Full disclosure: Buick provided the Encore GX for my test drive. All opinions are my own.