Encore Gets Upgrade

By Derek Price

Buick uses self-deprecating humor to poke fun at its transformation in TV ads.
“That’s a Buick?”
In the case of the Encore, the trope works perfectly.
Few vehicles show how much Buick has changed itself for a younger generation like this miniature SUV. It’s so far removed from the brand’s tired stereotype — big, floaty, four-door sedans for gray-haired people — that it wouldn’t have fit in Buick’s lineup a decade ago, much less in generations past.
For one thing, its small footprint is a major departure for a brand that prides itself on roomy luxury. Its overall shape evokes the idea of a big, brawny SUV, but it’s actually just 168 inches long, even shorter than the Chevy Cruze.
The Encore makes good use of its limited space, though, especially in the front seat, where I found it pleasant and comfortable on the highway.
A smooth ride and relatively quiet cabin help to make it a competent freeway cruiser, although I didn’t find it quite as cushy as the Lincoln MKC.

The Buick Encore crossover gets a major styling update for 2017, including a front end that looks more sculpted and contemporary.

Granted, with a $9,000 difference in pricing for the base models, the Lincoln might only be a competitor for people who load up their Encore with lots of options. The Encore starts under $24,000, compared with $33,000 for the base MKC. My Encore Premium tester with leather seats and a long list of upgrades rang up around $34,000.
If I could wave my magic wand, I’d add power so the Encore drives like a more premium product. While I wouldn’t say it struggles on highway on-ramps, I did find myself wishing for an extra dollop of grunt from the 1.4-liter turbo engine on my tester at times.
The fuel economy numbers, though, make me want to stay content. The Encore is rated for 25 mpg in city driving and 33 on the highway, not bad at all for a vehicle that feels this comfy.
Like all vehicles in the white-hot crossover market, General Motors is making continuous changes to keep the Encore competitive, including a noticeable style and content upgrade for 2017.
The whole front end design has been overhauled to look more contemporary. LED signature lighting, new headlights, a fresh hood and front fenders make it look more sculpted overall.
The cabin gets a similar upgrade in style and feel. Materials are softer and smoother this year, while chrome accents and contrasting color stitching give it an upscale look.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available now, along with push-button start, a remote start function using the key fob, and three new paint colors: Ebony Twilight Metallic, White Frost Metallic and Black Cherry Metallic.

Softer materials, a new instrument panel and a fresh design in the cabin make the 2017 Encore feel more upscale than before.

For those who need the traction, the Encore is also available with all-wheel drive that helps on wet or icy roads.
To me, its standout feature is the silence in the cabin. Buick calls it QuietTuning, the process of eliminating wind and road noise to make the cabin more serene, and it’s noticeable. The Encore is quieter than most cars its size.
It’s helped by noise-canceling technology from Bose, the same company that invented brilliant headphones for airplane trips. It uses microphones and speakers to actively cancel out unwanted noise that infiltrates the vehicle.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Buick Encore Premium FWD ($30,465). Options: Power moonroof ($900), 1.4-liter turbo engine ($895), 8-inch Intellilink radio ($495), Quicksilver metallic paint ($395). Price as tested (including $925 destination charge): $34,075
Wheelbase: 100.6 in.
Length: 168.4 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 65.2 in.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder (138 hp, 148 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 33 highway


Style: 7
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 6
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It mixes compact-car-like efficiency with a quiet cabin and trendy SUV-like styling. Buick’s QuietTuning makes trips more serene.

Posted in Buick

Fuel Savings Add Up

By Derek Price

The Ford Fusion Energi is a car that begs you to do math.
This plug-in hybrid can drive under pure electric power for up to 21 miles before its gasoline engine kicks in, which makes nerds everywhere want to whip out a spreadsheet to see what their fuel cost savings might be.
For this nerd? It was incredible.
I spent a week testing the 2017 Fusion Energi, which starts at $32,120 (or $41,120 for my fancy Platinum-level tester) and burned almost no gas for my real-life driving. While Ford rates it for a 21-mile electric range, my lead-foot habits gave me 16 or 17 miles on each full charge, which was still enough for the vast majority of my daily trips.
A full charge takes around 7 hours on ordinary 120-volt household current, but you can speed it up to 2.5 hours if you install a 240-volt charger and wiring in your garage.
The Fusion Energi isn’t just an electric car, though. It’s also a regular hybrid, complete with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine that can keep you going for a total range of 610 miles.
That presents a challenge for your spreadsheet. Your fuel cost will vary dramatically depending on how many long trips vs. short trips you take in it.

The Fusion Energi can be identified by the electric charging port on the front left fender. It can drive under electric power for up to 21 miles before its gasoline engine is needed.

To help you out, the federal government has come up with a complicated, confusing “MPG equivalent” number for cars like this. They rate the Fusion Energi at 97 mpge for combined city and highway driving.
While that number is almost meaningless for drivers in the real world — no one will get that exact figure unless their trip length and driving habits are exactly like the EPA’s standard, which never happens — it does provide a benchmark to compare this plug-in hybrid to others on the market.
The Fusion Energi is more efficient than the BMW 330e and Audi A3 e-tron, for example, but slightly less efficient than the Chevrolet Volt and miles behind the Toyota Prius Prime, if you trust the government’s numbers.
Those cars are dramatically different, though, and the thing that strikes me about the plug-in Fusion is what a complete, substantial car it is. The Prius Prime is much smaller, with only two seats in back, while the Ford has a more traditional roomy cabin and seating for five. Granted, the plug-in Fusion has reduced trunk space to make way for the massive battery bank and related electronics in there.
From a comfort perspective, this car excels. Ford makes some of the cushiest seats on the market today, a perfect fit for the quiet, smooth-riding Fusion Platinum that’s designed to tempt some luxury-brand buyers with a refined driving feel and large feature set.
Even compared to a lot of crossovers and SUVs, I’d prefer a Fusion on the highway. It’s a great fit for long, straight American roads.

The Fusion’s quiet cabin, long feature list and cushy seats on high-end Platinum models are tempting for luxury shoppers.

A couple of minor issues make me question the details on this car. One, the nifty rotating lid that covers the electric charging port feels light and flimsy. It doesn’t leave a solid impression when you operate it.
And two, I noticed the gaps around the trunk lid looked slightly uneven on my tester. It’s a picky thing, sure, but it stood out against the pattern of nearly flawless build quality I’ve seen from contemporary Fords.
As a whole, though, the Fusion Energi is a compelling option for people who want an electric car but don’t want to give up the range and satisfaction of a gasoline engine.
It drives like a comfortable, spacious, quiet sedan, while letting you make around-town trips without burning a drop of fuel.
For a car to shuttle children, commute to work and run errands on a budget, that’s a beautiful equation.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi ($41,120). Options: None. Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $41,995
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 191.8 in.
Width: 83.5 in.
Height: 58 in.
Power: 2.0-liter four cylinder and 88 Kw electric motor (188 combined system hp)
Transmission: eCVT automatic
Fuel economy: 104 mpge city, 91 mpge highway

Style: 9
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 6
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It can run on electric power for short trips but still feels roomy, quiet and substantial, unlike many electric cars. It’s surprisingly cushy for a plug-in hybrid and has a long, 610-mile total range when you use gasoline.

Posted in Ford

Trax Sales Skyrocket

By Derek Price

This year, crossover vehicles are hotter than the surface of the sun.
Thanks to sustained low gas prices and the whims of automotive fashion, these SUV-like family vehicles have all but replaced the traditional four-door sedan as America’s car of choice.
And nothing demonstrates our country’s love affair with crossovers like this one, the Chevrolet Trax.
Priced starting at $21,000 and about the size of an economy car, the Trax is selling like bottled water in the Sahara. Chevrolet moved around 79,000 of them in the United States last year, an increase of 25 percent over 2015’s numbers.
It shows no sign of slowing down, either. March retail sales were up another 51 percent over the same month last year for the Trax, so either salespeople are filling them full of opioids and pushing them on addicts or buyers really like this thing.

Revised front and rear styling keeps the Chevrolet Trax looking fresh for the 2017 model year.

On the one hand, I see exactly why. Its rugged shape, gaping grille and bodybuilder fenders are in style right now. The cargo area and folding back seats really do make it more useful than a little car when you need to haul bulky cargo. Its 33-mpg highway rating makes it fairly cheap to drive, too.
On the other hand, especially after sampling Chevrolet’s brilliantly refined Cruze recently, I found myself missing the sportiness and crisp driving feel of cars that ride lower to the ground.
It’s interesting to contrast my two recent Chevy testers, both priced around $27,000 with a lot of upgrades.
The Trax felt roomier on the inside and offered a better view of the road with its slightly higher seating position. But other than that, the Cruze seemed like the noticeably better car. The 2017 Cruze Hatchback I tested was quieter, faster, smoother riding, more enjoyable over the road and got better mileage, rated for 37 mpg on the highway.
If I had to choose between them, I’d want the Cruze, hands down.
Buyers aren’t agreeing, though. From 2014 to 2016, Cruze sales dropped off 24 percent as they moved into crossover vehicles whose sales are blowing up into the stratosphere. Go figure.
Like many of its competitors, the Trax is the beneficiary of constant improvement as it battles for share in a white-hot market.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available when buyers opt for the 7-inch touchscreen in the new Trax.

This year it gets a new look in front and back with heavier sculpting and sleeker headlights. It gets a new instrument cluster, a new look for its 18-inch wheels, and an upgraded interior with chrome accents and a standard digital driver information display behind the steering wheel.
It also gets my must-have tech feature set — Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to connect with smartphones — when you opt for the 7-inch digital touchscreen. Apple and Google seem to do a better job connecting phones in vehicles than the car companies have managed on their own, so I’m happy to see their products becoming more widespread with each passing model year.
One bragging point worth mentioning: the Trax has a whopping 10 standard airbags, which is more than any of its competitors, Chevy claims. You can also get it with today’s most popular safety tech, including blind spot sensors, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and forward collision alert.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2017 Chevrolet Tax Premier ($26,100). Options: Driver confidence package ($295). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $27,290
Wheelbase: 100.6 in.
Length: 167.2 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 64.8 in.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder (138 hp, 148 ft.-lbs. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 33 highway


Style: 8
Performance: 5
Price: 8
Handling: 6
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
With trendy SUV-like styling and a versatile cabin, it’s a great example of why small crossovers are so popular these days.

Posted in Chevrolet