Honda HR-V vs. Mazda CX-3 vs. Kia Soul vs. Buick Encore:
This week, the grand finale: 2015 Buick Encore AWD Premium Group.
Price: $32,395 as tested (including $495 for audio system with navigation. More on that later.) A basic front-wheel drive could be had for as low as $24,065.
Marketer's pitch: "Perfectly sized to suit your next adventure."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the "quiet interior; good fuel economy; long list of tech and safety features," but not the "tepid performance; small size limits interior room and cargo space."
Reality: No ovation for this Encore.
Cute as a button: The last time I tested an Encore, which was in 2013, I had the same reaction: Awww. It's so adorable. Its tiny size and eggy shape continue to make it Most Likely to Be Cuddled in a parking lot.
But as with puppies, babies, and car columnists, sometimes it's better to think about the consequences before getting sucked in by all that cuteness.
I paid $500 for this? At first, I thought focusing a column on infotainment glitches seemed petty.
Surely it's not a major component. And yet, if a simple upgraded radio can't function properly, can't we extrapolate that major components would fare no better? You, the reader, must make your choice as to the priority of this problem.
Full crash: The Intellilink system from Buick trumped any troubles I'd ever experienced from the much-maligned Ford Sync system from the 2012 era. The Encore's system froze three times in a week, twice to the point where nothing would happen - the screen wouldn't change, none of the controls worked, and it wouldn't power down. Even turning the vehicle off for 30 seconds to two minutes didn't reset it.
Though it seems minor, all navigation functions were then lost, along with the backup camera. So it moves into a safety issue.
Button explosion: Even before its final demise on Day 5 and Day 6, living with the system was darn near impossible. A total of 22 buttons across the front makes for puzzlement. The "home" screen gives drivers 20 icons spread out over three screens to dial through, clunkily.
On the bright side, the sound quality is good.
Up to speed: Back to our regular vehicular insight, the 1.4-liter EcoTec turbo four-cylinder powers the Encore adequately. It takes a moment for all 138 horses to come to life, as in many turbos. (A 153-horsepower version is on tap for the 2016 model year; I'd be interested in trying that.)
Shifty: The Encore's momentum is unaided by the six-speed automatic transmission. It leaves the vehicle in low gears for a while, but still feels soft and uninspiring. Shift capability is almost a requirement in smaller vehicles.
On the curves: For a tall, narrow vehicle, the Encore handles winding roads fairly well. It's not exciting, but it doesn't feel as if it's about to fall over either. Still, the CX-3 or the Soul wins here.
Friends and stuff: The rear seat is snug as a bug, narrow with minimal footroom. The center seat is comfortable, although the console does intrude.
Cargo space is challenging as well. Owners will get 48.4 cubic feet with the seats folded, which beats only the CX-3 amongst this group.
An armrest that sits over coffee cups seems as if it should generate the same complaints as the CX-3 did, but this one allows drivers to reach in to get the cups with the armrest in place. It's not easy, but it's doable.
A small cargo bin also holds a few key items as well.
Keep warm - and cool: I might have ignored this if not for the media malfunction, but keeping a set temperature seemed to be a problem. The heat wouldn't cool down slightly; it would drastically drop. Changing the temperature four degrees would warm things up, and five minutes later I'd be roasting. This complaint also appeared in my review of the 2013 model.
Night shift: The overhead lights are fairly bright and difficult to watch the road by.
Fuel economy: I averaged just under 27 m.p.g. in the usual mix of testing.
Where it's built: Bupyeong Gu, South Korea. This was the location of Daewoo plants.
How it's built: That's Daewoo, the company that offered "Buy one, get one free" sales when it shut down in the early 2000s. Consumer Reports calls the Encore's reliability rating "average," but I remain wary. Especially at Buick's premium prices.
The verdict: Despite its attractiveness, price and equipment malfunctions ruled the Encore out from about Day 3. Of the three others, the Kia Soul remains a bargain, in price and in spaciousness. Honda's reliability track record makes the HR-V a fair choice, too. Other journalists enjoy the Mazda CX-3, but I'm not so impressed.