A blue 2024 Buick Encore GX is shown parked on a driveway after visiting a Buick dealer.

Why Did Buick Replace the Encore With the Encore Gx?

When the federal government bailed out the American domestic auto manufacturers in 2009, there were some strings attached. No surprise there; if someone asked to borrow $80 billion from you, you’d probably want some assurance that they’re going to do things differently so they don’t end up needing the money again. In GM’s case, the automotive giant ended up axing three divisions–Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer–and selling off Saab. Buick was on the brink. When you shop at your Buick dealer, consider how close we came to losing one of America’s oldest and most storied brands.

One of the conditions of the bailout was a requirement for GM to start building more fuel-efficient cars (good-bye Hummer!), but this was a problem for Buick since it had a reputation for building large, old-fashioned American sedans like your Grandpa’s Park Avenue. Building smaller cars was seen as risky for the brand. But a deal is a deal, so Buick needed to build smaller, more fuel-sipping cars. Enter Buick’s surprise hit, the Encore subcompact SUV.

A blue 2024 Buick Encore GX is shown parked near a garage.

Birth of the Encore

Edmunds interviewed Ron Sessions, who was an executive with GM’s Vehicle Analysis team at the time of the bailout, about the trepidation surrounding the Encore. He told Edmunds that “company insiders thought the Encore was a huge risk because it was so different from anything Buick had sold before.” To get a small SUV into production quickly, GM turned to its South Korean division.

The result was a tiny SUV whose proportions looked odd to American eyes. (Sessions described it to Edmunds as looking like “an athletic shoe.”) With a tiny wheelbase of 100.6 inches and a narrow front end, the Encore looked almost top-heavy. Of course, Buick’s press materials at the time described it differently, as having “Sculpted, elegant exterior with chrome waterfall grille, chrome accents and surround, painted lower panels and premium exterior colors.” And, to be honest, they weren’t wrong. The Encore just looked odd because we had never seen anything quite like it in the US before.

As it turns out, it handled quite well. That short wheelbase and a relatively wide stance made the Encore more stable than one would expect at first glance. Buick’s press materials describe its MacPherson strut front suspension and rear suspension with “a compound crank (torsion beam) design, with a double-wall, tubular V-shape beam profile with gas-charged twin-tube shocks.”

The upshot was a sophisticated suspension that fit the small space available, giving the Encore what Car and Driver magazine described at the time as “a Germanic discipline to the ride and excellent isolation from the road surface’s various failings.” Germanic. Wow! That’s high praise from an American glossy car mag.

Car and Driver went on to praise the Encore’s high seating position and roomy cargo area. Buick bragged about its long list of standard amenities, safety features, and driver-assist technologies that were well beyond what most cars at the time offered for the Encore’s base price of $24,950. And guess what? The American driving public noticed, too.

In fact, according to Edmunds, the Encore was Buick’s best-selling vehicle from 2015 to 2020, but as early as November of 2013 there were media reports of the Encore’s popularity. An IndyStar photo gallery of Buick models from November 1, 2013, describes the Encore as “a surprise success for Buick.” Overall, its combination of near-luxury features, good handling, and low price brought in buyers who would never have considered a Buick before.

It wasn’t just Buick. Chevy had a version called the Trax, and between the two divisions, GM was selling 100,000 of its little SUVs per year. The gamble had paid off, and in Buick’s case in particular, it helped to revitalize a moribund division.

The black interior and dash of a 2024 Buick Encore GX is shown.

Along Comes the Encore GX

So along comes the 2020 model year and a new Buick model that wears a familiar-sounding name badge—the Encore GX. Was this an upmarket trim level of the Encore, or perhaps a stretched-wheelbase version? Neither. It was a brand-new, slightly larger model than the Encore, riding on a different platform altogether. The new model sat below the Envision and above the Encore in Buick’s size hierarchy, briefly. If you look at Buick’s model page today, you’ll see that the Encore GX holds down the subcompact end of Buick’s lineup all by itself, and the original Encore is nowhere to be seen.

So, were the two Encores sold side-by-side for a while? Yes. Buick apparently wanted the new model to piggyback on the popularity of the old one, perhaps as a way of transitioning car buyers away from the original Encore and toward the new one. By the end of the 2022 model year, the original Encore had gone to the model afterlife (along with the Chevy Trax), leaving the Encore GX as the sole heir to the name.

So what is the Encore GX, and how is it different from its late stable-mate? Well, as we said, it’s slightly larger than the Encore. Like its predecessor, it also shares a platform with a Chevy—in this case, the Trailblazer. According to Edmunds, both the new Buick and Chevy models proved to be more satisfying to drive than their predecessors, causing sales of the original Encore and the Trax to plummet. This made it easier for the product planners to ax the older models.

The 2024 Encore GX starts at a price similar to the previous model at $25,600, impressive during an era when even compact sedans are breaking the 25 grand mark. It seats up to five slightly more comfortably than its smaller ancestor and offers a few extra cubic feet of cargo space. Fuel economy is down slightly on the highway at 31 MPG compared to the older SUVs 33 MPG, but city mileage is up from 25 MPG to 29 MPG.

The base engines of both models produced nearly identical horsepower (138 for the older Buick vs. 137 for the GX), but the GX is available with an optional 155 hp engine. All-wheel drive was optional on both and remains an option on the survivor. The GX offers a full suite of modern safety features, including a forward-collision warning system, emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and more.

In terms of style, it’s probably safe to say that the Encore GX is a more conventional-looking vehicle, not sporting the original Encore’s tall, “athletic shoe” design. In fact, the GX is quite an attractive vehicle, with proportions that suggest a larger, more luxurious SUV.

The Verdict

In a very real sense, the original Encore was a victim of its own success. It brought a whole new demographic into Buick showrooms while also demonstrating that America was ready for a borderline luxurious mini-ute from a domestic manufacturer. Its low price undercut foreign rivals, too. It almost created a new market segment and set up the conditions for the Encore GX to succeed.

If you’re wondering whether to buy a late model used Encore or a new or used Encore GX, quite honestly, most reviewers seem to agree that the GX is a better vehicle in nearly every respect. That in itself is an excellent testimony to the original, since it shows that the new market segment Buick’s original subcompact SUV created is now a living, evolving thing whose vehicles get better with each passing generation, rather than a one-hit wonder that nobody will remember decades from now. That’s a nice legacy for any vehicle.