Truth be told, one of the more enjoyable elements of my profession comes in the opportunity to explore underappreciated makes and models. Once you step outside the Big 3’s most prominent brands, leading imports and certain aspirational vehicles there leaves a balance of perfectly competitive offerings that are easy to overlook. For example, the casual buyer might be quick to compare Chevy against competing lineups, but what about other GM properties? Well, that’s the rabbit-hole we’re pushing ourselves down today, as we size up the 2019 GMC Terrain vs 2019 Buick Encore.
Now, full disclosure, SUVs rank right up there with two-door coupes on a list of ‘Vehicles I Fail to See the Appeal In’ but, even if I’m not the most natural of SUV enthusiasts, we’re going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of both offerings to see how well each stands on its own four wheels, and how competitively they measure up against one another.
Kicking things off, the 2019 GMC Terrain is served up in six trim levels, priced to start around $25,000 MSRP. Trim levels include the (base) SL, SLE, SLT, SLE Diesel, SLT Diesel and (of course) the line-topping Denali edition. Available in both front and all-wheel drive variants, there are three powertrains that we’ll explore further (one being the diesel, of course).
The 2019 Buick Encore comes in your choice of three trim levels, priced to start around $23,200 MSRP. Beginning with the (base) trim, it’s followed by the Preferred and Sport Touring editions. As with the Terrain, there are Front and All-Wheel Drive options but the Encore serves up two different engine configurations (one of which is a Turbo).
So, from a ten-thousand-foot level, we’re looking at the introductory offering from each respective lineup. Both General Motors brands are longstanding mainstays, known for their quality and dependability. That said, GMC manages to deliver a wider array of options while Buick enjoys a preliminary pricing advantage. So, let’s just call it neck-and-neck for the time being, and move on. (1:1)
Kicking things off, let’s turn our attention to each of these capable vehicle’s capabilities.
As mentioned above, the Terrain is served up with three powertrain configurations. This begins with a 1.5-liter Turbo 4-cylinder paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. The engine features a dual overhead cam design with Direction-Injection and Variable Valve Timing, capable of yielding 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque. There’s also the option of a 2.0-liter variant that delivers 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Finally, there’s the option of a 1.6-liter Turbo-Diesel 4-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that delivers 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque.
Moving over to the Encore, there are two powertrains to choose from. The standard engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (also with Variable Valve Timing) paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which delivers 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. There is then the option of 1.4-liter Turbo variant with Start-Stop technology, mated to the same 6-speed automatic, which serves up 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque.
So, strictly in terms of horsepower and torque ratings, the Terrain manages to outperform the Encore, earning the first outright win of the comparison. (2:1 GMC)
It’s inevitable that any discussion of design or aesthetics will consist largely of subjective opinions. Earlier I had mentioned my general lack of appreciation for SUVs, and it’s worth clarifying that my position is (more than) partly based around what I consider to be uninspired design. Having often described them as ‘door wedges on wheels” it often feels like an SUVs badging and front fascia are the only real means of differentiating between makes. The rest, at least on a superficial basis, tend to be fairly consistent across the board.
That said, the Terrain feels like a double hit of redundancy, being evocative of both the overly consistent crossover segment and the overly consistent GMC lineup as a whole. So what exists to set the Terrain apart? Not much. That said, there’s nothing unattractive about GMC design theory. It’s just fairly bland.
And the Encore suffers a fairly similar fate. Like the Terrain, it exists as a natural segue into the design notes visible across an entire lineup. Unlike the Terrain, it embodies a more sporty crossover vibe rather than that of a more bulky SUV.
So, in terms of overall appearance, which of these two outclasses the other remains a subjective conversation, decided only by your personal preferences. (3:2 GMC)
Stepping inside the cabin of both the Terrain and the Encore one gets the same sense of subjectivity. There are some consistent beats, courtesy of their shared GM lineage, but each has a distinctive look and feel – fitting (in many ways) to their respective exteriors.
The Terrain for example, feels more expansive, weighted and well-grounded. Spacious, with confident material choices, the cabin experience feels best represented by the horizontal themes evident in the dash, gauge cluster, and central control panel. Working out from the middle it seems to spread the cabin outwards in a direct and unapologetic manner. This makes the environment consistent with its outward beefiness, and traditional SUV feel.
And the diminutive, sporty vibe of the Encore extends to its interior in the same fashion. While the Terrain employs wide-stretching horizontals to stretch it outwards, the Encore employs a curving vibe that seems to hug it inwards. It’s hardly cramped, in fact it’s quite spacious, but it certainly feels more modest than the Terrain when it comes to accommodating passengers.
So, once again, it remains a subjective conversation, just waiting for you to make a decision. (4:3 GMC).
Another area where both offerings measure up fairly consistently with another is in terms of available technologies. From connective infotainment to advanced driver assist technologies, all the way down to safety features, GM brands rank quite confidently. Both the Terrain and Encore are worth exploring across their respective trim levels, and you’re likely to find any and all the features that are important to you.
And, as a footnote, it’s always important to acknowledging the utility value of an SUV. That said, towing capacity for the Terrain comes ranges from 1,500-3,500 LBS, while the Encore isn’t really designed with towing in mind. This is, of course, only important if towing capability is included in the unique needs of each buyer, but it’s certainly another mark in favor of the Terrain. (5:3 GMC)
While neither might be the first on my personal ‘must-buy’ list, it’s easy to see that both the GMC Terrain and Buick Encore measure up nicely, be it as individual vehicles, when compared to one another or sized up against any other in-class competitors. They’re both evocative of the upgrade-inspired philosophy embraced by their respective divisions, and impeccably on-brand.
If you’re into SUVs, either one might be perfect for you – although we do feel that the Terrain is a little more true to form. If you’re interested in a sportier crossover, that’s fine, but the increased capability and spaciousness afforded by the Terrain helps it to edge out the Encore with minimal effort. And that’s enough for us to name it the winner.