Traditionally, SUVs have been all about size – the biggest engine, highest cargo volume or largest seating capacity. Now, however, there is a battle at the other end of the proportion spectrum. A crop of bite-size SUVs from nearly every auto manufacturer has created a whole new class of vehicles almost out of thin air. The sub-compact SUV segment is hot and will probably be that way for a long time. Despite all the offerings out there, many consumers final choice will come down to 2019 Buick Encore vs 2019 Nissan Kicks. These two SUVs are some of the best on the market when it comes to band-for-your-buck. How will they compare in other areas? We take a look at the facts and figures to see which cute ‘ute buyers should be parking in their driveway.
If you imagine the word “SUV” in your head, you probably don’t conjure up a sub-compact vehicle. It’s far more likely that you picture something like a Jeep Wrangler blazing down trails or perhaps a massive Chevy Suburban with enough room for nine people and all of their belongings. Younger buyers will see the soccer mom SUV that has conquered suburbia, like the Buick Enclave or Nissan Pathfinder.
As consumer preference has moved towards SUVs, the auto industry has responded in kind. SUVs are expected to make up 50% of all light-duty vehicle sales by 2020, a figure that just 10 years ago was nearly unfathomable. But in the last 10 years, crossover SUVs have taken over as the standard bearer for this SUV class – the vast majority of SUVs available today either ride on a car chassis or share an architecture with a sedan. It’s only natural that the sub-compact class would emerge out of this changing landscape.
The value proposition for sub-compact SUVs is basically the same as it is for sub-compact sedans: a smaller version of a large vehicle. This means that sub-compact SUVs offer less legroom and less cargo space than their bigger brethren while achieving much better fuel economy and costing far less. If you want an SUV that will easily get 30+ miles per gallon while starting at less than $25,000, this is the class for you. The Buick Encore and Nissan Kicks fit seamlessly into the mold of the sub-compact SUV – they are the cheapest SUVs offered by their respective manufacturers and are also the smallest by a wide margin.
The Buick Encore, based on the Opel Mokka from Germany, was one of the first sub-compacts to hit US shores when it debuted in 2013. It has since received one full interior and exterior facelift, in 2017. Prospective buyers will have four trims levels to choose from: Encore, Preferred, Sport Touring, and Essence. Sales wise, it took consumers a couple of years to adjust to the tiny SUV. However, 2018 sales nearly crested 100,000 and the Encore is the best-selling Buick model.
Much like the Encore, the Nissan Kicks has foreign roots. It debuted in Brazil in 2016 and didn’t hit US shores until June 2018. The Kicks was preceded by the cult-favorite Nissan Juke, which was known for its funky looks both inside and out. Nissan dialed down the quirkiness with the Kicks in search of better sales numbers. Currently, the Kicks is offered in three trims: S, SV, and SR. Nissan sold 23,000 Kicks in 2018, but figures to sell at least 50,000 in 2019.
Don’t expect big power when it comes to these two mini SUVs. While there may not be a lot of power on hand, both vehicles can certainly keep up with traffic and won’t drag when getting up to highway speeds. On the plus side, you should see good gas mileage in the Encore and Kicks.
The Encore comes with two four-cylinder engines. The base, available on all trims, is a 1.4-liter good for 138 horsepower and tied to a six-speed automatic transmission. Drivers who upgrade to the Sport Touring or Essence trims will be able to upgrade to the 1.4-liter direct injection engine also paired with a six-speed auto. This engine comes with start/stop technology and packs 153 horsepower.
For the time being, the Kicks is only offered with one engine choice. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 122 horsepower and is mated to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. This round is an easy win for the Encore. It offers two engine choices, both of which are more powerful than the Kicks. The start/stop technology on the upgraded Encore engine is a nice touch not often found in this class.
If size didn’t convince you that these two vehicles are far different from the traditional SUV, a look at the gas mileage they offer will surely help drive the point home. Just like compact and sub-compact sedans, the Encore and Kicks are gas mileage champions. Customers should expect to see over 30 miles per gallon, especially if they have a highway-heavy commute.
The base Encore engine will see a 25/30 split for gales mileage, achieving a 27 miles per gallon combined mark. The start/stop technology and direct injection of the larger 1.4-liter four-cylinder make a big difference for the Buick – drivers who select this mill will get 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for a combined 30 miles per gallon.
When it comes to fuel efficiency, Kicks owners will reap the rewards of the Nissan’s smaller engine. The little 1.6-liter engine will get compact car level mileage, hitting 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. In winning this round, the Nissan proved that less can sometimes really be more.
Technology-wise, both SUVs offer a lot for their starting price point. Full safety-suites are offered, including important features rear cross traffic alerts, forward collision warnings, and blind spot monitoring. The Kicks and Encore also offer incredible infotainment systems that are fully compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are two places, however, where the Encore pulls away from the Kicks. The 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot offers incredible access for all of the car’s occupants and offers a level of connectivity not available in the Nissan. Like other GM products, the Encore can be paired with the MyBuick app that enables remote engine control, real-time diagnostics and the lock/unlock function, all from your smartphone.
Price and Warranty
A lot of customers are spending well over $50,000 to get behind the wheel of a modern SUV. Luckily, these two sub-compacts can get you out the door for under $25,000. The base Encore, which includes features like the 4G LTE wi-fi hot spot and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, clocks in at $24,195. A top of the line Essence, with heated front row seats and a leather steering wheel, comes fully-loaded for $31,815.
The Kicks S base model is one of the cheapest SUVs on the market with a starting price of $18,450. A fully-loaded SR will slide in right at $25,000.
When it comes to warranties, the Buick has the upper hand, offering 4 years/50,000 miles basic and 6 years/70,000 miles powertrain warranties. The Nissan comes with 3 years/36,000 miles basic and 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranties. While the Kicks is a serious bargain, it doesn’t touch the Encore when it comes to available technology and luxury. This round is a tie.
We don’t necessarily believe that it is up to us to push you towards either SUV. Both are quality vehicles made by respected manufacturers. Both have attractive combinations of features that appeal to slightly different buyers. What we covered here is by no means the exhaustive list of standard or available features for either vehicle. However, based on the attributes examined here, the Buick Encore is the better SUV. Despite many shared attributes with the Kicks, its powertrain options, technology and warranty seal the deal.