Buick’s tiny Encore is no stranger to exceeding expectations, most notably ride comfort and interior quality for a $25,000 small SUV. The subcompact SUV can easily add winter drivability to its list of accomplishments. After a storm dumped around 19 inches of snow on Chicagoland, my test all-wheel-drive 2015 Encore surprised me by proving it was up to the task.
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With the Encore buried up to its front bumper and the undercarriage flattening the big snow mound underneath, the car clawed for traction and pulled itself up and over piles of snow with an almost Subaru-like confidence. Cars.com’s long-term Jeep Cherokee test car with the basic all-wheel-drive system didn’t muscle through the same snow pile as confidently the Encore.
The Encore’s “Active On-Demand” all-wheel-drive system preemptively sends torque to the rear wheels at rest with the notion that slippage is most likely to happen from a stop. The magnetic clutch trickery used on the rear axle to accomplish this works, and works well, with the Encore pulling itself out of situations I thought for sure would need a shovel, some kitty litter and a good push.
In the Cherokee, I needed to disable traction control, enable snow mode and then rock back and forth from reverse to drive in order to escape. The Encore, with no special snow mode and all the electronics activated, powered through the unplowed snow bank with the aptitude of a much larger car with much more ground clearance.
The Encore’s all-wheel-drive system is a $1,500 option and well worth it if you’re in the snow belt and have to experience even just one 19-inch snow storm, even considering its rather unimpressive fuel economy: 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined, down from 25/33/28 mpg for front-wheel drive. I kept the shovel nearby just in case I needed to dig the Encore out, but the Encore dug itself out of messy situations all on its own.