It’s not uncommon for automakers to make more than one vehicle out of shared parts. It cuts costs to have common running gear, engines, chassis bits, electronics and more that are shared across several brands. GM has done it for decades and still does it today. Witness its latest little cute utes, the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer and 2020 Buick Encore GX. Both SUVs are made off the same “platform,” which means they share engines, transmissions, chassis, suspension and other components. They differ in the way they look, their option packages and the content and quality of their interiors, but they are, essentially, the same vehicle underneath.
Both of these popular new SUVs arrived in my driveway within weeks of each other, and I have to admit I quite liked them both. The new Chevy Trailblazer is small and funky, well made, fun to drive, useful, spacious, up to date on its technology and is proving to be popular with buyers. It slots in size between the Chevy Trax and Equinox, becoming Chevy’s defacto entry-level SUV. Buick’s new Encore GX slots between the smaller Buick Encore (Trax-related) and the mid-size Buick Envision. I liked the Encore GX as well, finding it to be a surprisingly quick given its meagre power rating, and a comfortable, stylish little runabout.
But here’s the kicker: The as-tested price for my 2021 Trailblazer Activ AWD trim was $30,580, a hefty sum for a vehicle this small and modestly powered, but not out of the realm of what people are apparently happily paying for such vehicles these days. The 2020 Buick Encore GX Essence Sport Touring AWD trim was essentially loaded and $5,000 more than the Chevy, stickering at $35,720. That’s a hefty bump over the Trailblazer. Which leads to the question: With these two vehicles so similar in nearly every way, is the Buick worth such a significant premium over the Chevy? Are there enough differences between the two to justify the price?
Similar Driving Experience but Not Identical
Many aspects of both vehicles are indeed indistinguishable from each other, but there are a few differences between the two, according to a Buick spokesperson. First some similarities: Both offer a choice of two engines and two transmissions; the ones I tested were equipped with the optional turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and sporting all-wheel drive. That brings just 155 horsepower and 174 pounds-feet of torque to the party, but the turbo helps keep both SUVs relatively sprightly in around-town driving (but not at higher speeds when it tends to run out of steam on highway on-ramps and passing maneuvers). The transmission is decent, and while it shifts frequently (it has nine gears and only 155 hp to play with), it does a fair job of keeping the engine in the power band when called for. The Chevy is perhaps more fun to drive, however, as it features a Sport mode that affects transmission behavior and throttle response, where the more sedate Buick does not.