Something tells me younger folks won't want to be seen in a Buick.
Trailblazers will outsell Encore's by large.
Trailblazers will outsell Encore's by large.
Looking for a small crossover utility? You are not alone. The segment has been one of the hottest this year, and it will grow even hotter in 2020 with the addition the Buick Encore GX and the Chevrolet Trailblazer, a pair of premium-sized subcompact SUVs that give General Motors some strong new contenders.
Small SUVs have become big business. The Buick Encore subcompact SUV, once thought by many observers to be too small for the American market, has turned into a major success with 73,905 sales through this year’s third quarter, while the subcompact Chevrolet Trax has garnered 83,777 sales through Q3 and is up a whopping 24% year-to-date.
With the imminent introduction of Buick Encore GX and Chevrolet Trailblazer, two very different-looking vehicles on the same platform, GM will have added arrows in its quiver in a segment that seems to be resonating strongly with younger American buyers. There is little doubt that the unexpected sales success of the Buick Encore opened some eyes at GM and helped pave the way for the new, slightly more “premium-sized” subcompact SUVs like the Encore GX and Trailblazer.
“I think it [Buick Encore] surprised a lot of people because there were a lot of questions about whether there was really an opportunity in the U.S. market for a vehicle that size,” Phil Brook, Buick/GMC VP marketing, told forbes.com. “It's become the fastest-growing model, and it's brought a lot of females into the brand, something we're incredibly proud of.”
So how will Buick GX and Chevrolet Trailblazer compare?
The biggest differences will revolve around exterior and interior styling, features and positioning. Slotting between the current Buick Encore and the Buick Envision, the brand’s China-built compact crossover SUV, the GX will offer more size and premium features compared to its namesake.
Driving safety and convenience will be among the Encore GX’s watchwords with a keen eye on female buyers. It will offer a veritable motherlode of electronic safety and driver-assistance features. Standards will include forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, following distance indicator, and IntelliBeam automatic headlamps. Beyond that, Encore GX will also offer rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, lane change alert with side blind zone alert, and even a rear camera mirror that provides a wide, less obstructed rear view while parking.
Inside, look for things to be upscale, cozy and quiet. Brook said Encore GX will feature the brand’s signature QuietTuning, and it will offer available premium features like leather-appointed seats, heated steering wheel and an ionizing air filter. With 94.3 cubic feet of passenger space and 25.3 cubic feet cargo space with all seats in use, the Encore GX offers laudable versatility. Buick says it will accommodate an 8-foot-long object (without specifying the object) should you be so inclined.
The optional availability of a hands-free power liftgate demonstrates the premium nature of the Encore GX, as does the camera-based adaptive cruise control system, head-up display and automatic parking assist with braking. For added convenience, two phones can be paired with the Encore GX’s Bluetooth, and the new SiriusXM with 360L5 entertainment system will deliver more channels and offer access to live events.
n contrast to the Encore’s handsome but understated exterior look, the Chevrolet Trailblazer is far more expressive and off-road-oriented in its exterior design. Slotting between the Chevy Trax subcompact and the Chevy Equinox compact crossover SUVs, the Trailblazer channels an exterior look that was set by the recently introduced Chevrolet Blazer, yet another entry in the crossover sweepstakes.
Personalization is a second area that will set Trailblazer apart from Encore GX. It will offer several variants, including an off-road-oriented ACTIV trim and a street-oriented RS, both with standard two-tone roofs. The RS features a performance-inspired mesh grille with black Chevy bowtie and unique front splitter elements, but no mention of performance upgrades.
The off-highway ACTIV Trailblazer ACTIV is equipped with unique tires and revised shock tuning to enhance vehicle performance and ride comfort when traveling on gravel roads. The Hankook Sport Terrain 17-inch tires feature an aggressive shoulder design and an all-season tread pattern.
Inside, the Trailblazer has an interior that takes its keys from the adventure-oriented exterior. The instruments and controls are well-presented, and the mid-dash info screen is nicely integrated into the dash. Each trim will offer some degree of interior differentiation like stitching, color schemes and added features.
When it comes to the feature-set itself, the Chevy Trailblazer will offer safety and drive-assist features similar to those in the Encore GX, but less comprehensive. Among the optional features Trailblazer won’t offer that Encore GX will are hands-free power liftgate, adaptive cruise control system, head-up display and automatic parking assist with braking.
That said, both Buick Encore GX and Chevy Trailblazer are being built on the same platform, and they will share drivetrain and major suspension components. Though Chevrolet and Buick haven’t officially released specifications, then two vehicles are expected to be about three inches longer than the Trax and Encore, respectively.
A pair of turbocharged 3-cylinder engines are available, a 137-horsepower 1.2-liter and a 155-horsepower 1.3-liter, which is expected to be the standard engine for all-wheel-drive versions of both Encore GX and Trailblazer. Front-drive models are fitted with a continuously variable (CVT) transmission, while a 9-speed conventional automatic is featured with the 1.3-liter turbo engine.
The Trailblazer is available with Chevy’s selectable AWD, which is also in the Blazer and Traverse. The selectable AWD system allows drivers to decide whether to activate their AWD system in off-road or inclement weather situations and to deactivate it when AWD performance is not required for better fuel economy. Front-drive Trailblazers will also offers three drive modes: Normal, Snow and Sport. The last of the three modifies steering effort in addition to gear shifts.
What General Motors has put together using the same Erector set is a pair of subcompact vehicles with vastly different characters to appeal to vastly different buyers. Given the continued strength of the category, it appears a very sound plan.