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BUICK ENCORE • DODGE GRAND CARAVAN CREW


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BUICK ENCORE

Starting Price: About $24,000

In order to fully leverage the maximum benefit from expensive automotive engineering, manufacturers are now making world cars and multiple variants of a given design platform. European manufacturers have done this for some time and now the domestics are getting the hang of it.

Looking at the new Encore from Buick, one might ask oneself…what is that anyhow? It’s a new type of vehicle that blurs the line between car and, and…I’m not sure. However you classify the new Encore, it’s an enjoyable and efficient vehicle.

Encore, a French word usually meaning “again” is an interesting name for a new vehicle that we’ve never seen before. Personally, I had to just look at it for a while to comprehend where it fits in today’s automotive tapestry.

I would describe it as a compact car that’s been stretched upwards and made taller. The heightening of the vehicle allows more interior space and a higher seating position which in turn provides better visibility plus easier entry and exit. All things being equal, most drivers prefer sitting higher in their vehicles and the Encore delivers that.

The Encore is a 5-passenger compact SUV/CUV with a small engine and a useful cargo area. Though it is happy in any driving condition including extended freeway cruises, its advantages really shine in the city. It is highly maneuverable, easy to park, solid, quiet and well controlled.

My test model was a Premium with front-wheel drive and a sticker price of $31,475. It included leather seating, navigation, moonroof, power everything, 120 volt power outlet, rear backup camera etc. You can get functionally the same vehicle without all the luxury options for about $26,000.

The Encore is remarkably quiet inside. Much of that can be credited to the Bose active-noise cancelling technology. Bose offers noise cancelling in their headphones and has basically replicated it in the cabin of the new Encore. It adds measurably to the large car feeling of composure in the Encore. Very clever indeed.

Power for the Encore comes from GM’s new small turbo 1.4 liter 4 cylinder engine. It is mated to a very good 6-speed automatic transmission and is available in either front or all-wheel drive. The drive train is well balanced and the car has spirited performance. Still, I averaged 28.4 miles per gallon in a week of driving which is very good. During freeway cruises I was routinely getting 37-40 mpg according to the car’s onboard computer.

This car is no bigger than necessary yet offers upscale features and a composed driving experience. For comparison, the Encore has 48 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded flat. The larger Chevy Equinox has 63, about 25 percent more. Buick’s own large SUV, the Enclave, has twice the cargo capacity but weighs ¾ of a ton more. With the Encore you get the full Buick experience in a miniature efficient package.

 

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DODGE GRAND CARAVAN CREW

Starting Price: About $19,995

Chrysler Corporation and in particular Dodge can be credited with creating the first minivan 28 years ago. The original Dodge Caravan was a vastly different vehicle than the current model, but the innovative pattern hasn’t changed. As opposed to the traditional van which was a heavy truck- based vehicle, minivans were light-duty machines with a small engine and front- wheel drive.

Where minivans really stand out is their versatility. There is no other vehicle on the market that delivers as much useable interior space, low to the ground than a minivan. SUV’s don’t even come close. I’ve talked to countless young adult single women who swear that they will never own a minivan or live in the suburbs. I just smile. Time passes, marriage comes along with kids and each in their turn comes to the same conclusion that their parents did. They find themselves in the suburbs with kids and a minivan. It’s not capitulation, it’s just reality.

Dodge has mastered the art of making the minivan the logical conclusion that parents come to, eventually. They don’t even have to market them hard. The phrase…if you build it, they will come…aptly applies to minivan manufacturers.

Perennially, the Dodge Caravan has been the market sales leader in the segment. The Caravan Crew model that I recently tested is a case study in packaging just what the average buyer wants at a price that they will tolerate. Caravans start at $19,995 but with all options added, the price can climb to over $36,000. The Chrysler Town and Country is the upscale cousin to the Caravan and with all of its luxury accoutrements added, the price can go north of $42,000.

My Crew walked the line between having the features the average family would like without breaking the bank. It had power sliding side doors and a power lift gate. The obligatory well in the floor into which the 3rd row of seats folds was also there, but in manual. not powered form. Dodge’s famous Stow n Go in-floor storage bins are also included as well as a large screen display, a nice audio system and plenty of room. Technology bits like the backup camera, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection warning were also on board. For the $32,480 you don’t get leather seating, the tow package or rear seat entertainment for the kids.

Dodge has standardized on a single 3.6 liter V6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. This provides sufficient power and can deliver 25 mpg on the highway. My week of driving delivered an overall average of 20.3 mpg which matches the EPA number. Dodge claims a cruise range of over 500 miles which is a nice feature.

In 2012, Dodge sold about 200,000 minivans in the U.S. and Canada, certifying that the Grand Caravan continues to be an extremely popular vehicle indeed.

Visit MyCarData.com for more information on these models.


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