Car for birders review #4: Buick Encore

30726642_10155556703832817_1183508440622825472_oI’m a horrible car reviewer. And just as I write that I realize my modifier is unclear: am I saying I’m a horrible reviewer or I review horrible cars?

Here’s one of the many reasons I’m a horrible reviewer (of cars): I never remember to get a photo of the car I’m driving! Sigh… I apologize. If you want to see what the Encore looks like, go look them up with the web search engine of your choice. I’ll be here when you get back. I rented the Encore (I think it was a 2017) on my April trip to Tucson and the southeast corner of AZ. I just went through all the photos from the AZ trip and this is the only one I could find: the top of the Encore as seen from the second story hotel room we had in Bisbee, AZ.

34846299_10155679233262817_7418214522344701952_o
Roof of a Buick Encore next to a small public park in Bisbee, AZ. I have no memory as to why I took this photo.

Okay, so it’s not a horrible car. Really far from it. It’s not a bad little SUV, it’s just a bad SUV for birding. Unfortunately it’s fallen prey to the trend promoted by rear view cameras and the alarms that tell you when there’s a car in the lane next to you: the car makers are relying on those for visibility and make no efforts whatsoever to give you any other lines of sight to beyond the back of the car. Or even really the sides, much. Okay, so I hate that for driving too but it’s really not great for birding when you might want to track a bird that isn’t visible from the windshield or from the front seat windows. Or if you spot something as you’re going by and want to back up easily to find it again. Every time we saw a bird we wanted to get a closer look at–even just on the powerlines on the side of the road–we had to pile out of the car and hope we didn’t spook it. Because windshield birding just wasn’t effective in this vehicle.

Pros: Decent gas mileage, handled the really strange USFS road we took it on to cut between two highways (i.e. decent handling and ground clearance), sits high enough up that you get a decent vantage on what’s surrounding you. It was very comfortable to ride in.

Cons: really bad lines of sight is the main one. Car manufacturers PLEASE take note: Just because you give us a backup camera doesn’t mean we still don’t want decent sized windows on the backsides of our vehicles! Besides, your backup cameras aren’t so good.

A secondary problem was the cargo space: plenty of room for stuff in the back seat if you don’t have anybody sitting in there, but we did only a limited amount of windshield biology from the car: we spent a LOT of weekend hiking/walking, particularly in the canyons. And if you’re going to leave stuff in the car and the car unattended in a trailhead parking lot, you kind of want your stuff tucked away in the covered cargo area. And the covered cargo area in there? Barely handled my weekender suitcase, gym bag, and my friend’s gym bag. I would not advise taking this car if you’re hauling bigger optics and plan to leave them in the car to do things like get dinner. I’m not sure you’d be able to get them under decent cover unless you like advertising something is in your backseat by virtue of having a tarp covering something up in your back seat.

For the 0-10 ranking? I was leaning between 2-3.  But I just re-read my review of the Nissan Versa Note which got a 3 and I honestly think this one is a little worse because of the sightlines but I have to admit it’s a significantly better car to drive and I’m suddenly having flashbacks to how awful that Note really was so I have to upgrade the Encore a bit. Wow was that a run-on sentence, sorry. I’ll give the Encore a 4. An okay small SUV (by today’s standards of small) but maybe not for you if you like doing a lot of birding from the car.

Here’s another reason I’m a terrible reviewer: I got this whole thing written as a review of the Hyundai Santa Fe when I suddenly remembered that I’d rented a Santa Fe for a late March trip to Post Falls, ID. And I knew I hadn’t gotten the same car twice. It took me longer than I want to admit to remember that the AZ trip was an Encore and then I had to go through the whole post and change all the references from Santa Fe to Encore. This is why I clearly need to write these reviews a little closer to the date I’ve driven the car.

Here’s a quibble I had with the Encore we got which I hope isn’t typical of the type: the side view mirror sensor light that tells you if somebody is in the lane next to you? The driver’s side one lit up every time it was out of the sun. It didn’t matter if I had the turn signal on or not. Every time the mirror was in the shade, whether a cloud came over the sun or I was passing a semi, that little light came on. The passenger side one worked properly, so I’m thinking this was just a weird fluke of this vehicle. It’s a good thing that when I’m driving I often glance at the rear view mirrors and side view mirrors so I have a sense of where the cars are around me and could know when to ignore that stupid alarm light, but wow, was that an annoying little bug.


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