|48.4||Max Cargo Space (cu.ft.)||48.4|
|26/31 MPG||Fuel Economy (city/highway)||25/30 MPG|
We’ve been there before. Rolling up to a friend’s apartment, eyeing a space on the roadside that might be big enough if your car wasn’t a full-sized SUV. Or making an exciting purchase only to realize that it isn't going to fit inside your sedan's trunk. Or getting on the road, feeling like an ant surrounded by giant trucks. Subcompact SUVs are the answer to all these problems. But which one is the best? Well, let's look at the 2021 Chevy Trax vs 2021 Buick Encore to find out.
As far as what’s the same, both vehicles are offered in two trim levels starting in the low-to-mid $20,000s. While they aren’t kitted as off-roaders, they provide an elevated stance for good outward visibility. At 14 feet long with a 100-inch wheelbase, they can fit into the kinds of parking spaces that give most SUVs claustrophobia. Plus with a rear hatch and flat-folding seats, they provide over 48 cu.ft. of storage space and can accommodate cargo up to 8 feet long.
The biggest difference is in the styling – Chevy’s simple but modern character vs Buick’s classy, perhaps even stuffy atmosphere. The Buick starts at a higher price, reflecting the materials and extra luxuries built-in. Certain features are unique to each model, but it’s generally a case of splitting hairs. We’re partial to the Trax thanks to universal AWD availability, greater individuality, and a starting price over $2,000 lower than the Encore. The upscale Buick is nice, but classiness is no substitute for character and budget-friendliness in our book – we think you’ll agree!
For 2021 all Trax and Encore models are offered with the same 1.4L 4-cylinder engine, producing 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque on all trims. It’s not an engine that excels at highway passing, but the equipped turbocharger gives it the peppiness it needs to zip around busy city streets. A smooth six-speed automatic transmission is mounted to the engine, keeping weight and cost down.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but AWD is available on both models, giving drivers extra confidence for low-traction conditions. Active traction monitoring on any AWD Trax or Encore ensures that power is diverted away from wheels with low traction for maximum control. The upgrade costs $620 on either model; however, to get an AWD Encore, you also need to upgrade to Preferred trim, an additional $1,400 expense.
A benefit of a small SUV with a small engine is solid fuel efficiency ratings. The Trax has an EPA rating of 26 MPG city and 31 MPG highway. Unsurprisingly, the Encore is almost identical at 25 MPG city and 30 MPG highway estimated. AWD versions drop about 1 MPG off each rating, a negligible expense for improved control in northern climates.
Subcompact SUVs are designed not as off-roaders but urban-roaders. With an overall length under 14 feet and a max-width under 70 inches (not counting mirrors), they’re significantly easier to squeeze into tight spots than mid-size SUVs like Equinox and Traverse. A 100-inch wheelbase tightens the turning circle for wriggling into crowded parking spots. Every inch counts when space and subcompacts are made to take advantage of it all.
Steering on both of these models is quick to respond and accurate to use. The MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension systems perform well to absorb the violent disruptions common to city streets. Excellent brakes round out a package that’s meant for an urban commute more than a racetrack – just what urban drivers need.
The 2021 Chevy Trax comes with a black interior with ash gray highlights available. Cloth seats come with modern patterns stitched in. Leatherette-trimmed seats are available on the LT trim too. The colors and styling notes lend an extra bit of fashion to an interior that emphasizes function. Both trims of the Encore come with leatherette trim, but only Preferred trim offers an alternate highlight color (Shale), sacrificing a bit of the flair provided by the Trax.
The control layout is almost identical, with only the climate control plan differing. The Trax offers a simple and clearly-labeled set of control knobs, while the Encore only uses two knobs and a continuous panel of buttons to control the climate system. The infotainment and media controls are positively reviewed in general and are virtually identical on the 2021 Trax and Encore, making both systems intuitive and easy to operate.
A strong point of every vehicle is the infotainment system. Chevy Infotainment 3 is one of the best in the business, with a responsive screen, large control buttons, and an intuitive interface. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is a rarity in this price range, and all Trax and Encores have 4G Wi-Fi hotspot capability, so you and all your passengers stay fully connected while on the road.
Built on the same platform, the Encore and Trax interiors present identical dimensions. Almost 40 inches of front headroom plus an elevated driving position gives drivers an airy feel. The rear seats, with 35.7 inches of legroom and 38.8 inches of headroom, are sufficient for adults on short rides – say, lunch breaks at work or carpooling for a night out.
Both models offer just under 19 cu.ft. of easy-access storage behind the second row of seats, but multiple seat-folding configurations allow drivers to greatly expand that depending on their needs. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat adds another 3 feet of length to the storage area, and a fold-flat front passenger seat allows a maximum of 48.4 cubic feet of cargo room. Even though they’re only 14 feet long, with all passenger seats folded the Trax and Encore can accommodate cargo up to 8 feet long, getting the job done on those occasions when drivers need the “utility” part of a “sport utility vehicle” most.
Easily the biggest difference between the 2021 Chevy Trax and 2021 Buick Encore is the exterior styling. While the profile is the same, the Trax has wider flares over the wheel wells while the Encore has stronger lines along the body and hood. At the front end, the Encore has Buick’s signature headlamp style and an understated, but iconic, vertical-slat grille with the Buick logo in the center. The Trax is arguably more stylish in this area. Its narrow headlamps and narrow upper grille with the bowtie emblem above a significantly larger lower air intake deliver a soft-spoken but sporty look that’s a little more youthful than the classic-looking Buick.
A major selling point of the 2021 Chevy Trax is its individuality. Eight unique paint colors are available, plus an Iridescent Pearl Tricoat limited to LT trim. Get your Trax in Midnight Blue, Silver Ice, Summit White, Mosaic Black, Crimson, Black Cherry, Stone Gray, or Shadow Grey. The Encore is available in Summit White, Ebony Twilight Black, Cinnabar, Dark Moon Blue, Quicksilver, and White Frost Tricoat. If color is your thing, you are definitely going to want a Trax.
The Encore also doesn’t offer any special appearance packages, while the Trax LT offers 3. The seriously-sporty Redline Edition includes black and red-accent emblems and wheels, among other blacked-out features. Midnight Edition blacks out the entire car for those who’d rather be the night than own it, while Sport Edition tempers this by allowing non-black paint colors. Suffice to say that no matter who you are, there’s a Trax appearance package that fits your style to a tee.
The 2021 Chevy Trax and Buick Encore keep costs down by eschewing many of the developing driver-assistance technologies available on premium vehicles. However, 10 standard airbags and a high-strength steel safety cage have earned the design a 5-star overall crash safety rating from NHTSA. On top of this, a handful of accident avoidance and driver assistance features are available in packages.
The 2021 Trax LT offers the Driver Confidence Package to bring some of the most popular driver-assistance tech onboard. While a rear vision camera is standard on all Trax models, you’ll need this package to add parking sensors and Rear Park Assist to be alerted when you’re about to impact something. Side Blind Zone Alert is included to help avoid lane change mishaps, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert delivers peace of mind when backing up by using radar to scan for pedestrian or vehicular traffic that might be blocked from your line of sight.
A similar Safety Package is available on the 2021 Encore Preferred, which drops Rear Park Assist and adds a 120-V power outlet. On top of this, new for 2021 is the Safety Package II. This extra package includes Front and Rear Park Assist, among other features not found on the Trax, but getting it will stretch the budget a couple thousand dollars beyond what you’ll pay for an otherwise-equivalent Trax.