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Buick is putting big hopes into its small crossover, th... Buick is putting big hopes into its small crossover, the all-new Encore. (Photo courtesy GM).
On the eve of my college graduation some 14 years ago, I bought my first car. It brought instant laughter.

There was nothing egregiously wrong with the used Buick LeSabre, a spacious sedan that would provide years of able transportation. But with its sensible exterior styling, front-row bench and interior faux-wood paneling, friends joked that I had jumped from my cap and gown to the Social Security line.

That perception – that Buick is a brand for senior citizens – hasn't changed much in the past 15 years. Maybe it's time it should.

I got behind the wheel of another Buick last month, the all-new Encore. The compact crossover is a smart and sporty ride. Perhaps most importantly, it's made for the modern age.

Related: 2013 Buick Encore Review

That last part is no small feat. Five years ago, the average age of a Buick buyer was 64, according to Buick's internal data, about twice my age. Since then, the brand has gutted its lineup in hopes of attracting a new and younger generation of buyers. Gone are the minivan-esque Rendezvous, the stately Park Avenue, the reliable-if-uninspiring Century and, wistfully, my old LeSabre.

In their places has come a fleet of vehicles that are resonating more with consumers. The Regal GS brings legitimate comparisons to the BMW 3-Series, the new Verano sedan has drawn rave reviews and the Enclave SUV has been a stalwart performer since its 2007 arrival.

In 2012, Buick enjoyed its best year of sales since 2006, with 180,408 light vehicles sold. Certainly, the rising tide of the overall auto industry deserves some of the credit for that turnaround. But Buick is also out-selling its mid-tier competitors like Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lincoln.

The best number, in the eyes of executives, isn't one that's going up, but one that's coming down. The average age of a Buick buyer is now 57, seven years younger than it was in 2007.

It's proof positive among GM executives that Buick was worth saving back in 2009 when GM went through the taxpayer-assisted bankruptcy and killed brands Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer. The government's auto industry advisers wanted to kill Buick, too, but were talked out of it by GM officials.

"There's still some work to be done," said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for TrueCar.com. "But Buick is going in the right direction."

Fleshing out the revamped lineup is the Encore, which arrives in showrooms in February. Executives believe it fills an untapped market, and don't see many direct competitors in the vicinity of this entry-level luxury, urban-friendly compact crossover.

The Encore probably rests somewhere between the Ford Escape and the BMW X1 on the crossover spectrum. It can draw from customers seeking more value for their money than the Escape and present a more affordable option than the X1. But the competition is almost beside the point. GM is hoping buyers would rather own a Buick, with a bit of premium brand cachet, for the same money they could buy a loaded Ford, Toyota or Honda.

Enticing as the prospect as an untapped niche may be, lack of external competition isn't ultimately why Buick built the Encore. Buick wants the compact Encore to do for CUVs what its compact Verano did for sedans – function as a competitively priced entry point to the brand for new buyers. Younger buyers. Once they're aboard, Buick hopes to translate that into success across its lineup.

"We can now envision the Buick garage," said Lloyd Biermann, marketing manager for General Motors in the Buick division, "where you really couldn't before."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Come on Pete, Detroit needs to hire some sophisticated and experienced design engineers because this latest Buick Encore, although perhaps appealing to a younger audience (57 yrs) really lacks anything close to being an attractive, good looking a u t o m o b i l e. In my opinion, it is nose heavy and has no refined rear end. Maybe Buick knows something I don't but, I wouldn't invest my money in an Ecore.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Buick is for people between the age of 65 and death.
      • 2 Years Ago
      The new Buicks are small. Not one car the size of the LeSabre. With an engine 1/2 the size of the LeSabre the mileage is only 2 mpg. better. I'll stick with my 30mpg Lesabre as it is dependable, no aluminum engine,
      • 2 Years Ago
      Drove a LaCrosse the other day, I was impressed with the fit and performance of the car
      • 2 Years Ago
      That Buick is not attratctive at all, but, then again so many cars today are not attractive. They all look alike. they have no sleek lines. There is no distinction one from the other. You pay a whole lot more and get an ugly car. I realize they are made well, but that shouldn't stop them from being attractive. You can't tell a Ford from a Chevy, from a Toyota. The Ford Taurus is probably the best of the bunch, engineering and looks. I don't even think they make it anymore.
        • 2 Years Ago
        You say the Taurus is a good looking car?
        welcome Richard
        • 2 Years Ago
        I agree, it's hard to tell them apart these days. I can watch old TV series, see a fender, a roof line and can tell it is a Chevy, Ford, AMC
      The Darb
      • 2 Years Ago
      Buick is still not an attractive car to me. When I was younger the cars to own were Chevy's and Ford's. Guess what? They still are.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have to Agree.. Oldsmobile should have Stayed and Buick Left.. It was the Poor Mans Cadillac.. Just like Mercury was to Lincoln They ALL have gotten To Expensive and being forced to Pay for Items that Used to be Options as Standard Now is just another Rip Off.. We ran 85,000 Miles a Yr. with 15 " Tires and Wheels with our Lincoln Town Cars and Now have to have 17" And Tires costing 3x as Much and get Less Miles on them? Another Rip Off.. Used to spend $75 = $300 for a Set of Tires , now they want $800 and get only 40,000 miles out of them But you get "Better Handling and they can Go 130 mph"! Sure, try doing that In your Town... What a Rip Off..
      • 2 Years Ago
      I wonder if they've considered a 2-door (coupe) version of the Verano or Regal? Bet those would sell well.
      • 2 Years Ago
      This car makes a real statement. The statement is : " We're stopping at Denny's before Bingo"
      • 2 Years Ago
      Revamped same O' round car stuff....Not bad, ju$t over priced !
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's UGLY. Real Buicks look like the 1949 models (1955's were pretty cool, too)
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ricardo: I owned a 1999 Buick Ultra for 7 years before I sold it. A great comfort car with good mileage for a car that heavy (28-30 on the road). I'd buy another if they weren't so darned expensive.
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