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    Appreciating the Young and the Mature

    auto2Young and sparky versus mature and refined. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to experience both within ourselves. In the meantime, two recent and similarly sized test cars—the Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic and Buick Encore AWD Sport Touring, both 2016 models—seem to represent both extremes.

    The Q3 and Encore are subcompact crossovers, so they have small-hatchback dimensions combined with a crossover’s higher seating position. Subcompact crossovers are hot sellers, and that’s highlighted by the fact that the Encore is Buick’s most popular model. The tested Encore was a mid-level trim listing at $31,565, and the Audi was a bit fancier at $42,750.

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    Going back to the original analogy of youthful versus mature, it’s funny that the Buick is the one that feels like the little pip, while the Audi feels comparatively buttoned-up and rich. We tend to think of Buicks as the Electras in which our grandparents pulled up, but the Encore is something else. The tested Encore Sport Touring, the only Encore available with the more powerful, 153-horsepower version of the Encore’s 1.4-liter turbo four, was a delight in the cut-and-thrust of San Francisco traffic.

    The Encore sparkled, with its minimal turbo lag resulting in right-now thrust that shot this relative lightweight toward Trader Joe’s as if it were trying to beat us to the pesto pizza samples. Suspension and brakes were up to the hustle, and the Encore never seemed to break a sweat.

    Meanwhile, the Q3 had the solid and satisfying response we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen and Audi 2.0-liter turbos: a hint of initial lag, and then a feeling that you could do pretty much whatever you wanted. The Q3 gives you 200 horses to work with, and they all seemed to have had a good night’s sleep.

    Ride and handling had the typical Audi response that can be clumsily described as disciplined creaminess—plenty of isolation from any harshness, coupled with the demonstrated evidence that the Q3 is ready to spring. It’s a more textured response than the Encore’s, which again fits into our experiential characterization.

    The interiors fall similarly in line. The Buick’s is ruled by extroverted shapes and plenty of plastic; the wood-toned accents are pulled into forms that couldn’t be wood, and there’s an overall impression of glossiness and showiness. Gen-Xers might think of the clothing store Merry-Go-Round, the one that seemed to have a patent on parachute pants and mesh half-shirts, as akin to the trendy style the Encore displays.

    The Audi, on the other hand, would do Ralph Lauren’s Black Label proud. Audi interiors consistently demonstrate depth, both in subtlety of contour and complexity of finishes, and the Q3 is no exception. Go ahead and have a bad day, and then climb into the Q3. Whump the door shut, and relax into its effortlessly upscale vibe. Now, isn’t that
    better? You expect that of a mature partner, such easy relief. The Encore, on the other hand, is puppy-like and ready to run.
    Which would be your preference?

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at