Let's be blunt
When the 2013 Encore, the latest entry in Buick's return to relevancy, arrived at my house, I immediately recognized all the traditional Buick styling cues: waterfall grille, portholes, and tri-shield emblem. But the first thing I thought of was root vegetable: With its uniquely high roof and diminutive length, the Encore looks more like a sweet potato, perhaps, or a turnip, maybe a yam, rather than a traditional Buick. Instead of longer, lower and wider, it is shorter, higher, and altogether chubbier. And I'm not the only one who noticed. Edmunds.com analyst Jeremy Acevedo says: "The proportions of the Encore are very rare, not matched by many vehicles at all." In promotional material, Buick calls the Encore "sculpted, elegant, nimble, efficient, and luxurious." While it never once mentions its unusual vertical amplitude, it does concede the Encore is "one of a kind," and it "will turn heads." The Encore comes by its unusual proportions because General Motors (GM) has stacked a body large enough for four adults on the platform of a subcompact Chevy Cruze and added sufficient upscale heft to earn a Buick badge. Although designers have tried to disguise the unusual ratio between the tall roof and the short body, the visual impact is unmistakable. How unusual is the Encore? At Fortune's request, Edmunds.com analyzed the length to height ratios of all 332 different models available today. Encore, which is 2.6 times longer than it is tall, ranks 313th in terms of length to height ratio. "Historically these proportions haven't been particularly popular," says Acevedo, "but with the recent trend toward subcompact utilities it might be a trend that becomes more pervasive as automakers look for distinctive and functional design." We'll see. People with lots of money prefer more traditional proportions: longer and lower. The five cars at the top of the list with the greatest ratio of length to height include a Bentley, Mercedes, Maserati, and two Lamborghinis. To get a better idea about the prospects for the Baby Buick, we looked at the market performance for 14 cars and crossovers that feature even more extreme proportions than Encore:
Length to height ratio: 1.7 Successful in Europe, where creativity in parking is encouraged, the diminutive smart has flopped in the U.S. Blame should be placed on its high price, poor fuel economy, and clunky transmission in addition to its peculiar proportions. Mercedes is working with Nissan to develop a presumably less-radical replacement.
Length to height ratio: 2.0 The novelty appeal of the itty-bitty iQ has clearly worn off. Only 1,009 of these city cars found buyers in the first three months of 2013, less than half as many as in 2012. Like smart, iQ falls short in several categories. Car & Driver called it "slow and tiny -- but surprisingly expensive."
Length to height ratio: 2.2 Its design hasn't changed significantly in 70 years, but the upright stance of the Wrangler hasn't scared away buyers. More than 200,000 were sold worldwide last year, and Chrysler added 200 workers to its Toledo, Ohio plant in April to further boost production. The in-your-face seven-slat grille and nearly-vertical windshield deserve the overused adjective "iconic."
Length to height ratio: 2.3 Fiat has contrived to make the 500's lumpy proportions look beguiling with subtle curves and bright colors. Thanks to its southern European origins, owners can fantasize about driving in the Mille Miglia on the way to the supermarket. Sales are clicking along at better than 3,000 a month.
Length to height ratio: 2.4 The Korean-built Spark manages to squeeze four doors out of a tiny overall package that is two inches shorter than a Mini Cooper. It is a brave attempt by a full-line manufacturer to lure Americans into small cars, but the effort shows in the design. The oversize headlamps and prominent trapezoidal light fixtures below the bumper seem too big for the shrunken sheet-metal skin.
Length to height ratio: 2.4 Last redesigned in 2005, the Xterra is an antique whose bulges, body cladding, and off-road bling do little to relieve a boxy shape that is about as appealing as a mailbox. At Nissan dealers, it is outsold five-to-one by the more modern -- and less radical --Rogue crossover.
Length to height ratio: 2.4 The G-wagon wears its top-heavy, squared-off look like a badge of honor -- so much so that its basic design hasn't changed in 32 years. The look is so anti-fashion that this onetime military vehicle has been adopted by the moneyed classes, in part because its base sticker price of around $115,000 guarantees a level of exclusivity.
Length to height ratio: 2.4 Sold in the U.S since 2009, the Cube has suffered the same fate as nearly all mini-vehicles at a time of stable gasoline prices: It has been ignored. Its polarizing design hasn't helped. Unlike the G-wagon, it never found a niche as an ironic commentary on 21st century transportation.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Length to height ratio: 2.5 Though it sports a traditional SUV silhouette, the Grand Vitara is plagued by shortcomings. An Edmunds.com reviewer found the V-6 engine lagged competitors' four-cylinder motors, while ride quality is poor, and the interior cramped and uncomfortable. Suzuki is withdrawing from the U.S. market and taking the unloved Grand Vitara with it.
Lexus GX 460
Length to height ratio: 2.5 Another old-style SUV, the GX 460 was all-new in 2010, but its dated perpendicular proportions don't show it. In terms of sophistication, not to mention fuel economy, it seems worlds apart from Lexus's RX, which outsells it 10 to one.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Length to height ratio: 2.6 Whatever charms the FJ Cruiser exhibited when it was introduced in 2006 have faded along with the appeal of its clunky retro styling. With monthly sales running in the three-digit range, its demise has long been rumored but never confirmed.
Length to height ratio: 2.6 A rare hit chunky car, the boxy Soul has caught on where the boxy Cube never did. Maybe it's those singing hamsters. The car has been reworked for 2014, and the hamsters will be back, dancing as well as singing their way through TV commercials and hoping to hold on to Soul's position as the second-best-selling car in Kia's lineup.
Length to height ratio: 2.6 No design awards for the 4Runner, whose current model was launched in 2009. Besides its blocky industrial shape that looks like it was carved with a chainsaw, its technology is old-school. This is that rare modern-day SUV that's more at home off-road than on, and it should probably stay there.
Length to height ratio: 2.6 Available as a sedan or hatchback, in two-wheel or all-wheel drive, the versatile if nondescript SX-4 became Suzuki's best seller, but that wasn't good enough to brake the Japanese brand's slide out of the U.S. market.
Length to height ratio: 2.6 Longtime Buick owners will be shocked when they drive the mighty midget: Besides sporting the shortest Buick wheelbase in nearly 40 years, its four-cylinder engine is the smallest in Buick history. To make up for the lack of bulk, luxury features like soft-touch interior trim six-way power seats have been ladled on. Still, GM planners don't see big sales for Encore, and the market has confirmed their expectations. Just 4,980 found buyers in the first three months of 2013.
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