The first-generation Buick Enclave three-row utility vehicle has served the entry-luxury brand impressively well over its 10 model years in production. But it has become an ancient thing, and with utility vehicles comprising the majority of Buick’s current sales, the fully redesigned 2018 version is hugely important as the brand’s grandest offering. In following the equally new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse with which it shares its structure and mechanicals, Buick’s latest three-row ute succeeds in being a marked improvement over its predecessor in every meaningful way.
Whereas the original Enclave and its Lambda-platform siblings—the Traverse, the GMC Acadia, and the now defunct Saturn Outlook—were almost identical in dimension and makeup, the current Acadia has shrunk considerably while the Chevy and Buick have grown about two inches in both wheelbase and length. The new Enclave’s elegantly sculpted lines, however, mask its 204.3-inch length and lend it a notably trimmer look than its bulbous ancestor. Dotted with tasteful chrome details and stylish LED lighting elements, it is a classy if reserved people hauler. Stepping up to the new Avenir trim level, the first entry in Buick’s range-topping sub-brand, adds even more glitz with a mesh-pattern grille and standard 20-inch aluminum wheels with a “pearl nickel” finish (18s are standard on lesser models).
The Enclave’s sculpted shape carries over into its cavernous interior, with a contoured dashboard that flows nicely across the cabin and into the door panels and is accented by dark faux wood and metal-look plastic trim. Soft-touch points abound, and most of the visible materials are of relatively high quality, although some cheaper bits can be seen on the steering wheel and down toward the floor. Ergonomics are excellent save for the goofy electronic joystick shifter; it takes some getting used to and never feels as intuitive as it ought. It does, however, afford the Enclave better manual gear control via wheel-mounted shift paddles than does the clumsy +/- rocker switch atop the Traverse’s conventional PRNDL shift lever.
Along with three-zone automatic climate control and six USB ports, all Enclaves feature an 8.0-inch central touchscreen interface with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as a 4.2-inch color display in the instrument cluster. Avenir models—like the example tested here—upgrade the latter to a more detailed 8.0-inch unit while sprucing up the rest of the cabin with attractive brown and black leather upholstery trimmed with contrast piping and stitching. Also included are embroidered headrests, some woodgrain trim on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and Avenir-logo sill plates and floor mats. The overall effect is warm and comforting, and even the lesser models exude a pleasing sophistication.
Available only with seven seats, the Enclave has second-row captain’s chairs and a third-row bench with belts for three. The front two rows are all-day comfy if minimally supportive around corners; the sliding and reclining second-row seats offer limo-like amounts of legroom. As with the Traverse, only the passenger-side seat in the second row folds forward to allow access to the wayback. There’s ample room in the rear bench for two full-size adults on short trips, but we started to cramp up after about an hour; squeezing in three occupants is a big ask, so it’s best to think of the Enclave as a six-seater.
The Buick’s size and clever packaging afford it a substantial 24 cubic feet of cargo space with all of the seats up, and the standard power-folding third row and collapsible captain’s chairs allow quick access to its full 98-cube capacity. There’s also a three-cubic-foot storage bin beneath the load floor and a standard power liftgate with a remote-opening sensor under the rear bumper—the latter includes a light that projects a small Buick shield logo on the ground so you know where to flail your foot when your arms are full of groceries.
The Enclave shares its 3.6-liter V-6 engine with the Traverse (there is no four-cylinder option). It develops an ample 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque—up 22 horses yet down 4 lb-ft versus the previous 3.6-liter. The new engine’s 2800-rpm torque peak, however, comes 600 rpm lower than before, which, along with the standard nine-speed automatic transmission, improves overall drivability. On the move, the Buick feels alert and powerful, if never exciting. The nine-speed works through its many ratios with precision and smoothness, with the V-6 emitting a muted growl. While our interior sound measurements reveal the Enclave to be not quite as hushed as luxury three-row crossovers such as the Audi Q7, the Buick’s active-noise-cancellation system, plentiful sound-absorbing materials, and an acoustic insulating windshield and front side windows contribute to its appreciably quiet driving environment.
Riding on a strut-type front suspension and a multilink setup out back, Buick’s new bus doesn’t drive nearly as bulky as its size suggests. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available in two forms: a $2000 conventional on-demand system for mid-level Essence models, and a $2300 setup on Premium and Avenir trims, which includes a rear axle that can apportion torque to either wheel to minimize understeer with the use of individually clutched half-shafts. (Both systems can be disengaged to run as front-drivers via a button on the dash.) Back-to-back drives with all three setups in Georgia hill country revealed the lighter front-drive version to be slightly quicker to respond to initial steering inputs. But the AWD models felt more planted on the road while still rotating neatly around moderately quick corners, particularly so with the upscale rear axle. Thanks to well-managed wheel and body motions and the big 120.9-inch wheelbase, ride quality is excellent on all but the roughest pavement.
All of the Enclaves we drove had a satisfyingly firm brake pedal and a positive on-center feel to their electrically assisted helms. Our particular all-wheel-drive Avenir-spec test car also included a $650 Trailering package with a 5000-pound towing capacity (1500 pounds without), as well as Avenir-specific driver-adjustable dampers. The latter come as part of the Premium Suspension package that’s bundled with the $2095 Avenir Technology package (adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and active grille shutters). The dampers are adjusted via a Sport button on the Enclave’s dash that also doubles as a tow/haul setting. Its activation yields only a modest transformation, but we did appreciate the sharper body control provided by the slightly firmer suspension as well as the greater engine braking from more aggressive transmission tuning.
Whereas the first-gen Enclave could top 2.5 tons, our test subject weighed in at 4604 pounds, 76 pounds less than the all-wheel-drive 2018 Chevrolet Traverse High Country V-6 we recently tested. Given their similar engines and underpinnings, both crossovers fared about the same at the test track: The Enclave’s 6.6-second run to 60 mph was but 0.1 second slower than the Chevy’s, as was its 15.2-second quarter-mile time. Both returned an identical 94-mph trap speed. Riding on the same 255/55R-20 Continental CrossContact LX20 EcoPlus all-season tires, the lighter Buick’s 0.84 g of grip just edged out the Traverse’s 0.83 g around the skidpad, and its 170-foot stop from 70 mph measured six feet shorter than its sibling’s. While that level of performance is respectable within the mainstream three-row-crossover class, the Enclave faces stronger competition in the luxury sphere from the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90.
Both GM crossovers also share almost identical EPA fuel-economy ratings: 21 mpg combined, 18 mpg city, and 26 mpg highway for the Buick, with AWD subtracting 1 mpg across the board. Our right feet were considerably heavier while piloting the Buick, which resulted in a 17-mpg observed figure versus 21 mpg for the Chevy. The Enclave was able to match its 25-mpg highway estimate on our 75-mph fuel-economy run, even though the AWD Traverse returned 27 mpg in the exact same test.
Pricing for the entry-level front-drive Enclave with cloth upholstery and heated front seats starts at $40,970. But Buick expects most buyers will at least opt for the $45,190 Essence model with its standard leather hides, an air-freshening cabin ionizer, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and other available options. Stepping up to the $48,990 Premium trim brings low-speed forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a Safety Alert Seat, a premium Bose audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear captain’s chairs, and more.
The Avenir trim level adds otherwise optional features such as navigation, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, a power sunroof with an additional rear skylight, and General Motors’ neat rearview mirror with an integrated camera display. You’ll need to set aside at least $54,390 to get into the upscale Avenir, with our test car ballooning to $59,455 with its handful of options. While some buyers might balk at the idea of a $60K Buick, the premium brand has done well to imbue all Enclaves with the style and refinement needed for its new flagship SUV.
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