In a time when three-row crossovers have become the new minivans, Buick has launched not only a new model in this segment but also a new subbrand. The Enclave is the first model in getting the Avenir treatment, offering a unique styling, more standard features, and premium materials throughout the cabin. The luxury crossover is longer and wider than its previous generation, and with more cabin space and good driving dynamics it hopes to acquire a bigger piece of the pie than what it currently has.
Sharing its platform and engine with the Chevrolet Traverse, the Enclave Avenir is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that delivers 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission is in charge of sending that power to all four wheels, thanks to an all-wheel-drive system. Although front-wheel drive is standard, a single clutch all-wheel-drive system is available for $2,000, while the twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system can be yours for $2,300. Our model was equipped with the latter, and during an off-road evaluation members of our staff seemed to like this combination. “The twin clutch rear-drive axle works exceptionally well in the sand,” said technical director Frank Markus. “Generated rooster tails on the sand carousel, stopped and started easily on the sand hill, and never put a wheel wrong. At low speeds you can turn the camera on, and if you’re in drive it shows a front view of what you’re about to drive over.”
But although most of those who get this Enclave Avenir will not take the crossover to an off-road environment, they will be pleased to learn that it drives smoothly on the pavement. During our First Test we had access to a winding road where the Buick showed good handling abilities—we noticed little body roll for an SUV this size. “Body motions are better controlled, it can be rotated on corner entry with throttle lift off, and the tail comes back into line remarkably smoothly”, said international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie. Although the steering has little feeling of what’s happening on the road, we noted good precision. Associate editor Scott Evans applauded the job of the nine-speed transmission. “The power is well matched to the vehicle,” he said. “It’s clearly not trying to be a sports car like the Germans, but it’s quick enough. This new nine-speed transmission works quite well and avoids the old GM habit of always staying in the highest gear where there’s no power. It’s very nice to drive.”
Inside, the story is a bit different. We appreciated the premium materials, but we didn’t notice a significant difference compared to the interior that we saw on a loaded Traverse. The headliner for the front- and back-seat passengers is exactly the same one in both models and is manually operated only. This Buick is also equipped with GM’s premium level shifter, which is difficult to use, thanks to a P button that doesn’t illuminate until park is actually enabled, and a different button in the back of the shifter has to be used to switch to reverse, neutral, or drive. The cabin is nice, with a lot of leather and soft touch materials where you’re expected to rest your arms, but it has exactly the same design as the Traverse. “It still suffers from the same hard plastics below the belt line as the Traverse, but this Avenir actually looks somewhat luxurious at first glance,” said features editor Christian Seabaugh. “The same exact backseat package as Traverse. Missed opportunity to do something a bit more luxurious and upscale.”
Interior space was also criticized for not having enough headroom in the third row, something that we didn’t suffer in the Traverse. “Enclave’s third-row headroom suffers due to the rounded roofline; my head hits the roof, and it does not in the Traverse”, noted editor-in-chief Ed Loh. This 6-foot-tall editor agrees. Although legroom and shoulder room are decent in the third row, my head was touching the headliner the whole time. On the other hand, accessing the third row was easy, thanks to the second-row SmartSlide seats, which move forward to allow more space for the passengers to enter or exit the vehicle. Unlike the Traverse, the Enclave Avenir has the SmartSlide seats on both sides of the crossover.
The Buick Enclave will be available this fall in four different trims. It all starts with the base model (rental car) Enclave at a price of $40,970, and it comes with standard 18-inch wheels. The model Essence, which starts at $45,190, can be optioned with a single clutch all-wheel-drive system ($2,000), 20-inch wheels ($1,400), an 8.0-inch color touchscreen with Buick’s infotainment system ($595), power dual moonroof ($1,400), and a Surround Vision multi-camera visibility system ($825). A Safety package, which includes blind zone alert, lane change alert, and rear-cross traffic alert, comes standard in this trim. The Premium model has a price tag of $48,990 and comes standard with Bose Audio, memory seats, a radio and mirror for the driver, second-row heated seats, a power-folding third row, heated and cooled seats for the driver and front passenger, a heated steering wheel, and a power steering column. A Safety Package 2 also comes standard with the Premium model, adding lane keep assist with lane departure warning, safety alert seat, front parking assist, forward collision alert, and a following distance indicator. Finally, the Avenir model is priced at $54,390 and includes all of the above plus 20-inch Avenir Pearl Nickel finish wheels, the 8.0-inch touchscreen, power dual moonroof, and a Surround Vision with Full Display ISRVM as standard equipment. The Trailering package ($650) and the Technology package ($2,095) can be added as optional equipment. Our tester carried a hefty price of $60,035.
All in all, this Buick might try to impress its clients with nice materials and a premium look, but its high price and similarities with the Chevy Traverse weigh it down. “Styling is a push for me, and although Enclave has apparently higher tech than the Traverse, it doesn’t clearly demonstrate engineering excellence,” Loh said. The Avenir subbrand is a nice step forward for Buick, but more technologies and independence from its cousins could give it a unique touch to those looking for something more than just a three-row crossover.
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