Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Buick Enclave dominates the class of large, luxury crossover sport-utilities. Handsome, comfortable and efficient, Enclave delivers luxury, value and three-row flexibility. It's referred to as a crossover because it crosses the line between car and SUV. Though built on a car-like unit-body structure, it offers the cargo capacity of a sport-utility.
Introduced for the 2008 model year, Buick Enclave was substantially revised for 2013 and carried over to 2014 relatively unchanged. Newly available safety features include Forward Collision Alert and a Lane Departure Warning. Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system gains SiriusXM Tune Select and text-to-voice features for 2014, and dual-charge USB ports have been added to the rear of the center console.
Enclave comes with a 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and an excellent 6-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is optional. Though a large vehicle, the 2014 Enclave rates an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, 16/22 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive.
Big 19- or 20-inch wheels make a bold style statement, while LED headlights, taillights and running lights enhance Enclave's modern character. The Buick IntelliLink system supports audio streaming of Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio as well as available SiriusXM satellite radio. In other words, it has a fancy audio system.
The key to any luxury crossover is packaging, and the Buick Enclave leads its class by providing more cargo space than any of the competition. It delivers more third-row legroom than the rest, and it features a brilliant second-row sliding seat provision that makes third-row entry simple and convenient.
Whenever Enclave passengers are onboard, safety is paramount. Buick earned National Highway Traffic Administration's highest five-star overall vehicle safety score and Enclave was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety when it was launched. The 2014 Buick Enclave is equipped with all of the mandatory airbag protections but also has a front center airbag that inflates from the inboard side of the driver's seat, protecting the driver and front-seat passenger from impacting each other during a severe side impact.
Simply put, the Buick Enclave is the complete package. It seats seven (or eight, with an optional center bench seat). With volumes of space, a crisp and recently freshened interior, and highway performance and agility that belie its considerable weight and mass, this is a full-size crossover family sport-utility vehicle to be taken seriously. It boasts better cruising range than Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.
The 2014 Buick Enclave is offered in three trim levels: Convenience, Leather, and Premium. Each is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All models are powered by a 3.6-liter 24-valve V6 with direct injection and variable valve timing, producing a hearty 288 horsepower, and come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The Enclave Convenience edition ($38,740) includes fabric upholstery, tri-zone climate control, tilt-telescope steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel, OnStar with automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, IntelliLink connectivity to cell phone and Pandora/Stitcher SmartRadio, AM/FM/XM/Sirius, with 6.5-inch touchscreen, USB port and power takeoff, cruise control, complete instrumentation including outside temperature gauge, second-row captain's chairs for 7-passenger seating (8-passenger seating available with second-row bench seat), 8-way power driver seat with lumbar adjustment, two-way power front-passenger seat, driver express up/down and front-passenger express down power windows, keyless entry, remote vehicle starter, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, active noise cancelation, universal home remote, automatic on/off headlamps, power rear liftgate, heated outside power mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear parking assist, 17-inch or 18-inch wheels and tires, structure-less front wiper blades, dual outlet exhausts.
The Enclave Leather version ($42,755) upgrades with perforated leather upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way power passenger seat, memory seat settings, side blind-zone and rear cross-traffic alert, and 19-inch wheels.
The Enclave Premium model ($46,315) adds 19-inch chrome-clad wheels, articulating headlamps, power folding side mirrors, power tilt/telescope steering column, Bose 10-speaker premium sound system, cooled front seats.
Options include navigation ($2,985); trailering package ($575); Bose audio ($745); rear entertainment ($1,445); and a sunroof ($1,400); A Hit the Road Package ($1,130) includes molded assist steps, roof rack cross rails, and an all-weather cargo mat. New Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning are standard on Premium models. Optional wheels come in 19- and 20-inch sizes.
Safety features standard on all models include StabiliTrak stability enhancement, OnStar crash notification, tire pressure monitor, and the front center side airbag. Radar-based side blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on Leather and Premium models. Optional all-wheel drive improves handling stability and traction in slippery conditions.
Probably the most important thing to say about the external appearance of the Enclave is that Buick, taunted endlessly for appropriating its buyers from the nearest graveyard, has seen the average age of Buick purchasers plummet from 64 years to 57. Buick is getting younger, fresher, more explicitly family-oriented, just as it must.
Yet the Enclave strikes a careful balance, maintaining its membership in the luxury market, while skillfully avoiding any hint of drab minivan monotony. Minivans perform valuable family functions, to be sure, and the Enclave matches these functions; but while doing so, this Buick has a sense of style and flash that sets it apart. With its toothy, chrome waterfall grille and the ventiport portholes on top of the hood, the stylists are having a good time drawing us forward, and simultaneously, looking back at Buick's long-established styling language.
The massively rounded Enclave shape flows rearward, devoid of unwanted contrasting-colored rocker cladding, punctuated in our test vehicle by flashy, great-looking 19-inch chrome wheels. At the rear are provisions for a hefty 4500-pound towing capacity. Also at the rear are massive taillight complexes for providing something special; instead of isolated hot spots of red light, they are uniformly red across their entire glowing surface. Sassy and stylish.
The biggest news for the 2013 Buick Enclave was its chic, handsome new interior, which continues for the 2014 model. An elegant blend of stitched leather, brightly colored instrumentation and high-quality switchgear, the driving position of the Enclave is something special. The forms on the dashboard are sculpted boldly, creating what Buick's chief stylist calls a distinctive dwelling. Premium materials are blended with lots of wood, black controls, understated tinted chrome, and large elements like a full-color, easy-to-use touchscreen navigation package. This doubles as a rearview camera with a cross-traffic alert.
Yet in gushing over these stylish controls, one of the oddities of this Buick is that it foregoes the proximity key/push-button start system so adamantly present in its competitors. How important is this really? Not very. It's a minor inconvenience that means you must turn the Enclave's key to start the engine. Some of us prefer it because when we stop we can find the key: It's right there in the ignition slot. The key fob does include, of course, a trunk release, remote start and remote lock/unlock.
The instrumentation of the Enclave is conventionally laid out and handsome: analog speedometer, tachometer (with no redline; current electronics preclude over-revving), water temperature, fuel level and ammeter. The leather-covered steering wheel contains the usual audio and phone controls on the righthand spoke, with cruise control on the left-hand spoke. They worked conveniently and were not accidentally brushed during normal use.
The center stack is ergonomically self-explanatory, which cannot be said for the Enclave's direct rivals from offshore. Dual climate control, rear wiper, OnStar and seat heater/cooler controls are straightforward, as are the traction control on/off and the trunk release. A forward power take-off plug and two cupholders sit next to the conventional automatic shifter, which, incidentally, has no manual-shift provision. The Enclave is, in this sense, a traditional Detroit no-frills, we'll-handle-the-shifting vehicle. But the 6-speed automatic was butter smooth-shifting and left nothing to complain about.
The front-row seats in our Enclave were handsomely upholstered in leather, and our Premium Package test car featured eight-way power seats for both driver and front passenger. Adjustability was superb, and the headrests were adjustable up/down and fore/aft. Between the two front seats is the GM-exclusive front-center airbag, which may be of vital consequence in hard side impacts. Good thing. But if there is a complaint here, the seats were a bit too firm and sparse in side bolstering. Obviously, the Enclave is not a sporting vehicle that will habitually be cornered hard, so this complaint may seem frivolous. But in emergencies, which are never frivolous, the driver's seat should provide solid support. On the other hand, family Enclave drivers are probably less inclined to want fitted seating, and lower bolsters make getting in and out easier.
The door-mounted controls included two driver memory settings and the usual door lock/unlock and window locks. Our Enclave had optional fore and aft moonroofs, but only the small forward aperture actually opened. The large rear moonroof gives passengers a panoramic view of the stars.
A second-row console offers separate climate controls and a second jack-driven audio channel, giving the kids separate entertainment. In the seven-passenger configuration, the second row uses two captain's chairs, furnished with comfortable elbowrests. The third row is a three-place bench seat with reasonably ample headroom for everyone but the basketball team. Far to the rear is very usable grocery stowage, even when all three rows are in use. The rear tailgate has an automatic opener.
Simply put, the Enclave is a crowd-hauler and people-pleaser of the first order, as its continuing strong sales confirm. For those with large families, and especially, large families who regularly travel long distances, this Buick is at or near best in class.
Approaching a massive, nearly 5,000-pound vehicle like our test AWD Premium Enclave, we were prepared to drive a truck. After all, everything about the Enclave suggested an experience that, in one way or another, could amount to a struggle.
Yet from the moment we put the Enclave into Drive, accelerated onto a nearby freeway onramp and blended into Interstate traffic, there was nothing to struggle about. The Enclave is like a professional football player; everything's in balance, only it's a lot bigger and stronger than you're used to.
Buick's larger crossover is a carefully calculated equation of acceleration, balance, and surprising agility. Despite its size, Enclave moves with the self-contained athleticism of a much smaller vehicle. In fact, the first impression it made in traffic was that it feels smaller than it really is. This impression is the product of first-rate dynamic engineering; the Enclave feels easily controlled, capable of making any reasonable move a smaller vehicle could make when necessary. No mean achievement in a 4,922-pound vehicle.
The 2014 Buick Enclave is exactly what it needs to be: a provider of steady, predictable, balanced family transport. Acceleration, cornering and braking are competent, offering good margins of safety and avoidance in emergencies. That's not to say the Enclave is exciting to accelerate, corner or brake hard; the word is confident. This Buick does the important automotive assignments reliably, which is what its family buyers demand.
Enclave benefits from all the latest fuel-efficiency advances. Its 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers an EPA-estimated 24 mpg Highway in the front-wheel-drive model, though our all-wheel-drive Enclave was rated slightly less, at 22 mpg Highway. Just a few years ago, this rating would have been closer to 17 mpg. Yet even at a relatively parsimonious 22 mpg, this engine delivers sturdy acceleration, with no irregularities in throttle response. This is an engine and drivetrain well attuned for grown-ups on a family mission.
The Enclave suspension contributes its part in making the vehicle feel smaller and lighter than it really is. Cornering through country back roads, there was little roll or sway, and the ride was both smooth and attentive, letting the driver know what the road surface was like. This contributes to keeping the driver alert, as well as providing warning if surface traction is changing.
The brakes were up to their very considerable task. Pedal feel was firm and it was easy to control and modulate brake pressure as needed. Steering feel was also very good, with just the right degree of firmness to keep the driver fully engaged with the road and the act of driving. There was no hint of steering numbness, nor any tendency to wander across lanes at Interstate speed. The Enclave is, in short, fully prepared to deliver on the family's next adventurous road trip.
Buick Enclave dominates the luxury crossover segment because there is no vehicle that can quite match its volume, comfort, value and stylish practicality. If there were ever an example of what American car companies do really well, this roomy, luxurious vehicle is it. Enclave is efficient, easy to use, and welcoming to large and still growing families. We'd call it the definitive, contemporary American grand-touring machine.
Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Buick Enclave in the Northeast where he is based.
Buick Enclave Convenience FWD ($38,740); Convenience AWD ($40,740); Leather FWD ($42,755); Leather AWD ($44,755); Premium FWD ($46,315); Premium AWD ($48,315).
Options As Tested
rear seat entertainment package/color touchscreen navigation ($2,240), power sunroof and second row skylight ($1,400).
Buick Enclave AWD Premium ($47,625).
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