The crossover bandwagon is rolling and it seems everyone is jumping on board. Loosely defined, crossovers are those SUV-looking people-haulers built off car architectures, which usually means a transversely mounted engine, and front-drive when 2-wheel drive is specified instead of all-wheel drive.
Buick seeks to break the mold with a stylish alternative that prizes sculptural body shapes over truck-inspired toughness. To the mix it adds a silky-smooth drivetrain and to top it off, class-leading cabin quiet.
Which is quite a feat considering that the Enclave shares the same Lambda underpinnings used on the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. The extra care taken in differentiating the Buick from these vehicles means that the Enclave is the last of the trio to market (although about a year ahead of yet another slated for Chevrolet).
The Enclave's body panels are unique; a single horizontal line starting in the middle of the aggressive waterfall grille circles the vehicle, and all the styling elements -- from the curved front fenders to the taper in the rear seemingly hang off this departure point. This sweeping, organic approach to design is carried over into the interior. The dash features three arches trimmed in wood. The vents are elegant ovals, and even the PRNDL readout on the center console is encased in a clear lens, a concept-car touch that never seems to make it into production.
The basic mechanicals are similar to those of the Outlook/Acadia. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V-6 with variable valve timing. It puts out 275 bhp at 6600 rpm and 251 lb.-ft. of torque at 3200 rpm. That power is seamlessly delivered by a 6-speed automatic to either the front or all four wheels, depending on which box you tick on the order form. The fully independent suspension is identical regardless.
The Enclave comes in two trim levels, CX and CXL, but you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference other than the badging. Both use the same level of trim and include such features as a power rear liftgate as standard equipment. CX models ride on 18-in. wheels and tires and have cloth interiors, while the CXL comes with 19-in. wheels, leather seating and eight-way power seats.
Buick prides itself on its quiet tuning, another point of departure from its sister divisions. The Enclave boasts laminated front door glass, triple-seal doors and additional sound insulation as well as specially designed Michelin tires on the 19-in.-shod CXL (the CX models come with Goodyear rubber). The noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) levels are so low as to be astounding -- there is virtually no tire noise from the Michelins. Driving the CX, I was able to pick up some slight tread noise, but in both models, the cabin is quiet and calm, the only sound of note is the healthy rumble of the 3.6 when the throttle is opened wide.
These exceptionally low NVH values are also remarkable when you consider that the Enclave is a very large box, riding on a 119.0-in. wheelbase and measuring 201.5 in. in overall length. That spaciousness translates into comfortable adult-size seating in all three rows with additional cargo-carrying capacity behind the rear three-passenger bench.
Although the Enclave tips the scales at nearly 5000 lb. (4780 in fwd, 4985 in awd), it doesn't feel ponderous out on the open road. The engine provides power aplenty and the tap shift feature on the 6-speed allows you to select and hold a gear on hilly stretches or provide manual sequential shifting if youre feeling in a sporty mood.
The hydraulic power-assisted steering is spot-on, neither too heavy or light -- it provides consistent feedback, great on-center feel and ease in parking maneuvers. Other than the tire noise from the CX model and a slight torque-steer tug on front-drive versions, there's nothing that detracts from the beauty and utility of this New Age family transport from Buick. Prices start at $32,790 for the CX and $34,790 for the CXL. A fully loaded model with onboard entertainment, sunroofs and such might push into the low $40,000 range. With the Enclave, Buick has turned a corner and seems prepared to reassert itself in the premium vehicle market.