When the Buick Enclave concept hit the Detroit Auto Show in 2006, the roomy CUV was very well received, but past experiences left both the media and public skeptical. Many felt that the stunning looks and luxury amenities of the Enclave would never make it to the dealer lot, and in the end there would be a lot of compromises made to keep costs down. As it turns out, the General pulled a fast one, and the exterior and much of the interior of the classy concept hit production intact. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz kept saying that Buick could compete with Lexus in terms of quality and refinement, and the Enclave shows that blogger Bob isn't just blowing smoke. We've been eagerly awaiting a crack at the Enclave in the Autoblog garage, and now we've finally got our chance. Read on for our impressions from our week-long test.
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On the road, the Enclave has a commanding presence. Buick's CUV is Tahoe-like in both width and length, and the Enclave's monstrous chrome grille looms large in many a rear-view mirror. While the Enclave shares its underpinnings with both the Saturn Outlook and the GMC Acadia, the Buick gets by far the most distinctive sheetmetal. Elegant, flowing lines are accented with tasteful chrome trim on the bodywork and around the headlights and taillights. The aforementioned grille and optional 19" wheels get an extra helping of the stuff, and give the Escalade a run for its money in the bling department. The size of the tires on the Enclave are massive, even when compared with other CUVs and even some larger pickups.
Few large vehicles we've driven have garnered more positive comments than the Enclave, and one passer-by actually asked if he could sit in the back seat to test out the captain's chairs. Once inside, the appreciation of the large CUV grows. The driver's seat is so roomy, it took us a couple days to get used to our newfound freedom. Comfortable and supportive, the front seats provided ample cushioning for a long trip up north. Thanks to its lower ride height, getting in and out of the Enclave is a bit easier than in most truck-based SUVs. The steering wheel on our CXL (the L stands for leather) mixed thick leather with wood, and large, easy-to-use redundant controls were well-placed and easily accessible. The only problem we had with the controls was that we hit the tuner button on three separate occasions when making large turns, which changed the channel on the radio.
The gauge cluster was bright and legible, and contained a readout for everything we could ever need. The backlighting looked very classy at night, with the analog clock, radio read-out, steering controls, and gauge cluster all sharing the same crisp blue hue. The center armrest has a small storage area for receipts, pens, or change, and a much larger compartment below can store anything from a small purse to bottled waters or snacks.
The center stack is an important part of every vehicle, as it adds character to the cabin while providing the driver and passenger with necessary functions and information. The Enclave scored extremely high in this regard, with a similar layout to what you'd find in a Tahoe or up-level Suburban, and truly easy to use HVAC controls. There's a digital time display on the Bose stereo, which some would call redundant due to the analog clock situated directly above it. I had the same thought until my daughter, while in the 3rd row seat, read the time aloud for her younger sisters. She couldn't read the analog clock, but the digital display on the radio was clearly legible.
While the Enclave's exterior design will grab your attention, the second and third rows are where this crossover shines the most. The Enclave is positively huge inside, and with the captain's chairs in the second row, seven full-grown adults can travel in comfort, six if they're tall or big-boned. The hot summer weather was kept at bay by a very strong air conditioning unit, as all three rows get their own individual vents, and the big cabin cools down quicker than some compacts. The Enclave provides the flexibility of a fold-flat third row, giving you the ability to load plenty of groceries or shopping goods. One item we'd like to have is a deep well behind row three, as some items rolled around on the flat surface. There is a removable compartment with a shallow well that works OK, but removing the top could mean losing it forever, as many a family can attest.
When on the road, the Enclave doesn't feel as big as a Tahoe and it's more nimble than a smaller Explorer or 4-Runner. The steering has a nice weighted feel, although we'd never call the 4,800lb CUV sporty. Body roll was minimal when hitting turns at 15-20mph, and I didn't get the tire-squeal I tend to hear in my 2006 Freestyle. The 275hp, 3.6L V6 provides steady acceleration both from a stop and at highway speeds, but we get the feeling the Enclave's powertrain was tuned more towards fuel economy than performance. The proof was in the pudding, too, as we achieved an absolutely astounding 21.5mpg in very mixed driving. The Enclave's 6-speed transmission was very smooth, and even has grade shift logic, which automatically downshifts when going downhill with a boat or camper in tow. We didn't tow anything during our time with the Enclave, but GM says you can pull up to 4,500lbs with the optional heavy tow package.
Safety features include Stabilitrak, extremely bright and aesthetically-pleasing Xenon headlamps, heated side mirrors, a backup sensor, and heated washer fluid. OnStar is standard, and the available turn-by-turn navigation is outstanding. All you need to do is hit the On-Star button located on the rear-view mirror, give the operator the name or address of the place you'd like to go, and you'll be given audible, computer-generated directions all the way to your destination point. On-Star will even look up phone numbers for you, which can save $1.50 or more per call vs. using your cell phone to call information. Our tester also had XM Radio and the optional Bose audio system. The sound quality is superb, especially when you're listening to talk radio. We didn't listen to much music during our time in the Enclave, however, as we got our first taste of the many comedy channels that XM has to offer. This feature alone made my 45 minute commute to work pass by very quickly.
The Buick Enclave starts at $32,790 for the CX, and $34,990 for the CXL. Our tester was $37,780, and it included the upgraded sound system and 19' wheels. Overall, the Enclave is an excellent CUV that combines many luxury appointments with the roominess and flexibility found in thirstier SUVs. The 21.5mpg we achieved during our tenure with the Enclave blew us away, especially when considering the amount of city driving we did with a car full of people. GM has done some of its best work with the Enclave, and judging by the reactions others had to our test vehicle, the General will be rewarded with increased sales volume as time rolls by. $37,780