• Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
Buick used the unveiling of the 2018 Enclave at the New York Auto Show to introduce its new range-topping Avenir sub-brand to the world. With fancier interior finishes and exterior details, it's Buick's latest effort to make itself a proper luxury brand (or perhaps re-establish itself as such).

However, lost in the Avenir song and dance is the fact that the 2018 Buick Enclave is a (very) long-awaited all-new model regardless of the trim level one selects. Like the Chevrolet Traverse upon which it is based, the new Enclave is bigger than the vehicle it replaces but considerably lighter, by about 400 pounds.

"We told every engineer, 'get your job done, but then take the weight out,'" said engineer Rick Spina as we hovered next to his larger yet lighter creation. His team therefore set about taking a little bit of weight out from just about everywhere, from using additional aluminum in the suspension to varying the thickness of the frame (thicker in places that needed to be stronger, thinner and therefore lighter in places that didn't). Only about 100 pounds came out of the body with the rest coming from elsewhere.

Not only will the reduced weight improve fuel economy (Buick-estimated at 19 mpg combined with FWD versus 18 for the 2017 model) and presumably the old Enclave's rather ponderous handling, but it should only make things easier for the new powertrain: General Motors' now-familiar 3.6-liter V6 and its latest nine-speed automatic. With 302 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, Buick says the new engine will need 7.2 seconds to reach 60 mph with FWD or 7.5 seconds with AWD. That's a second quicker than before. Besides acceleration, towing is also bumped up by 500 pounds to 5,000.

For those models with all-wheel drive, the Enclave has the same basic system featured on range-topping versions of the Buick LaCrosse. Besides power being sent front and rear, it can also differ from right to left in the back, although Spina is quick to point out that capability is for traction-enhancing purposes rather than sporty, handling-enhancing torque-vectoring ones.

Buick owners already appreciated the Enclave for its quietness so the engineers decided to take it that much further. This included altering the exhaust, improving body sealing (there are triple door seals), including active sound deadening and utilizing advanced materials that absorb sound as opposed to simply being thick, dense and heavy enough to keep it out.

As for the Enclave's size, Spina noted that GM opted for the bigger Traverse-style body to better differentiate it from the three-row Acadia that is also sold in the same Buick-GMC dealers. Or perhaps more accurately, the new Acadia was reduced for that reason. Besides adding greater length and therefore greater space behind the third row, that aft-most row gains additional legroom while maintaining the previous version's three-across split bench. Maximum capacity is seven, though, as second-row captain's chairs are standard. The Traverse offers eight standard, while the Acadia's two-across third-row allows for six or seven configurations.

There are other smaller advancements as well, which Spina and fellow engineer Dean Perelli were particularly keen to point out. Parents should appreciate the bigger rear door with three detents to help the kids aboard but also prevent door dings. The second-row captain's chairs can also be slid forward with a child seat still affixed, yet as was evident by the Enclave on display, the gap to the third row continues to be larger than competitors like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. There's also more storage up front, including a bigger glovebox and an under-console compartment made possible by GM's new electronic shifter.

Perelli noted that there are also smaller engineering enhancements designed to improve drivability, including a tighter turning circle (the old Enclave needed a tug boat to maneuver it in tight spots), electric power steering that corrects for the crowning of a road (the old Enclave was so old it actually had hydraulic steering) and brakes that detect fade and adjusts pedal effort to maintain a consistent feel (although it will eventually let you know if your downhill brake-riding is getting to be excessive).

Finally, there's the cabin itself, which is a far greater design departure from its Traverse sibling than the previous-generation Lambda triplets were. There's a clear stylistic tie to the handsome LaCrosse, and at least in Avenir guise, the quality of materials is genuinely luxurious. The old Enclave had a tenuous claim to the term "luxury;" the new version seems to have a legitimate shot at pulling it off. Look for the 2018 Buick Enclave to arrive in dealerships this fall with pricing and additional details to be revealed this summer.

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