Designing a "crossover" vehicle has to be tough, since you can't make it look too much like an SUV, nor can you err on the sedan side. Buick designers describe the Enclave as a rolling piece of art. Romance and passion were the team's driving force behind this vehicle. They hope you like it, because the Enclave represents the design for many Buick vehicles to come. It is elegant and contemporary without being fussy.
One design element we can appreciate is the key line that continues all the way around the vehicle as a focal point, as well as a level for headlight and taillight alignment. Inside is the same level of style and functionality to keep the cohesiveness of design. So much so that if you ran a string from the analog clock on the center dash it would line up with the Buick emblem on the outside of the power liftgate -- that's attention to detail.
The inspiration for the interior was an executive jet, including the lapis blue lighting of the gauges to match the blue light rings around the headlights.
To keep the "Buickness" alive, nicely integrated portholes have been incorporated into the hood, along with Buick's well-recognized waterfall grille. Large 18- or 19-inch wheels finish the expressive style of the new Enclave.
In the Driver's Seat
If quietness has always been synonymous with luxury, then the Enclave is a million-dollar ride. Thanks to Buick's focus on "Quiet Tuning," this is perhaps the quietest vehicle on the road. Tire, wind, and road noise are virtually non-existent thanks to the engineer's focus on damping all the bad sound. The three goals were to reduce, block, and absorb the noise, which Buick has perfected to an art form. This dedication to noise reduction came through not only during the drive, but also in sound comparison tests of the Enclave versus its primary competition: the Lexus RX 350, Acura MDX and Mercedes-Benz R350.
This is one time where the only way we can prove it to you is a test drive; go see for yourself.
The CX and CXL differ in only a few areas inside; the CX gets a premium cloth on the seats while the CXL is dressed in leather, perforated at that to help absorb sound as well. We liked the clean, classic interior design of the dash, and the fact that all the controls are located correctly and easily within reach. Seating is for 7 or 8, with second-row bench or bucket seats. The buckets feature "Smart Slide," which delivers easier access to the third row. Both rows fold flat as well for an amazing 115.1 cubic feet of cargo volume.
On the Road
Besides being extremely quiet, the Enclave has excellent road manners. MacPherson front and a new linked "H" arm rear suspension deliver a controlled ride regardless of road surface. The steering was nicely weighted, and the new six-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly and quickly.
The engine? It's a 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 275 hp and 251 lb-feet of torque, which gets the Enclave up and moving quickly. This is the highest-output naturally aspirated V-6 in GM's lineup, and features VVT. Fuel economy numbers highlight its efficiency, at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the front-drive version and 16/22 for all-wheel drive.
Speaking of AWD, that's a choice you can make for the Enclave, which satisfies those who must deal with less-than-perfect weather conditions, although it's beneficial on dry pavement as well. Torque split is determined by vehicle speed, throttle position and individual wheelspin, and can deliver up to 100 percent to either axle depending on need. All the safety features are there, including StabiliTrak with rollover mitigation and a 5-star crash test rating.
One last feature we thought was outstanding: the brakes had excellent modulation and a linearity that many other manufacturers would do well to emulate.
There's no question Buick stepped up and brought a vehicle to market that outshines the best from the imports. No detail was overlooked, from interior fit and finish to tight body panel gaps. How about the articulating headlights that lead with lighting around corners? Or a new remote keyfob that lets you check tire pressure, vehicle security, and change radio presets?
But there's more to Buick than the Enclave. It's a true international brand, especially popular in China, where it sells over 300,000 units per year. The platform for the Enclave also is being used for the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. The Buick stands apart because of the design, and attention to quietness, as well as a higher level of standard features and materials.
Another bonus to owning the Enclave -- or any GM product for that matter -- is OnStar. We had a chance to try out the turn-by-turn navigation system when we got lost on the Enclave drive, and the OnStar operator downloads the instructions to the vehicle to get your where you're going quickly and easily.
Bottom line: if you're looking for the best near-luxury crossover vehicle on the market, skip the Lexus and Acura dealership and head straight to Buick. You won't be disappointed.