The big­ger they are, the more Buick they are

The Mercury News Weekend - - DRIVE - By Malcolm Gunn WWW.WHEEL­BASE­ME­DIA.COM

Buick’s his­tory is loaded with big ve­hi­cles, from the Elec­tra 225 of the 1960s, to the Road­mas­ter Es­tate wagon that ended pro­duc­tion af­ter 1996.

To­day, it’s the En­clave lux­ury util­ity wagon that earns tops-in-size hon­ors in Buick’s lineup.

The lat­est En­clave ex­udes sig­nif­i­cantly more class than the 2008-’17 orig­i­nals. From front to back, the styling is crisp and aero­dy­namic, in part due to a 2-inch lower roofline and a slightly nar­rower body. Buick’s hall­mark toothy grille is now more sub­dued and the avant-garde LED head­light pods are art­fully sculpted.

In­stead of em­pha­siz­ing the En­clave’s size, the new de­sign makes the gen­er­ous pro­por­tions ap­pear some­how less ob­vi­ous, even though from bumper to bumper and between the front and rear wheels the dis­tances have in­creased by more than 2-inches. De­spite the gains, the En­clave has shed about 370 pounds and the turn­ing cir­cle has been re­duced by nearly 1.5 feet. That makes this tall wagon more nim­ble in tight spa­ces and when ex­e­cut­ing U-turns.

The En­clave’s over­all size ad­just­ment is good news for driv­ers and the up to six or seven trav­el­ling com­pan­ions, depend­ing on the cho­sen seat con­fig­u­ra­tion (sec­ond-row bench or optional high-back bucket seats). Third-row rid­ers will es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ate the 5.6 inches of added legroom that re­sults from the re­for­mat­ted cabin. Ac­cord­ing to Buick, the En­clave also of­fers more load space than vir­tu­ally all its pri­mary com­peti­tors when both the sec­ond-and third-row seats are in the folded po­si­tion. As a fin­ish­ing touch, the up­scale dash­board is a far cry from the pre­vi­ous En­clave’s out­dated de­sign.

For more com­fort, an optional “air ion­izer” sends neg­a­tive ions through the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem, which cuts dust, pollen and other pol­lu­tants. Ex­tra sound in­su­la­tion and noise-can­cel­ing tech­nol­ogy helps quiet the cabin.

Push­ing the starter fires up a 3.6-liter V6 that pro­duces 302 horse­power and 260 pound-feet of torque. That’s a gain of 14 horse­power over the out­go­ing V6, although the torque value drops by 10 pound-feet.

The engine op­er­ates through a new nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion (three more cogs than be­fore). Along with the En­clave’s over­all weight re­duc­tion, the more ef­fi­cient trans­mis­sion helps im­prove fuel-econ­omy rat­ings that are now pegged at 17 mpg in the city and 25 on the high­way for fron­twheel-drive mod­els (pre­vi­ously 15/22).

Adding avail­able all-wheel-drive hurts the num­bers only slightly. The sys­tem can shift rear-axle torque to the out­side back wheel when turn­ing. This yaw as­sist— or torque vec­tor­ing — helps the En­clave steer with more sta­bil­ity and less front-tire scrub.

Thanks pri­mar­ily to a more ro­bust plat­form, max­i­mum tow rat­ing in­creases to 5,000 pounds from 4,500. That’s im­por­tant for any­one with heavy recre­ational trail­ers to haul.

Clearly the En­clave is all about lux­ury as well as prac­ti­cal­ity. Stan­dard equip­ment for the $40,000 (with des­ti­na­tion charges) base mod­els in­cludes tri-zone cli­mate con­trol, hands-free power lift­gate, 8-inch touch-screen and a rearseat re­minder to alert driv­ers to check in back for kids and/or pets as they exit the ve­hi­cle.

The mid-level Essence and Pre­mium trims pile on more stan­dard con­tent, while the new-for-2018 Avenir el­e­vates the En­clave well into the op­u­lence bracket. No­tice­able by its unique mesh grille and 20-inch six-spoke wheels (18-inch­ers are stan­dard), the En­clave Avenir is loaded with plenty of leather, a wood-ac­cented steer­ing wheel, a 360-de­gree sur­round-view cam­era sys­tem plus a full range of ac­tive-safety tech­nol­ogy. Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing fea­ture is a rear-view mir­ror that, with a flick of a tog­gle, changes into a high-def­i­ni­tion screen that dis­plays a wider view from the backup cam­era. The ben­e­fit to driv­ers is that the view out back is free from ob­struc­tions, in­clud­ing head­rests, pas­sen­ger’s heads, bulky cargo and grimy lift­gate win­dows.

With the pop­u­lar­ity of full-size util­i­ties rid­ing high, the new-and-im­proved En­clave is poised to main­tain its sta­tus as a pre­mium work­horse with a concierge-like abil­ity to look af­ter its own­ers and their guests.

The dash lay­out has been some­what mod­ern­ized and in­cor­po­rates GM’s elec­tronic gear se­lec­tor. Although well equipped in stan­dard trim, ac­tive-safety tech­nol­ogy, such as emer­gency brak­ing, costs ex­tra. (Photo courtesy of Buick)

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