The bigger they are, the more Buick they are
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 As a finishing touch, the upscale dashboard is a far cry from the previous Enclave’s outdated design.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)