For 2008, Buick has retired the Rendezvous utility vehicle, and the Rainier sport utility, and the Terraza minivan from the showroom lineup, and in their place, there's a single vehicle that will try to be all things to all traveling families, the new, 2008 Buick Enclave.
Buick Enclave shares its basic platform with the Saturn Outlook and the GMC Acadia, but it's as different from each of them as chalk is from cheese. Enclave is aimed at the upper end of the crossover segment, with competitors like the Acura MDX, Lexus RX 350 and Mercedes-Benz R 350. Enclave's styling is completely different from that of the Acadia and Outlook.
But what really sets the Enclave apart is its modern cabin, with stylish illumination, crisp graphics, genuine wood trim and nice leather. The seats are comfortable, and it can be ordered with a second-row bench seat or luxurious captain's chairs, depending on whether seven- or eight-passenger capacity is needed. There's lots of convenient cubby storage and the Enclave offers 115 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats folded down.
Equipped with GM's new high-feature 3.6-liter V6, the Enclave offers good acceleration performance while earning an EPA-estimated 16/22 City/Highway mpg under the more stringent new test procedures. Enclave is rated to tow up to 4500 pounds.
Buick Enclave CX ($32,790); CX AWD ($34,790); CXL ($34,990); CXL AWD ($36,990)
The Enclave looks like it belongs in the same showroom with Buick's latest-generation of sedans, the LaCrosse and the Lucerne. The Enclave's protruding vertical bar grille and vestigial portholes on the hood make sure you know it's a Buick.
The long body shell is anything but boxy, with curvy, swoopy, and sexy shapes from every angle. All of the front lighting elements use clear lenses, with lots of different elements to please the eye and light the road. Everything under the bumper is kept simple and clean to draw the eye to that massive grille. The standard tires are big, fat 18-inchers on seven-spoke alloy wheels, with 19-inchers optional and 20-inchers from your dealer, and they certainly add to the visual punch of the Enclave. The roof and the side windows are done in a gracefully decreasing sweep from front to rear, accented by bright-metal roof bars that follow the roof's curvature perfectly front to back.
Out back, the top-hinged tailgate with standard power opening and closing is a work of art, with the rear glass extending beyond the sheetmetal into the rear opening. The rear glass is quite large, and is convex-shaped, coming to a point just above the Buick tri-shield logo and above the wide-screen taillamps. Under the rear bumper is a diffuser panel and dual exhausts with bright tips, making for one of the tastiest rear-end treatments in the crossover segment.
The chrome-ringed white-on-black instruments and analog clock are highly styled, with a soft blue-green illumination (which is repeated around the perimeter of the headlamp), and halo lighting at night. The graphics are large and clear, and the wood is real. On the CXL version, the steering wheel is leather and mahogany, with 10 switches and controls mounted on it for easy use. Layout is typically GM, with a large, bright navigation screen low enough to be shaded, high enough to be seen without distraction. The dead pedal on the far left of the floor is the first one we know of to be specially designed for use by women wearing high-heeled shoes.
Because it's rigged for seven or eight passengers, buyers have a couple of options: The standard seven-passenger, 2-2-3 seating scheme uses second-row captain's chairs with a feature called Smart Slide that allows easy entry into the third row by flopping the seats forward and sliding them fore and aft; this can also be ordered with a second floor console for storage and 12-volt power. Or, there's a second-row bench seat that makes for a 2-3-3 seating scheme for a total of eight passengers.
Either way, the driver gets an eight-way power bucket seat and the front passenger gets a four-way power bucket seat. All the seats we sat in were comfortable and supportive.
Storage space and flexibility gets high marks. There's 19 cubic feet of cargo room just inside the power tailgate behind the third row, 66 cubic feet with the third row seats down, and 115 cubic feet with both rows folded. And if you need to, you can flop the passenger seat over as well for extra-long cargoes. There's storage on top of the dash for sunglasses, iPods, and cellphones. There's another 4 cubic feet of storage space under the rear cargo floor. Buick says the Enclave has 24 storage areas, counting door pockets, under-seat areas, and built-in storage. The Buick Enclave has more cargo volume than the Acura MDX, the Lexus RX, Volvo XC90, and Audi Q7.
Equipped with GM's new high-feature 3.6-liter V6, the Enclave offers good acceleration performance while scoring an EPA-estimated 16/22 City/Highway mpg. By comparison, the Cadillac Escalade is rated 13/20 mpg. The Enclave is 800 pounds lighter than the Escalade and its V6 is more fuel-efficient than the Escalade's V8.
For some years now, Buicks have been all about living your driving life in splendid isolation, and that's true is spades with this big empty box called Enclave, the toughest kind of vehicle to quiet down. The Buick folks have taken dozens of time-consuming and expensive steps to quiet down the engine, transmission, all-wheel-drive system, and tires, isolate the front and rear suspension and steering from the cabin, and wrap the entire package in sound-deadening materials in the floor, pillars and doors, all under the rubric of Quiet Ride. In lab tests, the Buick Enclave is quieter than the Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Acura competition, and in our road-driving experience in Missouri, was extremely quiet. Conversations between first-row and third-row occupants at 70-plus mph were heard and understood in normal speaking voices, and the XM satellite music played through loud and clear at reasonable volumes.
The suspension underneath the Lambda platform, at least on the Buick version, is far more sophisticated, far sharper in handling and far more compliant and comfortable than what we've come to expect from this class of vehicles. The rear suspension is especially complex and expensive, designed to work well with or without the rear-drive portion of the all-wheel-drive system, and using elaborate aluminum H-arms to put the wheels out as far as possible to the corners and allow for a wide, flat load floor up above.
Flying around on Ozark Mountain two-lane roads or humming down the Interstate 44 and 64 network in and around St. Louis, the Enclave showed us accurate steering, although a bit numb. It provided a quiet, compliant ride, and very, very quiet road behavior.
The all-wheel-drive system operates automatically, full-time all the time, adjusting to road speed, throttle position and the relative speeds of each of the four tires, wet or dry. We think the all-wheel drive is well worth the extra money. Normally, it is biased 90/10 front/rear torque split, normally operates between 40/60 and 60/40 in most driving, and can divert 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels if necessary. No buttons, no ranges, no fuss, just traction.
With all due respect and reverence for classic Buicks like the '56 Century, the '63 and '66 Rivieras, the pavement-ripping GS 455 Stage III of the muscle-car era, the giant old Estate Wagons, and the refined current crop of Lucernes and LaCrosses, we'll go out on a short, sturdy limb and call the Enclave by far the best Buick ever built, and the most complete Buick we've ever driven. If you're in the market for a luxurious family hauler, give this one a long, serious look.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw test drove the Enclave in the Ozarks.