Buick Enclave is battling big-name competition; Acura, Volvo, Audi, Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz all want the lead in the prestigious three-row luxury crossover segment. Yet the handsome, comfortable and efficient Buick Enclave effortlessly dominates this class in terms of sales. That's evidence of an exceptionally well-received package that delivers solid crossover luxury, deep value and three-row flexibility the public enthusiastically responds to.
Revised for 2013, Buick Enclave represents an astutely restated rendering of the crossover SUV, with Buick determined to drive it into more upscale American garages.
The 2013 Enclave benefits from a beautifully restyled interior and dashboard. Embellished with elegant ice-blue ambient lighting, brightly colored new climate controls and real upholstery stitching lends the driving compartment a feeling of premium quality. And for the technologically acute, the new Buick IntelliLink system supports audio streaming of Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio as well as available Sirius/XM satellite radio.
Externally, the 2013 Enclave is recognizably updated. A larger, more pronounced Buick waterfall grille delivers clear brand identification, while body-color rocker moldings and front and rear fascias communicate the Enclave's premium character. These are further accented by tasteful chrome highlighting. Big 19- and 20-inch wheels make a bold style statement, while LED headlights, taillights and running lights continue the Enclave's modern character.
New for the 2013 Enclave is a recalibrated suspension, delivering smoother, more comfortable touring, while at the same time providing well-controlled agility and road sensitivity during maneuvering. This is a difficult balance to achieve, but the Enclave has done it nicely.
Mechanically, the excellent Enclave 6-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission is carried over from the previous year, as is the fine V6 engine, delivering decent fuel mileage for this very large package, at 17/23 mpg City/Highway in front-wheel-drive form.
The key to any luxury crossover, however, is packaging, and the 2013 Enclave leads its class by providing more cargo space than any of the competition. It delivers more third-row legroom than the rest, and it features a brilliant second-row sliding seat provision that makes third-row entry simple and convenient.
And while Enclave passengers are onboard, safety is paramount. In 2011, this Buick earned National Highway Traffic Administration's highest five-star overall vehicle safety score and was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The new Enclave is equipped with all of the same mandatory airbag protections, but it features, with Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, something no other vehicle in the world can claim. Its industry-first front center airbag inflates from the inboard side of the driver's seat, protecting the driver and front-seat passenger from impacting each other during a severe side impact. This great idea will surely find its way into other large cars as soon as is feasible.
Simply put, the Buick Enclave is the complete package. Seating seven (or eight, with center bench at no extra cost), the American buying public has enthusiastically embraced this large and welcoming vehicle. With volumes of space, a crisp and newly freshened interior, and highway performance and agility that belie its considerable weight and mass, this is a full-size crossover family sport-utility vehicle to be taken very seriously. Better still, it boasts better cruising range than Acura MDX, Volvo XC90 and Mercedes-Benz R350. Small wonder it's Buick's best-selling model.
Probably the most important thing to say about the external appearance of the Enclave is that Buick, taunted endlessly for appropriating its buyers from the nearest graveyard, has seen the average age of Buick purchasers plummet from 64 years to 57. Buick is getting younger, fresher, more explicitly family-oriented, just as it must.
Yet the Enclave strikes a careful balance, maintaining its membership in the luxury market, while skillfully avoiding any hint of drab minivan monotony. Minivans perform valuable family functions, to be sure, and the Enclave matches these functions, but while doing so, this Buick has a sense of style and flash that sets it apart. With its toothy, chrome waterfall grille, a resurrected Buick trademark, and the ventiport portholes on top of the hood, another historic Buick keynote, the stylists are having a good time drawing us forward, and simultaneously, looking back at Buick's long-established styling language.
The massively rounded Enclave shape flows rearward, devoid of unwanted contrasting-colored rocker cladding, punctuated in our test vehicle by flashy, great-looking 19-inch chrome wheels. At the rear are provisions for a hefty 4500-pound towing capacity. Also at the rear are massive new taillight complexes for 2013, providing something very new indeed; instead of isolated hot spots of red light, they are uniformly red across their entire glowing surface. Sassy and stylish.
The biggest news for the 2013 Buick Enclave is its chic, handsome new interior. An elegant blend of stitched leather, brightly colored instrumentation and high-quality switchgear, the driving position of the Enclave is something special. The forms on the dash board are sculpted boldly, creating what Buick's chief stylist calls a distinctive dwelling. Premium materials are blended with lots of wood, black controls, understated tinted chrome and large elements like a full-color, easy-to-use touchscreen navigation package. This doubles as a rearview camera with a cross-traffic alert.
Yet in gushing over these stylish controls, one of the oddities of this Buick is that it foregoes the proximity key/push-button start system so adamantly present in its competitors. How important is this really? Not very. It's a minor inconvenience that means you must turn the Enclave's key to start the engine; hardly the end of the world. Yet a relative inconvenience it is. We soldiered bravely on, turning the key slavishly and cursing cruel fortune each time. The key fob does include, of course, a trunk release, remote start and remote lock/unlock. (Some of us, however, prefer a traditional key: You put it in the ignition slot. You know where it is. You're not looking for it.)
The instrumentation of the Enclave is conventionally laid out and handsome. analog speedometer, tachometer (with no redline; current electronics preclude over-revving), water temperature, fuel level and ammeter. The leather-covered steering wheel contains the usual audio and phone controls on the righthand spoke, cruise control on the lefthand spoke. They worked conveniently and were not accidentally brushed during normal use.
The center stack was ergonomically self-explanatory, which cannot be said for the Enclave's direct rivals from offshore. Dual climate control, rear wiper, OnStar and seat heater/cooler controls were straightforward, as was the traction control on/off and the trunk release. A forward power take-off plug and two cupholders were located next to the conventional automatic shifter, which, incidentally, had no manual-shift provision. The Enclave is, in this sense, a traditional Detroit no-frills, we'll-handle-the-shifting vehicle. But the 6-speed automatic was butter smooth-shifting and left nothing to complain about.
The front-row seats were handsomely upholstered in leather, and our Premium Package test car featured eight-way power seats for both driver and front passenger. Adjustability was superb, and the headrests were adjustable up/down and fore/aft. Between the two front seats is the GM-exclusive front-center airbag, which may be of vital consequence in hard side impacts. Good thing. But if there is a complaint here, the seats were a bit too firm and sparse in side bolstering. Obviously, the Enclave is not a sporting vehicle that will habitually be cornered hard, so this complaint may seem frivolous. But in emergencies, which are never frivolous, the driver's seat should provide solid support. On the other hand, family Enclave drivers are probably less inclined to want fitted seating, and lower bolsters make getting in and out easier.
The door-mounted controls included two driver memory settings and the usual door lock/unlock and window locks. Our Enclave had optional fore and aft moonroofs, but only the small forward aperture actually opened. The large rear moonroof gives passengers a panoramic view of the stars.
A second-row console offers separate climate controls and a second jack-driven audio channel, giving the kids separate entertainment. In the seven-passenger configuration, the second row uses two captain's chairs, furnished with comfortable elbowrests. The third row is a three-place bench seat with reasonably ample headroom for everyone but the basketball team. And to the far rear is very usable grocery stowage, even when all three rows are in use. The rear tailgate has an automatic opener.
The Enclave is a crowd-hauler and people-pleaser of the first order, as its continuing strong sales confirm. For those with large families, and especially, large families who regularly travel long distances, this Buick is at or near best in class.
Approaching a massive, nearly 5,000-pound vehicle like our test AWD Premium Enclave, we were prepared to drive a truck. After all, everything about the Enclave suggested an experience that, in one way or another, could amount to a struggle.
Yet from the moment we put the Enclave into Drive, accelerated onto a nearby freeway onramp and blended into Interstate traffic, there was nothing to struggle about. The Enclave is like a professional football player; everything's in balance only it's a lot bigger and stronger than you're used to. The Enclave is a carefully calculated equation of acceleration, balance, and surprising agility. Despite its size, it moves with the self-contained athleticism of a much smaller vehicle. In fact, the first impression it made in traffic was that it feels smaller than it really is. This impression is the product of first-rate dynamic engineering; the Enclave feels easily controlled, capable of making any reasonable move a smaller vehicle could make when necessary. No mean achievement in a 4,922-pound vehicle.
The Enclave is exactly what it needs to be, a steady, predictable, balanced family transport. Acceleration, cornering and braking are competent, offering good margins of safety and avoidance in emergencies. That is not to say, the Enclave is exciting to accelerate, corner or brake hard; the word is confident. This Buick does the important automotive assignments reliably, which is what its family buyers demand.
Enclave benefits from all the latest fuel-efficiency advances. Its 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers an EPA-estimated 23 mpg Highway in the front-wheel-drive model, though our all-wheel-drive Enclave was rated slightly less, at 22 mpg Highway. Just a few years ago, this rating would have been closer to 17 mpg. Yet even at a parsimonious 22 mpg, this engine delivers sturdy acceleration, with no irregularities in throttle response. This is an engine and drivetrain well attuned for grown-ups on a family mission.
The new 2013 Enclave suspension contributed its part in making the vehicle feel smaller and lighter than it really is. Cornering through country back roads, there was little roll and or sway, and the ride was both smooth and attentive, letting the driver know what the road surface was like. This contributes to keeping the driver alert, as well as providing warning if surface traction is changing.
The brakes were up to their very considerable task. Pedal feel was firm and it was easy to control and modulate brake pressure as needed. The steering feel was also very good, with just the right degree of firmness to keep the driver fully engaged with the road and the act of driving. There was no hint of steering numbness, nor any tendency to wander across lanes at Interstate speed. The Enclave is, in short, fully prepared to deliver on the family's next adventurous road trip.
The Buick Enclave dominates its Luxury Crossover segment simply because there is no vehicle that can quite match its volume, comfort, value and stylish practicality. If there were ever an example of what American car companies do really well, this roomy, luxurious vehicle is it. It is efficient, easy to use, and welcoming to large and still growing families, the definitive contemporary American grand-touring machine.
Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Buick Enclave in the Northeast where he is based.