Ready to seat five to eight people, depending on configuration, Buick’s midsize crossover SUV shares its basic front-wheel-drive structure with the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse. Built with a unibodied chassis rather than a separate frame, the Buick Enclave promises carlike road behavior.
Only one powertrain is offered: a 3.6-liter V6 engine driving a 6-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available, to increase sure-footedness and confidence when the weather turns harsh.
Smooth-riding and comfortable, with a spacious and attractive interior, the Enclave handles like a relatively large vehicle, especially on narrow roads. Fuel economy fails to edge past the average for its class, but it’s markedly better than you’d get with a full-size, truck-based GMC Yukon or Cadillac Escalade.
Introduced for 2008, Enclave was the first member of this GM crossover group. Though comparatively expensive, Buick’s version is an appropriate choice for larger families, especially with the third-row seat installed. Overall utility is comparable to a minivan. Second-row seating is fine for either two or three adults, and the third-row seat is more spacious than those in some competitors. Third-row seats fold completely flat, creating a huge load floor behind the second row. With all seats upright, cargo space behind the rear seat totals 23 cubic feet.
Little has changed for 2016, except for newly standard 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Also new is OnStar 4G LTE connectivity, which can provide a built-in wi-fi hotspot. A new Tuscan appearance package is available for models that use bronze to highlight the waterfall grille and its 20-inch chrome wheels.
IntelliLink, GM’s telematics/infotainment system, is standard. Digital features also include Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, and Pandora and Stitcher audio apps. A rearview camera is standard, along with a USB port, HD radio, satellite radio, and voice recognition. Navigation is optional.
Enclave has earned a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That score includes five stars each for the front and side-impact tests and four stars for the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Enclave Good ratings for all tests. A standard front-center airbag helps protect front occupants in the event of a side impact. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are available. So are lane-departure and forward-collision warnings.
In our opinion, Buick’s version is the most visually attractive of the trio of large crossover SUVs from General Motors. Handsome, sweeping body lines give it a sleek and shapely profile. Compared to the essentially shapeless Chevrolet Traverse, as well as the angular GMC Acadia, Enclave has aged rather well.
Up front is a chromed waterfall grille. Above the rear wheels, you can even discern a bit of the shape of an old-time Coca-Cola bottle (once considered an informal test of modern design).
In addition to a comfortable road experience and classy amenities, the Enclave provides abundant cargo capacity and flexible, inviting passenger space. Inside, it feels like a premium vehicle, helped by use of high-quality materials as well as appealing design that’s both classy and conservative.
Hints of an Art Deco theme can be seen in the dashboard, which looks upscale and includes an analog clock. Restrained use of wood trim enhances its appeal. Soft-touch materials are accented with stitching.
Getting in and out of the front seats is easy. Those seats are soft and accommodating for passengers of any size. Second-row seats are elevated, to provide a good view and comfortable leg support, with plenty of headroom. Entering and exiting the third row isn’t as easy as it would be in a minivan, though a tilt mechanism for the second row eases the process a bit. Occupying that third row isn’t exactly a pleasure.
Accelerating smoothly with its capable combination of 288-horsepower engine and 6-speed automatic, Enclave rides smoothly. In fact, it’s better-riding than a number of three-row crossover rivals.
Handling is fairly responsive, too: better than might be expected. Enclave is actually more nimble than some luxury vehicles. Despite its size, weight and height, an Enclave does not lean too much in curves and it steers relatively well. However, you never forget that the Enclave is a heavy vehicle. Brakes inspire confidence, with a firm pedal feel, yet hard braking produces more nosedive than any vehicle we’ve tested lately.
With 20-inch tires mounted, the ride gets a bit harsher. Even then, it’s more refined, and softer, than you’d get in various other three-row crossover SUVs. An Enclave can tow as much as 4,500 pounds, when properly equipped.
Fuel economy ranks as poor if set against a sedan; but it’s relatively good when compared with a full-size SUV. With front-wheel drive, the EPA estimates 17/24/19 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined. Fuel-economy figures dip to 16/22/18 mpg City/Highway/Combined with all-wheel drive. Some newer entrants into this crossover class score much higher. The 2016 Acura MDX, for instance, is rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway.
The Buick Enclave qualifies as an excellent value considering its size, build quality, passenger/cargo space, and level of standard equipment in each trim level. Fuel economy could be better, and this big SUV’s heavy feel on the road could dissuade some shoppers. Overall, Buick’s crossover SUV is worth a test-drive.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.