2011 Buick Enclave

The utility vehicle that reshaped the Buick image

Published: March 3, 2011, 5:00 PM

2011 Buick Enclave

Before the Enclave, Buick was a nameplate on decline in North America. It may have been only its improbable popularity in China that saved it from the same fate as its sister Oldsmobile division. The arrival of the stylish but functional Enclave in 2008 was the catalyst that began to change public perception of the venerable brand.

The Enclave is Buick’s version of GM’s Lambda platform, on which the Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia and the now-defunct Saturn Outlook are also based. By far the most luxurious of the three, it is loaded with features and benefits and in the case of our tester, a hefty $63,705 price tag.

With that number out there let’s see what the new GM did to justify it. First of all, remember that the Enclave was released prior to GM’s financial troubles and reflects where the company was headed before being forced down the bankruptcy path.

The Enclave is a first class piece of work, worthy of comparison to more exalted import names and anything from the domestic competition. It has style, presence and is a nice cross between the new and generally smaller group of upscale crossovers and the older and big body-on-frame SUVs.

The term SUV is falling out od use as it is felt by some to conjure up image of expense and excess. In the cyclical auto business CUVs or crossovers are the replacement, just as SUVs took the place of minivans. But, regardless of the tag they wear, they offer a combination of car-like driving feel and wagon-like utility. The Enclave does this extremely well with three rows of seats and a tall driving position.

The Enclave led the way away from V-8 engines in this type of vehicle at GM. While the old small block V-8 remains among the most efficient and certainly long-lived engines of the "V" generation and gets almost as good highway fuel economy as the new crop of V-6s it has an image problem.

So GM equips the Enclave with a 3.6-litre V-6 – and a sweetheart it is, all aluminum in construction and aided by all the latest technology including direct injection and variable valve timing. It is rated at 288 horsepower and 13.4 litres/100 km in the city and 9.0 on the highway. We averaged 12.7 L/100 km in a mixture of both over more than 400 km.

A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is standard and the Enclave is capable of towing up to 2340 kg (5,000 lb) of your toys.

The Enclave comes in three trim levels and our tester was pretty much the king of the Enclave hill, loaded with almost everything available. It’s as if someone stood at the head of the assembly line and yelled "put everything on it."

In a competitive set that includes names like Acura, Lexus and Mercedes expectations are that even a base Enclave would not embarrass you at the country club, and it won’t.

Standard equipment on the base model includes, Xenon HID projector headlights, heated mirrors, 19-inch aluminum wheels, power front seats, tilt and telescope steering wheel, three-zone automatic climate control, power windows and locks, cruise, satellite radio and OnStar.

This luxurious big brute is passenger friendly. The big front seats offer a commanding view once you work your way up and unto them. Visibility to all but the rear is good. The tester had a rear-view camera to help with that issue.

The second row seats offer what Buick calls a "smart slide" feature that allows easy access to the third row, which is belted for three but a squeeze for more than two. Two do fit comfortably and there is plenty of headroom in both first and second rows.

The third row seats fold flat enlarging an otherwise average, but very well finished cargo compartment. Cargo space with all; three rows in place is 657 litres; 3265 with second and third rows folded.

Luxury is more than doodads and leather; it is silence when sought and Buick gets my recognition for an exceptional job in this respect. The engineers played with everything from insulation to tread pattern in achieving an exceptional degree lack of road or wind noise.

Leather and real wood, chrome and satin finish accents abound throughout. The instrument panel contains a quintet of analog gauges, three smaller ones for fuel, oil and coolant, bracing a pair for road and engine speed. The wide centre console features a classy analog clock above the multi-colour info/nav/audio screen and the HVAC controls.

The Enclave comes with front-wheel-drive in all three trim levels. An electronic all-wheel-drive system is lso available, which diverts some power to the rear wheels when added grip is necessary.

The emphasis throughout is on luxury, quietness and comfort so it comes as no surprise the 2340 kg ute doesn’t really like being tossed into the corners with abandon. Lots of lean and understeer are reminders to behave and drive in the intended manner.

The steering is light and positive with decent feedback about what is going on under those big tires.

Conservative, yet with a classy demeanor, the Enclave makes a pleasant alternative to the imports and shows just how good GM can be when it comes to playing in this league.