First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: Buick’s new 2018 Enclave is serenity on wheels

Buick calls the Enclave “attainable luxury,” which is to say it’s not overpriced

Buick’s new 2018 Enclave is serenity on wheels

ATLANTA, GA.—If there’s a single word to sum up the new Buick Enclave, just released in its second generation, it would be “serene.”

Most other mid-sized SUVs call themselves capable, powerful, and even exciting, but not the Enclave. It hides its attributes well behind triple rubber seals and triple-laminate acoustic glass. It’s always been quiet, like its smaller siblings, the Encore and Envision, but this time around it’s especially so: new materials and new technology help shut out the bustle and noise of the road better than any other vehicle at its price.

It’s more spacious than before, too. Like the Chevrolet Traverse (with which it shares a platform, and which was updated this past summer), its wheelbase is now longer by 5 cm, which creates a bit more room inside, especially behind the second row of captains’ seats. The standard third row fits three adults with reasonable leg- and head-room, making the Enclave a true seven-seater. If you need one more seat, you’ll have to scale down the comfort to the Traverse, which has a three-seater bench for its second row.

The Enclave doesn’t drive like a bigger vehicle, though. In fact, it feels quite compact and its turning circle is now reduced by almost 50 cm, making it easier to maneuver through the honking and hollering city streets that will be muffled so serenely. There’s now 10% more cargo space for a total of 3,256 litres when all the seats are folded, including a hidden, waterproof, 62-litre storage area underneath the trunk floor.

Premium features

None of this is cheap, of course, because the Enclave is considered a premium version of the Traverse. Buick claims the price is actually reduced for the base vehicle by $1,240, listing now at $49,495 – and that includes freight and PDI. It’s tough to make a direct comparison because there are new features that didn’t exist before, especially with the driver’s assistance technology that’s available at the two higher trims.

That base level “Essence” trim is for a front-wheel-drive vehicle, with all-wheel drive available as a $3,000 option. The “Premium” trim has AWD as standard for $57,495, and it also includes an upgraded 10-speaker Bose audio system, heated and cooled front-row seats with a heated steering wheel, power folding third row seats, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist.

I found this feature sloppy, though – the Enclave I drove would cross the line on each side before eventually steering itself back into the lane, and would just ignore the painted lines completely on all but the mildest curves.

 Top of the line is the Avenir trim, which Buick is introducing on the Enclave as its new sub-brand for super-duper luxury. The Avenir costs $63,495 and adds thicker leather and most of the features that are standard on the other trims, as well as having 20-inch wheels and a unique mesh grille.

Towing capability

You still have to pay extra for the trailering package, which boosts hauling capacity up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), and there are also optional packages that include adaptive cruise control and improved, continuously variable damping.

I’m sure that costly suspension is better, but the regular suspension was just fine for my drive, keeping the SUV flat around corners and soaking up the Georgia bumps and potholes.   

There’s no Sport mode adjustment to the drive, but there is a “Trailer” mode, which firms the suspension and holds gears for longer – just as a Sport mode might do. Paddle shifters are standard but they’re not there for a sportier drive, and in fact they’re pretty much hidden behind the spokes of the steering wheels.

The idea is that if you want to hold the Enclave in a certain gear, which you might do going downhill, especially towing something, then you can push the shifter lever on the centre console into Manual and it will not ride above whichever gear it’s in, though it might drop to a lower gear. If you want to change this on the fly, use the paddles. In regular Drive, the paddles are disabled.

Upgraded powertrain

The nine-speed transmission is all new, replacing the six-speed of the previous generation, and the 3.6-litre V6 engine is also upgraded. It now makes 310 hp, compared to 288 hp in the older SUV, though torque is slightly down, at 266 compared to 270. Fuel consumption is barely changed, at 15.7 L/100 km in the city, 10.7 on the highway and 12.4 combined. My own average for the day was 12.1 L/100 km.

There’s little excitement to the engine but it gets the job done and cruises comfortably with little fuss on both interstates and secondary roads. Down here in Georgia, where drivers like to just set the cruise and stay in whichever lane they’ve chosen with little regard for others on the road, the Enclave suits just fine.

Digital mirror

Ironically, it’s easier to see other drivers because Buick’s borrowed Cadillac’s nifty rearview-camera concept. This displays a video feed in the windshield mirror with the flip of a switch. It takes some getting used to, and it’s not the same as the rearview camera that displays on the large central screen. This is a wide-angle, high-definition image from a camera just above the rear licence plate, so nothing behind the car is hidden.

As mentioned, it takes some getting used to. Because it’s wide-angle, you need to adjust to its depth perception. As well, another driver who wears glasses for far-sightedness commented that it’s easy for him to flick his vision between the road ahead and the reflected road behind in a regular mirror; however, because the video image is actually on the mirror, he had to change his focus each time and this became a challenge. It’s not a big deal though. Just flip the mirror back to regular use if you don’t want the camera.

Best of all is that the rear camera now includes a washer, similar to the cameras on the Ford F-150 pickup truck. No more shutting down on a dirty day.

How does it stack up?

Is all this enough to make the Enclave stand out from its competition? The Acura MDX, Lincoln MKT, Audi Q7 and Infiniti QX60 each have their own appeal and should not be discounted, but the Buick is certainly able to hold its own with available features, and it might be cheaper and a little more spacious.

Buick calls all its vehicles “attainable luxury,” which is another way of saying that they’re not overpriced. This is true compared to the German brands, though a bit of a stretch if you start adding all the available options at the higher trim levels. At its basic Essence trim, though, it’s very good value indeed. You don’t need to pay extra for a more powerful engine or more capable transmission, and if you want a quiet ride, it can’t be beat. 

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