The Buick brand seems like an odd duck, and we occasionally wonder why it exists. But cars such as the Buick Lucerne and the Enclave continue to justify it. Like the Acadia, the Enclave is a good vehicle to wean someone off an SUV. The Enclave has a high seating position, and its seats are configured like those in an SUV. It's bulky, with a clunky transmission, but the steering is overpowered, making for an easily turned wheel, and the cabin has a luxurious feel.
As a tech car, the Enclave can be well equipped. GM uses the same navigation and media player module across many of its crossovers, SUVs, and trucks, with no change to the interface. That's not a bad thing, as this is the same system you get in a Cadillac Escalade. It includes some uniquely impressive features, such as its music navigator, which gives you the best interface we've seen for playing MP3 CDs.
Test the tech: Grabtown and Water Dogs
When we started testing out the navigation system in the Enclave, we noticed you could enter GPS coordinates into the map screen. It seemed a strange feature for an on-road navigation system, but given the capability, we took the Enclave on a geocaching expedition. Geocaching--sometimes referred to as "hiking for geeks"--involves using a GPS device to find an item that someone has left at specific coordinates. You can find a massive database of posted geocache sites at Geocaching.com.
Before starting off on our expedition, we did a little deskwork, finding two good prospects for geocaching sites. The first, the lost village of Grabtown, had an intriguing name and was along our favorite local twisty route, Tunitas Creek Road. Geocaching.com says that Grabtown developed around a sawmill operation in the 1800s, but disappeared when the mill moved for lack of trees. Back in the Enclave, we entered the coordinates into the navigation system, it computed our route. We followed it down the 280 freeway, then up Highway 92 and over Skyline road. The route brought us onto Tunitas Creek Road, and informed us that it didn't have information on some of the upcoming roads. That didn't surprise us, as there wouldn't be any roads for the very last segment. The navigation system brought us down the twisty Tunitas Creek Road, until we hit the point where we would have to stop and hike. But as we didn't feel like leaving the car, and there was no place to park it anyway, we concluded that part of our test.
The second location we had found was near the southern border of San Francisco, in John McLaren Park, a spot called "Water Dogs." This geocaching location didn't have a colorful history, but it was an easy jaunt from the office. Again, we entered the coordinates, hit the Go button, and the navigation system computed our route. We followed its suggestions through the streets of San Francisco and into the park. The route guidance was very accurate, and used clear graphics that showed us the upcoming turns. Even when the actual streets didn't have any signs, we were confident of our route, given this system's accuracy. In the park, it brought us down John F. Shelley Drive, and, as with the first destination, informed us it didn't have information on some upcoming roads. But as we pulled into the parking lot on the side of the road, it said we had arrived. We could see a lake off the road where water-loving dogs could swim, hence the name of the spot. But we had to conclude that, although this navigation system works perfectly well for the roads, it may not be finetuned enough for geocaching. And the Enclave itself is certainly no off-roader.
In the cabin
With its leather surfaces and wood accents, the cabin of the Buick Enclave is a comfortable environment, its luxury encroaching on the territory staked out by Cadillac. The driver position is nice and high, and the wheel turns easily, feeling a bit overpowered to add to the luxury feel of the car. Behind the front seats, the cabin of the Enclave starts to resemble a minivan, with a flat floor and two rows of seats. In our test car, the middle row was comprised of two captain's chairs, but a middle row bench is also available. Sunroofs cover the front and middle rows, complete with electronic covers, but the middle row sunroof doesn't open.
A prominent blue OnStar button sits in the mirror frame, making a variety of services available, depending on what plan you have. As our Enclave came with the navigation option, it would make most sense getting the telephone package for OnStar. But we would prefer a Bluetooth cell phone system, where you could use your own phone number.
The Enclave's navigation option, with its touch screen LCD, is very solid. The map screens have 3D representations of major buildings in urban areas and, while the map resolution isn't that great, the route guidance graphics look very nice. We mentioned above how you can enter GPS coordinates as a destination. The system has all the usual destination entry options, as well. Entering addresses is easy, and the points-of-interest database includes the standard categories. Once under route guidance, the system shows very rich graphics for upcoming turns. We found route guidance to be accurate and easy to follow, but it didn't have some of the advanced destination entry features we've seen in other cars, such as finding the nearest freeway entrance.