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.
One feature we especially like about this navigation system is the ability to split the screen with the stereo, showing a map on one side and music on the other. The stereo interface is also very nice, with tabs on the touch screen for choosing sources. On the Enclave CXL, XM satellite radio is standard, and there's also an auxiliary audio input in the faceplate of the stereo. But this stereo's most impressive feature is its ability to index MP3 CDs, giving you an interface to browse the contents by artist, album, or folder. No other car offers such a convenient interface for navigating MP3 CDs.
Along with the navigation option comes a 10-speaker audio system, but it didn't really blow us away. It had pretty good overall sound with decent bass. But the mids and highs were muffled. We found this audio quality surprising, because the system includes a center fill speaker and a subwoofer. We believe that the audio is tuned for the optional rear-seat DVD system, which wasn't in our car.
Beyond navigation and stereo information, the LCD also shows the rear-view camera display. This camera doesn't have any distance overlays, but it is essential, as visibility out of the rear of the Enclave is very poor.
Under the hood
The Enclave inherits a lot from its SUV forebears in its bulk, making its driving characteristics less than nimble. The Enclave works well as a suburban or freeway cruiser but suffers in situations where more maneuverability is required, such as dense city traffic or narrow mountain roads. On our trip down Tunitas Creek Road, we couldn't push it hard around the corners, but its comfortable suspension smoothed over the many bumps and shimmies in the asphalt. Our test car had front-wheel drive, but an all-wheel-drive version is available. Both versions get the Stabilitrak stability control system.
As a crossover, the Enclave gets a V-6, as opposed to a V-8, which would have been the standard in the age of SUVs. This 3.6-liter, variable valve timed six-cylinder is more than adequate in turning the Enclave's 19-inch wheels, putting out 275 horsepower at 6,600rpm and 251 ft-lbs of torque at 3,200rpm. Unfortunately, the engine is hampered by one of the worst transmissions we've ever used. The Enclave gets a six-speed automatic, which we would normally like, but this one is incredibly clunky. We could feel each shift, and it takes a long time to decide to downshift when you need power. At one point, just driving along at slow, city speeds, we felt it shift with a tremendous clunk as it finished hunting for the right gear.
Although we hated its automatic shifting, we found out how to use its manual gear-selection mode, which wasn't initially obvious. The shifter has a rocker button on its side, marked with a plus and a minus. When we pulled the shifter into the low-range position, manual gear selection became operable. But instead of letting us shift only in the low range, we were able to select gears all the way up to six. We don't recommend dropping it into low range when you're doing 70mph down the freeway, as it will drop into third gear. But if you put it in low at the freeway onramp, you can shift all through of the gears and circumvent that awful clunking and hesitation of the automatic.
The Enclave isn't a champ when it comes to fuel economy, although it beats your typical SUV. The EPA rates it at 16mpg city and 24mpg highway. In our city and freeway driving, we never saw it get above 20mpg, and we came in with an average of 18mpg. We would like to see the Enclave, and cars in general, get better than 20mpg. Emissions ratings weren't published at the time of this review.
Our 2008 Buick Enclave CXL with front-wheel-drive came in with a base price of $34,255. We added the Entertainment package, which includes navigation ($3,025), 19-inch chrome wheels ($1,495), and the power sunroof ($1,300). GM threw on credits of $495 for the seating configuration and another $600 on the wheels, making the total, with the $735 destination charge, $39,715.
At just shy of $40,000, the Enclave is very well equipped from a tech perspective, although we wish GM would adopt Bluetooth technology for hands-free cell phone use. OnStar is not as convenient as using your own phone. And while the Enclave strives to provide a luxury drive experience, the clunky transmission frequently disrupts the sedate mood in the cabin. The Enclave has a lot of competition among all the other crossovers, even from its own platform-mate, the GMC Acadia. Chrysler's Pacifica offers a lower profile ride and a slight edge in cabin luxury, while the Mazda CX-9 is more nimble. But none of these crossovers has as good an MP3 interface as the Buick Enclave's.