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Crossovers continue to roll out from every major automaker, with shared platforms doubling or tripling the volume. The 2008 Buick Enclave CXL is the latest crossover from GM, sharing its platform with the equally strangely named GMC Acadia. The Enclave carries on GMC's idea of a crossover, which includes a bulky, SUV-style body, a six-cylinder engine, and a cushiony ride.
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.
The Buick Enclave's navigation system lets you enter GPS coordinates for your destination.
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 navigation system directed us to this location, named "Water Dogs" on Geocaching.com.
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 map screens show 3D representations of some buildings.
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.
The MP3 CD interface indexes all your music, making it selectable by artist or album.
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.
Drive mode with this automatic is terrible, but you can manually select gears with the button on the left of the shifter.
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.