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With space for six or seven passengers, a whisper-quiet cabin, a respectable load of safety tech, and an available rear-seat entertainment, the 2014 Buick Enclave AWD Premium seems like it would be a nice minivan alternative for moms and dads. However, the presence of the tri-shield Buick badge places it firmly in many prospective owners' minds as more of a grandma and grandpa kind of ride.
The automaker has been making great strides to update its image and appear more youthful with a string of sporty sedans with greatly improved tech. Has any of this young DNA seeped into the big crossover? We hopped behind the wheel of the Enclave to figure out just how "old" this crossover really is.
IntelliLink tech package
At the center of dashboard (and at the center of the Buick's dashboard tech) is a 6.5-inch color touch screen surrounded by capacitive buttons and powered by the IntelliLink infotainment system. This system offers a similar level of app integration that you'll find in the Chevrolet MyLink system. That means that you'll be able to command the Pandora, Stitcher, and Slacker apps on your smartphone via the touch screen interface, with access to your custom stations, podcasts, and more.
IntelliLink also gives the driver control over the AM/FM radio with HD Radio decoding and the SiriusXM satellite radio which provides NavTraffic and NavWeather updates to the HDD-based navigation system. Navigation is pretty good, but far from the best looking system in its class. I liked that the auto-complete of the address and POI input was fairly snappy and that the directions were clear and easy to follow, but found myself annoyed by the lack of responsiveness of the system.
The resistive-technology touch screen simply was not very responsive to my touches and required a significant and deliberate effort to register a touch. I have grown accustomed to dealing with capacitive screens like the ones you'll find on smartphones and tablets (and I'm assuming you have, as well), so this meant that I would often have to redo most of my inputs once I'd realized that the Buick simply hadn't felt my touch, a frustration that usually resulted in me angrily punching at the screen with my fingertip.
On the other hand, the banks of capacitive buttons that surround the screen require an inconsistent amount of effort; sometimes the lightest touch will trigger them and at other times you'll need to push much harder. Adding to the inconsistency, while the touch screen works with gloves, these capacitive buttons -- which serve as shortcuts to the home screen, the audio source, navigation and destination input, and track skip controls -- do not.
A Bluetooth wireless connection provides hands-free calling, audio streaming with metadata and controls, and text message access. When you receive a text on a compatible phone, the Enclave's infotainment system can intercept the message and, if you are parked, display it on the screen or, if you're driving, read it aloud over the audio system. Drivers can then fire off a canned response such as Yes, No, or I'll call you back with just two touchscreen taps.
Rounding out the list of digital audio sources is an in-dash CD/DVD player and one of the most oddly-placed and difficult to reach USB ports that I've found in a car. Plugging a mass-storage or an iPod device into the single USB port hidden in a cubby hole atop the dashboard gives the IntelliLink system command of MP3 media stored therein. There are also a pair of USB ports on the back of the center console, accessible to rear passengers, but these charging-only ports are not connected to the infotainment system.
Audio reaches your ear via the Premium Enclave's premium 10-speaker Bose audio system.
Updated safety tech
The 2014 Enclave gains new Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning systems, which join the blind spot monitoring, rear camera with dynamic trajectory guidelines and pedestrian detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. All of these camera and sonar-based systems come standard on the Premium Enclave, but may be optional on lesser trim levels.
These systems can help the driver by alerting them to potential collisions, whether from rear-ending a lead vehicle, from drifting into another lane of traffic, or from backing into other vehicles or pedestrians in a parking lot. Most of these alerts manifest themselves as audible alerts and beeps, but the Forward Collision Alert system will also flash a bank of bright red LEDs at the base of the windshield to more quickly grab the driver's attention. The cross-traffic alert system also will display warning iconography on the rear camera's display, indicating the direction of the approaching vehicle, in addition to sounding its alarm.
However, the Enclave lacks the most advanced intervention technologies -- such as lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, or forward collision pre-braking -- so the Enclave can't step in to aid in preventing an accident. You'll need to rely on your driver reflexes, reactive safety systems, and the StabiliTrack traction control system.
Performance and economy
Lift the hood and you'll hear the 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 ticking away as its injectors fire off with each ignition. This engine is rated at 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque.
The Enclave is available as either a front-wheel-drive model or with all-wheel drive. Our tester was the latter, though the system didn't really add much to our casually-paced driving experience around the dry roads of northern California.
The only transmission choice is a six-speed automatic transmission that features a weird manual shift mode that's hidden under the "L" position of the shifter's throw. When in "L" drivers can jump up or down through the six ratios with a rocker-switch that falls under your thumb. It's not very intuitive, but I don't gather that your average Buick driver will ever venture past the standard "D" mode.
The engine's acceleration is competent, but not impressive. This engine and transmission combo's most interesting characteristic is its remarkable smoothness and quietness, but we'll get back to that.
Fuel economy is estimated at 18 mpg combined -- 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. During my testing, I averaged 18.3 mpg over a cycle that mostly consisted of casually-paced freeway cruising while enjoying the quiet cabin and the clear Bose audio system.
That the Enclave's cabin is so quiet is no accident. Buick has put a good deal of effort into isolating the driver with its QuietTuning. This feature suite includes noise cancellation; extensive sound deadening; acoustic-laminated windshield and side glass; quiet tuning for the air intake, exhaust, and suspension systems; and a wheel-and-tire package designed to dissipate noise.
Our Premium model ships with the Enclave's Luxury and Premium packages rolled into its list of standard features, including heated and cooled leather seats, active-steering high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, power adjustable front seats and steering column, and separate rear audio and climate controls with a pair of headphone jacks for second row passengers.
The Premium model is available with an optional Rear Seat Entertainment System that folds down from the roof and plays DVDs from the dashboard drive, but we're not fans of rear monitors -- ceiling-mounted models, in particular. Video quality is merely so-so, and competing models feature Blu-ray playback or HDMI inputs to differentiate themselves, making the Buick system feel even more dated and overpriced.
Our model was also equipped with an optional power sunroof and second-row skylight that lets some light into the cavernous Enclave's second and third rows, which may justify its $1,400 price tag.
Buick seems to fancy the Enclave as a luxury car -- as evidenced by that hallmark of luxuriousness, the dashboard analog clock -- but, aside from the quiet of its cabin, the vehicle doesn't feel very luxury. Beyond the touch points, where you'll find leather and soft materials, the cabin mostly consists of hard plastics, faux wood, and greasy-looking chrome trim. The dashboard illumination is still that same sickly 1980s green, which doesn't match the light blue illumination of the ambient lighting that surrounds the cockpit.
The 2014 Buick Enclave feels like an economy car with a coat of luxe paint. It's a remarkably well put-together premium economy car that offers a reasonably list of features and amenities. It prints more Hyundai Genesis than Lexus LS, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
I enjoyed lazing about in the Buick Enclave's quiet cabin, listening to music on its sorted Bose audio system, but at no point was I fooled into thinking that I was driving a luxury SUV. So coming to terms with the pricing becomes an exercise in managing your expectations.
Our Premium AWD model starts out pretty close to the top of the line at $48,315, leaving little room for options outside of its list of standard features.
But we do have a pair of option boxes checked, including $2,240 for the IntelliLink infotainment with navigation and rear seat entertainment, and $1,400 for the power sunroof with second row skylight. Add $925 for destination charges to reach our $52,880 as-tested price.
As I said earlier, I'd skip that whole rear monitor system and opt for the less expensive $795 technology package that offers everything but, reducing the final recommended "CNET-style" price to $51,435.
Interestingly, the Enclave was the vehicle that I drove to visit the 2014 Toyota Highlander that I've recently previewed and found that the Toyota (particularly the 28 mpg, $49,790 Hybrid Limited with Platinum Package model) struck me as being a much better seven-seater with a more appealing list of features and a more luxurious feel for the money, despite not having an analog clock on its dashboard.
|Model||2014 Buick Enclave|
|Powertrain||3.5-liter direct-injected V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, optional AWD|
|EPA fuel economy||16 city, 22 highway, 18 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||18.3 mpg|
|Navigation||IntelliLink HDD navigation with SiriusXM NavTraffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes, with SMS reading|
|Disc player||single slot CD/DVD|
|MP3 player support||standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection, Bluetooth audio streaming|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, Pandora, Stitcher, and Slacker app integration|
|Audio system||10-speaker Bose audio system|
|Driver aids||Forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear-proximity and cross-traffic alerts, rear camera with dynamic trajectory guide and pedestrian detection|
|Price as tested||$52,880|