Buick's original Enclave lasted for eight years. While that's old in automotive terms, sales of the large crossover SUV stubbornly kept on rising. You'd think that General Motors wouldn't want to mess with success, but it has. Fortunately, that's good news, because this new model is pretty darn good.
The 2018 Enclave builds on Buick's popular three-row SUV in a smart way: It takes all the stuff that wasn't so great about the last one and takes steps to remedy it. After eight years, the Enclave's sheetmetal was looking a bit on the dowdy side. The new Enclave, though, borrows its design direction from Buick's 2017 Avista coupe concept, as well as everything that came after it, like the new Regal and LaCrosse models. As a result, the new Enclave is a handsome vehicle, even though I'm not entirely sold on its "floating" D-pillar look on the side.
The big Buick's interior is vastly improved, as well. Gone is the myriad of buttons and shapes littering the dashboard and center console. In its place is a far smoother design that makes good use of long, sweeping lines that emphasize the cabin's width. The materials -- on the top-tier Avenir model, at least — looks and feels expensive, especially the seat leather. I'll have to drive lower-spec models to know for sure, but at first blush, the Enclave doesn't feel like a carbon copy of the Chevrolet Traverse, even though both SUVs share the same platform.
While some three-row SUVs aren't really big enough to fit grown adults in their way-back seats, the Enclave is. At a launch event I attended in the greater Atlanta area, Buick packed Enclaves full of journalists on multiple occasions, and as long as second-row occupants were willing to slide their seats forward a smidge, my gangly six-foot frame wasn't uncomfortable back there. Ingress and egress were easy, thanks to a smartly folding second-row seat. A swooping roofline cuts into headroom somewhat, though.
One big qualm I have with the interior is the connection between the driver and the standard nine-speed automatic. This gearshift looks and feels like a far less expensive version of BMW's complicated lever, including the park button up top. It's not particularly intuitive, but with enough practice, you'll remember that reverse is up and to the left. Having this weird by-wire shifter shared with the LaCrosse and Chevrolet Bolt EV has at least allowed Buick to open up some space under the center console for additional storage, though, which is a nice touch.
Speaking of the nine-speed automatic, it comes mated to a 3.6-liter V6 that puts out 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Whether the Enclave packs front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive, acceleration is ample, with a neat little engine note popping up when you really lay into the gas. The transmission works its way through the gears with such smoothness that it's hard to discern when it's shifting unless you're listening for it. This powertrain makes for properly smooth acceleration.
In fact, the Enclave drives rather serenely, full stop. The inside is a damned sensory deprivation chamber, with thick laminated glass that all but kills outside noise when driving around town. On the highway, there's a bit of wind noise the emanates from the top of the A-pillar and a good deal of road noise coming from the tires, but as long as you're not driving along in absolute silence, it won't stand out or become bothersome.
When the going gets spirited, there's surprisingly little body roll for such a big vehicle. Whether or not your Enclave comes with electronic adaptive dampers, its ride is on the comfortable side without feeling like the chassis is wallowing about.
The FWD Enclave is rated at 18 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway, with AWD models sacrificing one mpg each. Impressively, my highway driving showed closer to 30 mpg, although I had an admittedly light touch on the gas and didn't need to do much passing. In the city, my fuel economy was much closer to the EPA numbers, if a little under.
The Buick Enclave's tech complement isn't much different from what you'll find in other new GM vehicles. There's a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that runs on the AT&T network and impresses with its nearly-always-on reception that bests phones from the same carrier. There are USB ports all the way back into the third row. The gauge cluster screen offers a whole bunch of information with only a few presses of a steering wheel button, and an available rearview mirror can function as either a regular mirror or a screen that displays what the backup camera sees.
The Enclave's adaptive cruise control offers low-speed functionality, and it works great, aside from the occasional late brake. I'm not always the most trusting of such systems, but Buick's is pretty well sorted.
Sadly, the Enclave still runs the current version of Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system. While it's snappy enough and it offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, I was hoping it would be the vastly improved infotainment system found in Cadillac's recently updated models (CTS, CT6) and the 2018 GMC Terrain. Alas, no. Perhaps it'll be ready for the mid-cycle refresh in a few years' time or slipped in as a running change.
A base Enclave starts at $40,970, but you probably won't find many of these front-drive models outside a Hertz lot. Most buyers likely be more interested in the $45,190 Essence trim or $48,990 Premium model. If you want a Denali-style upgrade, Buick's fancy new Avenir trim starts at $54,390. Considering some 50 percent of current Enclave owners bought their outgoing models for more than $50,000, I'm sure the Avenir trim will fit in alongside the others just fine.
In fact, I think the whole package will do well. Compared to the old one, it's much easier on the eyes both inside and out, and it rides nicer, too. Add in a heapin' helpin' of tech, and you've got a well-rounded package that should keep the Enclave name kicking for another eight years at least.
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