Buick's Enclave is a safe, nonthreatening choice in its class of midsize, seven-seat SUVs. The updated model doesn't disappoint and even improves over last year with better in-car tech. Meanwhile, the driver-assistance suite continues to check all of the right boxes -- even with a few caveats -- and its performance and efficiency are both pretty good.
The Enclave's exterior design is handsome, especially with the new Sport Touring Edition appearance package for this Essence trim tester that adds a dark mesh grille and large chrome-and-graphite 20-inch wheels. Still, the overall look is samey, and the Enclave doesn't stand out among its peers. Turns out, that's a recurring theme with the 2020 Enclave, too. The SUV is fairly ordinary and middle-of-the-road by most measures. It's not bad, but also not great. And in this highly competitive class, "pretty good" might not be good enough.
The previous-generation Intellilink multimedia suite was already decent, but the new GM Infotainment 3 system is a substantial step up in terms of architecture, features and ease of use.
Behind the scenes, there's more powerful hardware and processing, which makes for smoother interactions with the 8-inch capacitive touchscreen. On the software side, the new interface is phone-esque, with a grid of icons that you can tap, swipe and drag around to reorganize as you see fit.
At the bottom of the screen is an ever-present shortcut bar with color-coded links to the home screen, audio sources, phone, navigation and climate controls. This gives it consistency and organization. The bar also includes an area to the right with notifications, wireless signal strength, temperature and time, each of which can also be tapped to quickly pop over to secondary menus.
Onboard, map-based navigation is an optional upgrade for most trim levels, but not really a necessary one thanks to the standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Anyone who has a phone in their pocket and a USB cable lying around already has access to better maps and app integration for the low price of free-ninety-nine. That said, Infotainment 3's navigation works well and now boasts new predictive destination suggestions and web-connected point-of-interest search.
A third navigation option exists in the form of standard OnStar turn-by-turn directions. You can call an OnStar operator with the touch of a button or use the OnStar app to request and download voice-guided instructions (but no live map) to the dashboard. The service is, of course, subscription-based, but Buick includes a few months of free service for new users -- which includes 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity for up to 10 onboard devices -- to get you hooked.
Data connectivity, it turns out, is also useful for the system's ability to cloud-sync profiles for multiple users across multiple Infotainment 3-equipped vehicles supporting this dashboard technology. Each driver can maintain their own favorite destinations, preferences and logins for onboard apps like Spotify, Glympse, iHeartRadio and more. This is convenient for families who share one or more GM vehicles.
The Enclave's interior is pleasant and spacious with premium materials -- not what I'd call luxurious, but well-constructed and generally pleasing to the touch. The Essence trim level steps up to leather seats for the first and second rows. My example is equipped with optional captain's chairs for the latter. This setup is good for transporting adults who will appreciate the extra shoulder room and individually adjustable legroom. The ability to slide the second row seats forward a tad can also free up a bit of extra knee-room for the third row.
That said, the captain's chairs are a mixed blessing. Choosing this option drops the Enclave's seating capacity to six souls rather than the seven afforded by the standard bench, and the space between the seats can allow unsecured items stored in the rear to slide forward during emergency stops when the third row is folded flat.
I should note that the Enclave's lift-and-slide mechanism for accessing the third row is only found on the passenger-side captain's chair and not the driver's side. This is good for encouraging safer curbside loading and unloading of passengers, but not great for flexibility.
The Enclave's third row is about as spacious as its closest competitors. There's decent legroom and headroom for my 5-foot, 9-inch frame, but not much wiggle room for a taller adult. With the seats folded flat, the rear hatch storage area expands from 23.6 cubic feet to 97.6, putting the Enclave among the best in its class. One of my favorite cargo features on the Enclave is a hidden storage space beneath the flat false cargo floor, which is great for keeping the SUV looking tidy and organized while hiding objects, like bags, from prying eyes.
Safety tech is as important -- if not more important -- than cabin tech gadgets in this family-friendly class, and the Enclave's list of features is proof that Buick understands that. Most of the best active safety features, however, are only accessible at the top trim levels.
The standard safety tech loadout includes a rear camera, which is surprisingly high quality. The camera's feed is sharply rendered with excellent low-light sensitivity, which makes seeing what's happening behind the car a clear and pleasant experience. With so many vehicles -- yes, even luxury cars -- these days cheaping out with low-quality cameras, this is a real bonus.
Stepping up to the Essence trim nets you forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, all passive features that tell the driver when something goes awry. For active safety tech -- including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic forward-collision-mitigation braking -- you'll have to step up to the top-tier Avenir model and then choose the optional tech package. This one pushes the price to the limits of good value, especially considering the competing 2020 Toyota Highlander comes standard with all of these features at its base trim level.
The performance of the Enclave continues the theme of being solid, but not standing out. In the engine bay you'll find GM's 3.6-liter V6 engine putting out 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque via a 9-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive being an option. That seems like the right amount of power for a vehicle of this size, but only just. The engine feels and sounds like it's always working hard, straining up hills and during acceleration. I should clarify that the V6 isn't underpowered, but it also doesn't feel effortless. That's not much of a nitpick, but its audible laboring is a bit out of character with Buick's "QuietTuning" approach to the rest of the chassis.
QuietTuning is Buick-speak for the company's attention to controlling noise and harshness in the Enclave's cabin. This starts with a soft, smooth suspension which does an excellent job of delivering a comfortable ride, as well as decent control and responsiveness during cornering. This 4,685-pound SUV isn't a canyon-carver by any stretch of the imagination, but it rounds corners predictably without tripping over its own feet or feeling too mushy.
Extra QuietTuning noise reduction material throughout the cabin and active noise cancellation helps keep the Enclave quiet on the road, cutting down on road and wind noise. This has the double-edged effect of greatly reducing mental fatigue during commutes and long highway stretches, but also ironically highlights the not-so-great-sounding engine when you need to get up and go.
Fuel economy is, as expected, pretty middle-of-the-road, with the front-wheel-drive Enclave returning an EPA-estimated 21 combined miles per gallon, or 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Step up to all-wheel-drive and step down to 20 mpg combined, 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That's not too bad a hit, leaving the Enclave AWD slightly better than the Volkswagen Atlas AWD (19 mpg combined) and just below the Kia Telluride AWD (21 mpg), Honda Pilot AWD (22 mpg) and Mazda CX-9 AWD (23 mpg). Then again, for about as much money as the Enclave, a thriftier buyer could land a 35-mpg 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid...
The 2020 Buick Enclave starts at a tidy $40,000 for the base FWD Preferred trim level in Summit White -- for the lower trim levels, every other color choice adds at least $495 extra. At the top of the line is the Avenir trim for $56,100, with the Essence ($42,000) and Premium ($48,400) models along the way.
The Enclave Essence is the sweet spot in the lineup, keeping the price in check while still optioning a few safety technologies and creature comforts. I'd go ahead and pay for the paint -- life's too short to drive a plain-white SUV -- but skip the optional $1,395 upgrade for navigation since Android Auto is good enough for me. My example also includes the $1,695 upgrade to the Sport Touring Edition with 20-inch wheels and a dark-mesh grille, as well as a $2,000 all-wheel-drive upcharge. Factor in a $1,195 destination fee to reach my as-tested price of $47,385.
Light-footed drivers desiring a comfortable, spacious and quiet ride will enjoy what the Buick has to offer, but more spirited drivers will be mildly annoyed by the powertrain. Those opting for the upper trim levels will be pleased by the tech, but more frugal buyers will be drawn to more generous standard features offered by the competition at lower trim levels.
For the money, the Enclave isn't a fantastic value. At this under-$50K price level, it competes with everything from the Volkswagen Atlas to the significantly more fuel efficient Toyota Highlander Hybrid, both of which come in fully loaded for around what the Buick's midtier costs. That said, Buick almost constantly offers generous incentives that bring the price down to more competitive levels, but even so the Enclave is still not the best choice in this crowded, competitive class.