When better cars are built, Buick will build them. Meanwhile, they’re building CUV’s. Huh? An automotive brand whose lack of identity has kept it on life support for well over a decade wants a piece of a vehicular genre that’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and nothing in particular. GM’s willingness– make that “eagerness”– to throw Buick a CUV-shaped, badge-engineered bone demonstrates the corporate mothership’s abject and ongoing inability to devise a coherent plan to resuscitate its “damaged” (i.e. terminal) Buick brand. What is it with these guys?
Anyway, calling a vehicle of the Enclave’s epic dimensions a crossover forces us to expand the genre’s definition from “cute ute” to “the bastard child of a minivan and a full-sized SUV.” That said, Buick's CUV on steroids is a surprisingly graceful design. Well-judged chrome accents abound, from the door trim to the blinged-out wheels. The premium paint job is worth the extra cash; a pearl-coated Enclave’s spizzarkle will make Cadillac owners scowl into their prune juice.
The purpose of these porky proportions lies within. Much like Danielewski’s house of blue, the Enclave is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Sliding second row seats can provide as much or as little rear space as needed, depending on the degree of family bonding desired. Optional middle-row bench seats up the capacity to eight, for maximum character building. And accoutrements abound, giving backseat drivers their choices of entertainment and environmental controls.
Though I applaud GM’s brave decision to hire the blind to color-match the Enclave’s interior, the model’s beige leather, floor and ceiling clash with the ashy brown door trim; which is irritatingly beset with medium-shaded wood accents. The plastics are alternately hard and soft– softer where contact is inevitable and harder where only masochists dare to tread (especially after initial, revulsion-inducing contact).
Brushed metal trim on the door handles add (ADD?) to the boggle factor. The dash provides a similar lack of coherence; chrome strips and an analog clock top off the WTF factor. Wood also makes a guest appearance on the steering wheel, playing the role of the suave but untrustworthy stranger. Note to Buick: wood or metal, pick a side.
The number of dashboard controls never reaches the sheer distraction level of an MDX, but it’s not for lack of trying. After a brief tussle with the Enclave’s electronic seating controls, during which the memory function attempted to crush my kneecaps, we were on the road.
After driving a selection of super-sized SUVs, I squared off for battle with yon steering wheel, only to find it surprisingly light and responsive. The closet enthusiast may be disgusted by the lack of road feel and steering feedback, but then, they’re not likely to purchase something of these epic proportions. The average luxobarge driver will appreciate the Enclave's easy, quick steering and wonderfully cushy suspension.
In fact, you can easily forget you’re piloting a 2.5 ton vehicle– until you attempt brisk acceleration. With its V6 kicking-out 275hp and 251 ft.-lbs. of torque, the Enclave literally lags behind its natural rivals. Zero to sixty takes 8.4 seconds; the Acura MDX gets the job done in 7.2 and the Mazda CX-9 arrives in 7.5.
The Enclave’s six-speed automatic transmission is a step ahead of standard GM fare, but the gearbox serves-up early upshifts and late downshifts, with a heavy side of throttle lag. You can take matters into your own hands with shift lever-mounted buttons, but chances are you won’t.
The Enclave comes complete with airbags for all and the usual alphabet stew of safety equipment: ABS, TPMS, ESC and Anti-Rollover Logic (if your common sense fails). Nav-equipped vehicles offer a rear view camera, a handy option in a car with this much bounteous booty.
The $33k-ish (and up) front wheel-drive Enclave offers a considerable amount of value for driver who can appreciate the subtle luxuries within. Actually, “near luxury” pretty much nails it. For significantly less money than its foreign luxury competitors, you can buy a Buick Enclave and pretend you’re driving a mid- to large-sized luxury SUV– without the handling, performance or reputation.
Alternatively, for a few thousand dollars less, you can buy either one of the Enclave’s non-identical twins: the Saturn Outlook or GMC Acadia. Or wait for the Chevy version. Or just wonder why GM builds better Buicks in China, and then sells four versions of the same CUV in America, reserving the best looking one for their doomed division, without giving it a proper V8 to distinguish it from its automotive homonyms.