Engineers will tell you, “Quick, cheap, good: pick any two.” For its first whack at a three-row crossover, GM opted for quick and cheap, and gave us the Buick Rendezvous. Admittedly, the model sold in decent volume– but not because it was quick or good. For 2008, we have Take Two. The Buick Enclave’s styling has already generated far more buzz than the Rendezvous elicited during its entire six-year run. But does the rest of the vehicle measure up to the sensuous sheetmetal?
For once GM has created two (but not quite three) entirely different looks off a common platform. While the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook are Suburban square, the Buick Enclave is all curves. Bends often render a design feminine, but the Enclave’s massive streamlined prow and flared fenders add enough aggression to extend its appeal to both genders– provided it’s fitted with the CXL’s optional seven-spoke 19” wheels. GM has shod the base-trim CX with 18’s, whose size and styling complement the Enclave’s boldly arched fenders about as well as Keds complete an Armani.
The Enclave’s interior also employs organic curves in place of its siblings' angles. Scads of wood and chrome suggest elegance, even opulence. Unfortunately, it is just a suggestion; the materials deployed are so obviously fake that they make a mockery of the Enclave’s luxurious aspirations. Although the quality is about the same as in the Acadia and Outlook (i.e. good), the Buick’s fancy interior styling promises a much more luxurious vehicle. In this case, “good” is not nearly good enough.
The Enclave's class-exceeding exterior dimensions translate into an unusually commodious interior; all those curves do not reduce interior space by a significant amount. The driving position is very good for those of at least average height. The windshield isn't raked too far back, and you don't sit so high above the IP that you feel like you're driving a minivan.
The Enclave’s front seats aren’t especially supportive or comfortable. GM offers better ones in its large SUVs. As in past GM people-haulers, the second row seats are positioned too low to provide anything resembling thigh support. Their main claim to fame: they collapse to provide an extremely wide walk-through to the third row.
The third row, while also low to the floor (aren’t they all?), is actually more comfortable than the second row. Small side bolsters that extend when the seat is deployed effectively avoid the "park bench" feel of most third-row seats. How odd that the Enclave’s best lateral support can be found in the third row.
A top priority for GM: providing class-leading cargo room behind the third row. In this, they succeeded. The cargo volume is substantially greater than that of any competitor. Both the second and third rows fold flat without removing any headrests to further extend the cargo area.
The Enclave only became feasible for GM this year; the 275-horsepower 3.6-liter DOHC V6 requires stump-pulling gear ratios to adequately accelerate 4,800 pounds of crossover (a full five large with AWD). Last year, every automatic transaxle in GM’s cupboard possessed only four ratios, the first of which would have been hopelessly tall. This year’s new six-speed, while occasionally indecisive and generally slow to react, at least provides suitable ratios.
In short, the Enclave is not slow. Some will argue that “not slow” is not quick enough. But does Mercedes’ R63 AMG make any sense whatsoever? In general, people-haulers need to haul people, not light-up tires.
The Enclave’s handling feels confident and intuitive in high-speed sweepers. Body motions are well-controlled, understeer and body lean are moderate, and transitions are fluid. Tackle some tighter twisties and the picture changes. The Enclave suddenly feels cumbersome and out of its element. The CX’s SUV-spec tires are a mixed bag: they scream early, but not loudly. Enclave drivers are well advised to keep their speed down in the bendy bits.
Better yet, hit the Interstate, where the Enclave shines. Ride quality isn’t quite luxury sedan smooth, but it’s closer than you’ll find in most tall vehicles, with little bobbing about or minor impact harshness. Best of all, even at 80mph the Enclave’s interior remains hushed. The Acadia and Outlook are hardly noisy inside, but the Enclave sets a new standard for quietness. Your eyes may attest that the Enclave is no American Lexus, but your ears will want to argue the point.
So much of the Buick Enclave is so right— the sensuous exterior, the roomy versatile interior, the smooth silent ride— it’s a shame the interior lacks genuine class. Similarly equipped, the Enclave sells for nearly the same price as the GMC Acadia, with which it shares showrooms. If GM had put another grand into the Enclave’s interior, they could have kicked-up the MSRP and brought some major glory to the Buick brand.