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2014 Buick Enclave Test Drive Review
[I]f you’re in a bit of a hurry or simply anxious to get home, the Enclave is a vehicle you can comfortably stick in the left-most passing lane and use to easily pull away from the masses.
When it debuted for the 2008 model year, the Enclave straddled the Buick brand on its back and drove it into the minds of new generations of buyers. Six years later, and one after a refresh, the Enclave continues to impress with its style, versatility and value, even as the need for improvements grows more obvious.
Look and Feel
After a significant update for the 2013 model year, the 2014 Buick Enclave returns with relatively few tweaks, especially in terms of styling. There are no notable visual changes to announce, which means this full-size crossover carries over with what was once arguably the most attractive exterior among General Motors’ trio of 3-row car-based people movers. To my eye, that title now belongs to the freshened Chevrolet Traverse, thanks in large part to its sleek, sporty front end.
Putting that subjective opinion aside, one might expect the Enclave to earn its premium-brand stripes with a top-notch interior. At first glance, that does indeed appear to be the case, until you take a closer look and touch the materials. Durable leather is stitched to the front of the seats, yet the sides are covered in mesh fabric and what feels like pleather, with the latter also found on the armrests. An abundance of hard plastics is located on the lower doors and center console, though it’s countered by padded surfaces on the dash and instrument panel, chrome-trimmed rubber grips on the primary controls, and a quality headliner. Speaking of what’s overhead, some Enclave models are available with a moonroof and semi-transparent sunscreen that doesn’t retract electronically, but instead uses a manual clip that releases the screen in a spring-like fashion. In a Buick, it appears to be an out-of-place, low-budget solution.
Shoppers interested in the 2014 Enclave are offered a choice of three trim levels, starting with the front-wheel-drive (FWD) $39,655 Convenience (all prices include a $925 destination charge). In exchange for nearly 40 large, the base trim delivers a host of standard features including tri-zone automatic climate control, remote start, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic HID headlights, a power liftgate, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals and 7-passenger seating with second-row captain’s chairs and a split-folding third-row bench. Among the Convenience’s options are a navigation system, Bose audio, a rear-seat DVD entertainment package and all-wheel-drive (AWD) capability.
Covering the middle of the Buick Enclave lineup is the $43,680 Leather variant, which adds standard heated front seats, memory settings for 2 drivers and 19-inch alloys. Available extras mirror those of the Convenience, though 20-inch wheels are also incorporated into the mix.
If neither of those trim levels piques your interest, the more luxurious Enclave Premium just might. Priced from $47,240, this model is equipped with a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, additional safety features, auto-dimming and power-folding exterior mirrors, 19-inch chrome rims, standard Bose speakers and adaptive headlights. A Surround Sound audio system is optional.
For this review, I drove an AWD version of the Enclave Premium, decked out with White Diamond Tricoat paint, the navigation system, a moonroof, 20-inch alloys and a towing package. The window sticker read $53,405.
Unlike most of my test drives, which take place relatively close to my home in southern Maine, my evaluation of the 2014 Buick Enclave spanned several states and more than 1,000 miles when all was said and done. I’d been itching for a road trip, and this was my opportunity.
Buick invited me to Ohio to get some seat time in the 2014 Regal, LaCrosse (covered in a separate review) and Enclave. For some reason, I thought I’d be flying into and driving out of Cleveland, in the northern part of the state. As it turned out, I flew into Cincinnati and started my trek home from a small town in Kentucky, affording me an unexpected extra few hours to get acquainted with my ride back to New England.
Before I’d even sat my butt on the driver’s seat, I noticed that the folks at Buick had handed me keys to a heavily equipped top-of-the-line Enclave. With a sticker price in the mid $50s, I expected to instead get a fob with a proximity function that allowed me to unlock the doors with just a touch from my finger and a push-button ignition when I got inside. It’s a minor complaint, but keep in mind that the latter is common in mainstream Kias and Nissans these days, and should be available on the Enclave.
Turning the key brought to life the one and only powertrain found within the Enclave lineup. Boasting 288 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, the direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimates are 17 mpg in the city, 24 on the highway and 19 combined for FWD models, and 16/22/18 for AWD Enclaves like mine. I averaged 20.9 mpg. For those interested in knowing, the 2014 Enclave has a 2,000-pound tow rating that can be increased to 4,500 pounds when an optional Trailer Provision Package is added.
There’s no denying this Buick is a large ride. And, tipping the scales at nearly 5,000 pounds, it's a heavy one, too. Thankfully, that’s not the feeling you get from behind the wheel, as the engine provides all the giddyup necessary for confident acceleration and worry-free merging. At cruising speeds, whether they were 80 mph on the turnpike or 45 mph on a local secondary road, the mill under the hood hummed along smoothly and with refinement, a trait that carried over to the occasional full-throttle flog. As I discovered, if you’re in a bit of a hurry or simply anxious to get home, the Enclave is a vehicle you can comfortably stick in the left-most passing lane and use to easily pull away from the masses.
That’s not to say the Enclave is terribly quick—it isn’t. However, the combination of an appropriately powered engine, a transmission that has a knack for selecting the right gear at the right time and a responsive chassis make the Enclave as much a pleasure to drive at law-bending highway speeds as creeping through a school zone at noon. Aided in part by optional 20-inch alloys and a hydraulic rack-and-pinion setup, my test car’s steering wasn’t overly light, meaning I felt more in tune with the road—more in control—than anticipated. I won’t go so far as to say the Enclave is fun to drive, but it is certainly enjoyable.
After hours trying to finally exit Ohio, I also appreciated the Enclave’s quiet interior. Buick has put a lot of effort into this aspect of its design, and the payoff is a cabin largely isolated from road, wind, tire and engine noises. Some say this translates to a less-stressful driving experience. I’d tend to agree.
Of course, a review wouldn’t be complete without reference to the quality of the Enclave’s ride. Like the steering, the suspension is more taut than floaty, with bumps and potholes successfully absorbed and handled by the chassis, thereby restricting most ill effects from reaching the driver or passengers.
Form and Function
More than just transportation from point A to point B, my 2014 Enclave test car also played the role of mini RV. As hours lagged on and unwelcome traffic limited my northward progress, I resorted to using the Buick as a place to dine on questionable gas-mart cuisine, to catch a quick and hopefully refreshing nap and, somewhere in Pennsylvania, to temporarily transform into a motel room with a bed of folded seats and a blanket of extra clothes. No, not ideal, but much better than the last Motel 6 I stayed in.
During those long stretches of driving, I was happy the Enclave has decent padding on the armrests and a leather- and wood-trimmed, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel set to a position that was comfortable for me. The spacious bucket offered somewhat firm cushions that proved to be commendably supportive over the course of 1,000+ miles. When I left Kentucky, I took advantage of the Enclave Premier’s triple-setting cooling feature for the front seats, but gradually set the dial to one of the warmer settings as I drew closer to home. No matter where you travel, this is a nice perk.
The standard second-row captain’s chairs provide similar support, albeit with a little less for thighs. They also recline and include fold-down center armrests. Those are the positives. On the flip side, an elevated rear floor caused my knees to be raised uncomfortably high, and I’m only 5’8”. This setup would likely be even more problematic for taller folks, who may also find fault with the hard front seatbacks (not kind to knees), and a general lack of foot room. Passengers who do find themselves situated back there will benefit from the rear climate controls and a household-style outlet suitable for charging DVD players, portable games and other devices.
That brings us to the third row. Not surprisingly, this is the least hospitable spot to sit. My knees were grinding against the second-row seatback, foot space was negligible, and the seat itself is hard, flat, narrow and too upright. Access is facilitated by those second-row captain’s chairs that tumble and slide forward.
When those rear rows are folded flat, the 23.3-cubic-foot cargo area expands to a whopping 115.2 cubes. That’s a definite plus, offset slightly by a high floor. Elsewhere in the cabin are lots of places to put your road-trip wares, including an ample glovebox, seatback and door pockets, several cupholders and a deep storage well under the front center armrest.
Like other Buicks, the 2014 Enclave is fitted with an updated IntelliLink infotainment system featuring, in this case, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, new rear charge-only USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, text-to-voice functionality and integrated smartphone-based apps such as Pandora and Stitcher. A Wi-Fi Connectivity Package is optional.
The navigation system on my test car rose to the challenge of getting me from a rather rural area of Kentucky to my hometown, about 60 miles north of Boston. Icons on the screen were intuitive and easy to understand, though they did require a bit of a heavy tap to actuate. The buttons around the screen (home, source, seek, back, navigation, etc.) are unusual in that they don’t depress when pushed. Instead, they’re activated by a light touch, leaving you without clear confirmation that the system has responded to your command. If the entire instrument panel had been designed that way, I would’ve probably gradually grown accustomed to it. Yet, with more traditional climate control buttons located directly below, the setup seemed a little odd.
With seating for up to 8 passengers, it’s reasonable to assume the 2014 Buick Enclave will serve the transportation needs of busy families, shuttling kids to school and practices, helping dad load up on supplies from Home Depot, or maybe chauffeuring mom and a few of her close friends to the lake for a girls-only weekend. Whatever the situation, safety is a primary concern.
Buick engineers evidently understand that, as the Enclave has essentially aced independent crash tests. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded Buick’s large crossover 5 (out of 5) stars overall, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has bestowed the Enclave with its best-possible Good rating in all test categories (though it did stop short of naming the Enclave a Top Safety Pick).
Credit for this impressive performance goes to the vehicle’s design and architecture, as well as components like 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, 7 airbags and electronic stability control. Other features, though not directly impacting crash-test results, also contribute to the safety effort and include a standard rear-view camera, rear parking sensors and OnStar telematics with emergency response services. Leather models go one step further by adding a blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, while the Enclave Premium is equipped with new-for-2014 lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert systems.
If you watch or read the news with any regularity, there’s optimism to be found in a strong stock market and understandable pessimism related to reports of rising healthcare costs and stagnant wages. For car buyers, whether riding atop the Dow Jones wave or anxiously awaiting an overdue cost-of-living bump in their salary, value doesn’t change. We’re all interested in getting our money’s worth.
From that perspective, the 2014 Buick Enclave is a strong contender, if not a clear-cut winner. Though its nearly $40,000 base price is hardly chump change, that figure actually undercuts competitors from Acura, Infiniti and Lexus by thousands of dollars. On the other hand, those rivals offer superior fuel economy. Residual values for the 2014 Enclave were not available when this review was written, but looking at the numbers for 2013, all of these vehicles were in the same ballpark. For example, a base 2013 Lexus RX 350 AWD was estimated to hold 55 percent of its original value after 36 months, whereas a 2013 Buick Enclave Convenience AWD came in at 52 percent.
Equally important is how a vehicle will treat its owner over the long term. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the 2014 Enclave should deliver above-average dependability. Consumer Reports recommends the Enclave and suggests buyers will experience average reliability.
Thom is a lifelong car nut, owning cars ranging from Datsuns to Mustang GTs and, currently, a Hemi-powered Ram 1500. He has spent the past 15 years writing objective, thorough vehicle reviews and consumer-focused feature articles for Autobytel.com, Kelley Blue Book, The Boston Globe, Cars.com, and other leading websites and publications.
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