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2018 Buick Enclave Test Drive Review
With a full redesign, Buick attempts to lure American audiences to the 2018 Enclave with an attractive face, a quiet cabin and enhanced towing capacity.
After a first generation that lasted a decade, the Enclave returns for its second generation in 2018 sporting an updated look, a stretched wheelbase, more power and less weight. That’s a winning combination no matter the model, but adding space for passengers and more mileage for owners in a Buick is a sure step in the right direction.
Look and Feel
If you’re looking for quiet comfort, the 2018 Buick Enclave is a great place to find yourself. The first-generation Enclave was a benchmark for muffled cabins in the industry, and the second generation only ups the ante in the tranquility department with extra sound deadening, an acoustic windshield and even a noise-canceling system to ensure the driver can speak with passengers even at highway speeds. Couple that with increased space for rear passengers, a longer wheelbase, and standard second-row captain’s chairs, and the Enclave is a great place to eat up some miles whether you’re a driver or a passenger.
The exterior redesign may just be the big winner for the Enclave this year, as its attractive, swooping lines present a much more elegant facade than the bulbous bore it was previously. Aggressive fenders add a bit of sport to the mix, and the near-ubiquitous floating-roof design has made an appearance here as well, visually lightening the Enclave’s silhouette.
With a starting MSRP of $39,995, the Enclave increases in price by almost a grand this year, but you will get more. With standard LEDs, remote engine start, 3-zone auto climate control and rear parking sensors, you’re getting a lot even with the base trim, but I think the Essence is where most buyers should start. With that trim you’ll get features that should mitigate many of the visibility issues from which the Enclave suffers, with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alerts and an optional top-down camera, as well as standard leather and the options of all-wheel drive (AWD) and the towing package with increased capacity. For $44,300, that’s a great deal and where I feel a lot of buyers will find themselves.
At $48,100, the Premium trim’s front parking sensors, Bose stereo, ventilated front seats and heated rears, along with a heated steering wheel, power-folding third-row seating and increased autonomous safety systems, like low-speed forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning and intervention, should tempt the more tech-savvy out there, though I find it strange that a driver's-seat memory system doesn’t show up until this trim.
Finally, the Enclave debuts the new Avenir trim—think Denali for Buick—a $53,500 version that adds fancy features like 20-inch alloys, an enhanced driver-info screen, rear camera display in the rear-view mirror and standard navigation, sunroof and top-down camera. Additionally, the Avenir offers upgraded leather and interior trim and opens up options like an adaptive suspension, adaptive cruise with auto brake, and aero shutters for the grille.
My week with the Enclave was spent in a Premium fitted with the AWD system, as well as options like the dual moonroof ($1,400), 20-inch alloys ($1,400), the reversing camera ($825), the towing package ($650) and navigation ($495). I should also mention that for every trim other than Avenir, all colors other than the standard white are paid options. Here I had White Frost TriCoat for $995. With delivery, this brought my total to $57,055.
Buick’s brand focuses so much on quiet luxury and comfort, I worry the improvements here will get overshadowed. And that would be a shame, because they’re substantial. A new 3.6-liter V6 will push the Enclave to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds if you go with front-wheel drive (FWD), and that’s a full second faster than 2017. Choosing AWD will slow things down a bit, pushing it closer to 7 seconds, but that’s still an impressive time for a large, 3-row crossover.
With 302 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque passing through GM’s new 9-speed transmission, the 4,400-pound Enclave adds another 2-3 mpg in 2018, depending on the trim and configuration, with the Premium AWD trim I tested rating at 17 mpg city, 25 highway, 20 combined. This is helped by an estimated 350-pound weight loss this year. Many have criticized GM’s new 9-speed for being a finicky, frustrating mess, and previous examples I’ve driven have borne this out. Buick claims there’s a new shifting program here in the Enclave, but I experienced a lot of the same indecisiveness on the part of the transmission, with it shifting up and down even when trying to maintain speed. I probably pay more attention to transmission character than your average shopper, however, so take a grain of salt with that opinion.
As for AWD, there are actually two available systems here, depending on the trim you choose. Base Enclaves are available only with FWD, while the Essence comes with the option of an open-differential AWD system that handles traction loss via the antilock braking system. Much better is the twin-clutch differential system on the Premier and Avenir trims, which operates more like Acura’s Super-Handling AWD. It’s a much smoother, more elegant system, and Buick boasts it’s the first push-button AWD system for the company—another boost to fuel economy.
Finally, some caveats. GM wanted to go with a pushbutton transmission control for the Enclave, but claims to have run out of room. Instead, we are left with an unintuitive gearstick with a dogleg reverse and a button for Park. I’m not sure how it takes up any less room than buttons would, but it’s a confusing approach I hope Buick will change soon. Additionally, the start/stop system is one of the more abrupt I’ve experienced. It often restarted the engine halfway through a red light, causing the whole car to jerk forward slightly, like when you’d put an old automatic into gear. This needs to be fixed.
Form and Function
Let me take it as a foregone conclusion that if you’re looking at a Buick, you’re interested in how quiet and well-built the car is. I can unequivocally state the Enclave presents one of the quietest cabins I’ve ever tested. More than that, fit and finish are absolutely up to the competition here, with upscale materials and no visible panel gaps.
Curiously, there are some issues with regard to features and options. Adaptive cruise and the adaptive suspension are available only if you go with the top-tier Avenir trim, and that means spending more than 60 grand. And no matter how much you spend, you’ll be stuck with manually operated sunshades for the moonroofs. They’re built well and operate easily, and I honestly prefer them to power shades, because they’re lighter, quicker and less complicated, but if you open the rear shade—easily accomplished from the driver’s seat—you won’t be able to close it again without getting out of the driver’s seat. That’s a curious decision.
Cargo space drops this year despite the wheelbase increasing to 120.9 inches, but remains competitive at 23.6 cubic feet in the trunk, 58 behind the second row and 97.6 total. Instead, Buick has put this extra space into the passenger compartment, a good choice. And with towing capacity increasing by 500 pounds to 5,000 total, overall utility improves as well.
My biggest complaint is with visibility, because there are blind spots at every corner. I have a very hard time judging where the front of the Enclave begins, and with front parking sensors not showing up until the Premium trim, that’s a concern. Rear quarter views are even worse, and while the multitude of optional cameras and safety systems certainly helps, this is still a problem.
Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are big boons for the Enclave this year, especially considering you still have to pay for navigation unless you go for the Avenir. Sadly, that’s also the only trim that offers the adaptive suspension, adaptive cruise, and highway-speed auto braking as well.
While the FWD offers an impressive list of tech like LED headlights, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition with remote start, 3-zone auto climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, Bluetooth, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, 4G LTE, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a bevy of 6 USB ports, including 4 for rear passengers, the blind-spot monitoring system and top-down camera of the Essence are necessary for full visibility and safety.
Premium trims add the low-speed forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and auto braking, lane-departure warning and intervention, front parking sensors and a Bose 10-speaker premium audio system, and they represent a good value for the increased price.
Excusing the safety systems buried in the higher trim levels, the 2018 Enclave enjoys favorable ratings from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with a 5-star overall rating marred only by a 4-star rating for rollover and front passenger impact tests.
Personally, I’d like to see some visibility improvements for overall safety, but it’s braking that really lets me down, with the Enclave taking more than 130 feet to stop from 60 mph.
Upscale luxury is a difficult topic when it comes to cost-effectiveness. After all, you can buy a Chevy Traverse—the vehicle upon which the Enclave is based—for a lot less money. With the Enclave, you’ll get some fancier materials, a quieter cabin and a little bit more luxury, and for some that’s worth a little extra cash. Others will never see the value there, and that’s the uphill battle brands like Buick, Lincoln, Acura and Audi will always be climbing.
A current $750 cash allowance from GM makes the prospect more tempting for those who would prefer not to have a Chevy bowtie on their grille. If you’re looking for a quiet entrance into the luxury 3-row crossover segment, the Enclave isn’t a bad choice at all.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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