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PowerSteering: 2018 Buick Enclave Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Buick Enclave Review

By Christian Wardlaw, March 05, 2018
Introduction

Buick, once ridiculed for excessive chrome, wire wheel covers, vinyl roofs, tufted velour upholstery, and mushy driving ‘dynamics,’ remains firmly entrenched as a premium brand sandwiched between Chevrolet and Cadillac in the General Motors hierarchy. Otherwise, Buick is completely different than it was years ago.

For starters, the company builds SUVs now. Aside from the Cascada convertible, Regal Sportback, and LaCrosse, every Buick is a crossover SUV. Additionally, Buick has been taking its design and engineering cues from GM’s former European Opel brand (Opel is no longer a part of the company). As a result, most modern Buicks are visually appealing and enjoyable to drive.

Arguably, Buick’s transformation began a decade ago when the company introduced the first Enclave to the lineup. Larger than the competition, the original Enclave offered a compelling blend of style, power, comfort, and utility.

Now, a redesigned 2018 Buick Enclave is on sale. It closely adheres to the original recipe, improving upon it in almost every way.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Buick Enclave Premium equipped with all-wheel drive, metallic paint, a navigation system, a surround vision camera with a rear camera mirror, and an Experience Buick option package. The price came to $56,390, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Buick Enclave, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this Midsize SUV, and what they liked most and least about their Enclaves.

Buick Enclave owners are more often female, are significantly older, and enjoy a greater median annual household income than the average Midsize SUV owner. J.D. Power data shows that 44% are women (vs. 41% for the segment), they are 65 years of age (vs. 56), and they make $116,892 annually (vs. $113,394). Just 24% are members of Generations Y or Z (vs. 41%).

Few Enclave owners identify as Price Buyers (9% vs. 22% for the segment). They’re also far more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (91% vs. 61%).

Fuel economy is less important to Enclave owners, with 48% agreeing that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 56%). Enclave owners are also more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (59% vs. 42%), even though Buick doesn’t offer such an option.

Style is important to Buick Enclave buyers. J.D. Power data shows that 81% of them like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 70%).

Owners report that their favorite things about the previous Enclave were (in descending order) the driving dynamics, exterior styling, interior design, engine/transmission, and visibility/safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the previous Enclave were (in descending order) the storage and space, seats, climate control system, infotainment system, and by a significant margin, fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Buick Enclave measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Rarely do car companies achieve perfect balance and unassailable cohesiveness in a design, but Buick’s clean, flowing, artfully detailed 2018 Enclave ranks as such an achievement. This is a terrific looking SUV, eye-catching and conveying the upscale luxury it promises to deliver, especially when fitted with one of three available 20-inch wheel designs.

Interior

The flowing themes from the Enclave’s exterior continue inside the vehicle, where Buick has created a comforting, remarkably intimate ambiance given the SUV’s dimensions. Simple and logical controls, clear instrumentation, and a sophisticated infotainment system create a no-nonsense environment let down only by sub-standard materials.

The plastic coating the lower half of the cabin is especially egregious in this regard, as is the fake wood trim. On the center console, the cup holder cover feels like it may snap off with each use. Given that a top-of-the-line Enclave Avenir can exceed $60,000, Buick needs to do better on this front.

Seats

Firm and supportive, the Enclave’s front seats are European in nature, and wrapped in quality leather with exposed stitching. The test vehicle had heated and ventilated front seats, as well as a heated steering wheel, making it ready for any kind of weather.

My kids appreciated the triple-zone climate system, and Buick makes an air ionizer available to Enclave buyers. Second-row captain’s chairs are standard in all Enclave trims, so if you want a bench seat you’ll need to go and shop for a Chevrolet Traverse, which is the same SUV in a different wrapper.

Thigh support is lacking for adults seated in the second row, presumably to ensure that these chairs fold flat when maximum cargo space is required. They slide forward and back to make extra room for third-row passengers, and can recline, though I did not find them to be comfortable in that position.

Accessing the third-row seat is made easier with a Smart Slide right second-row seat, which can be tipped forward even if a child safety seat is installed in that location. Once the third row is loaded, the Smart Slide seat returns to a mid-point in its track to keep from inadvertently crushing the knees and feet of rearmost occupants.

Third-row seat comfort is acceptable to adults for short trip, and as long as the second-row seats are moved forward a bit. The Enclave cannot match the Volkswagen Atlas for comfort in the rearmost row. On a positive note, though, the Enclave’s third row is mounted far enough away from the cargo liftgate that it should be a safer location for children than is provided by most crossovers.

Climate Control System

Tested in Los Angeles during the winter, the 2018 Enclave’s climate control system met no environmental challenge it could not resolve, especially since I kept the panoramic sunroof’s shade closed to cut down on solar heating. On warmer and sunnier days, the ventilated seats worked well, and on cooler and chillier mornings, the heated front and second-row seats kept everyone toasty warm.

As far as the climate controls are concerned, Buick has improved the layout. Previously, three large knobs for temperature and fan speed forced designers to squeeze the secondary buttons together, making it hard to find and use what you wanted. Now, the controls are better sized and located, helping to make them easier to use.

Infotainment System

The new Enclave takes a quantum leap forward in terms of its infotainment system, solving one of the most commonly cited areas of dissatisfaction with the previous version of the SUV.

Featuring a flush-mounted frameless glass surface, modern and colorful graphics, simple function shortcut buttons, and separate radio controls for power, volume, and tuning, the Enclave’s version of Buick IntelliLink is terrific. It features natural voice recognition technology, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and Siri Eyes Free compatibility complete with text messaging support. Navigation is an optional upgrade, as is wireless device charging.

Additionally, the Enclave includes three free months of OnStar subscription services, including a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. OnStar also provides safety-related automatic crash response, roadside assistance, and emergency services. Teen Driver technology is free for as long as you own the vehicle, allowing parents to program specific dynamic attributes and monitor teenaged driver usage of the family SUV, complete with driving report cards.

Buick also installs six USB ports throughout the Enclave, and the test vehicle had a 120-volt 3-prong power outlet in the second row. An entertainment system is not available, but tablet holders are, and in conjunction with the onboard Wi-Fi system and various power sources ought to provide hours of squabble-free travel.

During my time with the Enclave, I found IntelliLink easy to use and trouble-free. From pairing my iPhone to the Bluetooth connection to using voice prompts to find points of interest, this Buick didn’t let me down. And it never left me hanging, feeling stupid for not knowing what to do next or confused about why it wasn’t working the way I expected it to. So refreshing.

Storage and Space

The penalty for the Enclave’s stylish interior is a lack of accessible storage space. The glove box is huge, and the center console storage bin is a decent size, but as far as practical spots in which you can stash things like a smartphone, sunglasses, keys, and other items, space is limited to a tray forward of the shifter and small bins embedded into the front door armrests.

Buick does provide sizable door panel bins, but items can easily slide so far back in them that the driver cannot access them while driving. Similarly, the storage space beneath the console is generous, but you cannot see what’s in there while the Enclave is underway.

Cargo volume is segment leading. In fact, the Enclave’s numbers rival the GMC Yukon with which it shares showroom space at Buick-GMC dealerships. At the same time, though, the new Enclave is not as roomy inside as the old one was.

Behind the rear seat, the Enclave supplies 23.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, including the 3.1 cu.-ft. storage bin below the floor. Fold the third-row seat down to enjoy 58 cu.-ft. of volume. Fold the second-row seats in order to maximize cargo capacity at 97.6 cu.-ft.

One nice feature associated with the hands-free power rear liftgate is that at night, when you approach the back of the Enclave, a Buick logo shines down on the ground in the area where you need to wave your foot to power the liftgate open.

Visibility and Safety

Door-mounted side mirrors and front quarter windows help to improve forward visibility, though the windshield pillars remain somewhat thick. A standard reversing camera and large side view mirrors help to make it easier to see to the sides and back.

Every 2018 Enclave is equipped with a unique front-center air bag, a feature carried over from the previous version of the SUV that is designed to limit injury in opposite-side side-impact collisions. Upgrade to Essence trim for a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert, and rear parking assist sensors.

Premium trim adds forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and front parking sensors. A rear camera mirror is optional for this trim, providing an unobstructed 180-degree video view of what’s behind the Enclave.

Avenir trim adds a surround-view camera system, and as an option buyers can equip this trim with adaptive cruise control and low-speed automatic emergency braking. And this is where I take issue with Buick’s approach to providing safety to Enclave owners. You can get automatic emergency braking as standard equipment on a lowly Toyota Yaris, yet Buick requires its buyers to buy the Avenir trim, and then spend thousands more to obtain this same technology on its upscale SUV, a flagship vehicle for Buick and one that is tailor-made for families.

That makes very little sense.

On a positive note, when you do get into a collision it is helpful to know that the Enclave earns an overall rating of 5 stars from the federal government for crash protection. As this review was written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had not performed testing on the Enclave.

Engine/Transmission

Buick uses a 310-horsepower, direct-injected, 3.6-liter V6 in the new Enclave. It drives the front wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission, and features automatic stop/start technology to improve fuel economy.

Essence trim is equipped with a basic all-wheel-drive system. Premium and Avenir have a more sophisticated Active Twin-Clutch AWD system that gives the driver control over when the system is operational. Push the button on the dashboard to send power to the SUV’s rear wheels.

The V6 provides plenty of motive force for this 4,358-pound vehicle, but isn’t as refined or as viscerally satisfying as some competitors in the premium SUV segment. The transmission is almost always in the right gear for the given situation, only occasionally demonstrating momentary indecision.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, a 2018 Buick Enclave with AWD should return 20 mpg in combined driving. On my usual test loop, the SUV got 19.4 mpg, and I drove with the AWD system engaged for about half the time.

Driving Dynamics

As is true of most modern General Motors vehicles, the Enclave displays clear evidence of dynamic fine-tuning, almost to the point where this SUV behaves exactly as you expect it to at all times. As a result, there is little about which to complain, but at the same time it is easy to forget having driven this Buick.

Though Avenir trim offers access to an exclusive adaptive damping suspension, I’m unconvinced that it is necessary. My Premium trim test vehicle delivered excellent ride and handling qualities, exhibiting only occasional lapses in sophistication. Sharper speed bumps and humps produced excessive front-end bounce, and the suspension sometimes delayed quelling of certain body motions. But overall, this QuietTuned Buick felt predictable, secure, and unexpectedly athletic.

Similarly, the Enclave’s steering and braking systems were perfectly calibrated. Under hard use, the brakes did fade a bit, but they also provided plenty of advance warning that performance was deteriorating. The steering was accurate and nicely weighted, but the Active Return Assist function was sometimes overeager, introducing a hint of artificiality to the system.

Overall, the Buick’s ride and handling qualities are sublime, and without any of the sloppiness that once characterized the brand.

Final Impressions

I’m going to bet that the redesigned 2018 Buick Enclave will be a huge hit, and a deserved one at that.

Aside from interior materials that clearly do not reflect the price point and a questionable structuring of safety technologies, Buick has built a credible competitor to the likes of the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60, and Lexus RX 350L. If you like the look, if you like the drive, and if you like the price, you’re going to like this Buick.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Buick Enclave review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.
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