2020 Buick Enclave Review

Christian Wardlaw | Apr 16, 2020

Introduction

The biggest Buick you can buy, and the only one made in the U.S.A., is the Enclave. A midsize crossover SUV with a full-size interior and seating for up to seven people, the 2020 Buick Enclave is a modern-day equivalent of the legendary Estate wagons of the past. All it’s missing is some simulated wood paneling on the sides.

Naturally, given Buick’s premium brand aspiration, the Enclave aims higher than mainstream models such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer, even though upper trims of the Chevy and Ford easily match the Buick in terms of price. Window stickers start at $41,195 (including a destination fee of $1,195) for Preferred trim, which has standard cloth seats. Upgrades include Essence, Premium, and Avenir trim, and after choosing all-wheel drive, metallic paint, and a few options, the price of the Avenir rises to nearly $60,000.

Several changes accompany the 2020 Enclave. Technology upgrades include a next-generation infotainment system with available connected navigation and enhanced SiriusXM 360L, a high-definition rear camera mirror, and a high-definition surround-view camera system. Top Premium and Avenir trims get massaging front seats, and a new Sport Touring Package with special 20-inch wheels and a revised grille design is offered with Essence trim.

2020 Buick Enclave Avenir front view in black

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Enclave Avenir equipped with the Technology Package. The price came to $59,390, including the destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Enclave, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to all owners in the midsize SUV segment, Enclave owners skew female (47% vs 44%) and are substantially older in terms of median age (64 years vs. 56). In fact, J.D. Power data shows that only 5% of Enclave owners are under 40 years of age (vs. 18%). Enclave owners are wealthier, too, enjoying a median annual household income of $131,649 (vs. $116,933).

Buick Enclave owners are far more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (87% vs. 56% for the segment). They’re also more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (88% vs. 83%).

They are far less likely, however, to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (57% vs. 65%) or to strongly agree that reliability is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (56% vs. 65%). Enclave owners are also less likely to agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (46% vs. 56%).

Styling and design matter to Buick Enclave owners. They are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (79% vs. 69%) and they’re less likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (32% vs. 37%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Enclave are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, exterior styling, interior design, visibility and safety, and the engine/transmission and the storage and space (in a tie). Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Enclave are (in descending order) the seats, infotainment system, climate control system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Buick Enclave measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Good looks make the Buick Enclave especially appealing. There isn’t a bad line on this perfectly proportioned, rakish, and upscale SUV. And while the Enclave Avenir offers extra adornment it is applied with enough restraint to avoid a gaudy appearance.

2020 Buick Enclave Avenir exterior view in black

Interior

Stylishly minimalist, the Enclave’s interior design is artfully executed. The test vehicle had the rather dour Ebony interior color; for greater color and contrast, choose one of the Enclave’s four other hues.

2020 Buick Enclave Avenir interior and dashboard view

Quality is a mixed bag. Many plastic pieces reflect the Enclave’s starting price, making them harder to accept at loaded levels of specification. A glaring example is the simulated rather than real wood dashboard trim in the top-shelf Avenir.

Seats

Wide, roomy, and offering a range of power adjustments, the front seats are quite comfortable. In my experience, you can drive an Enclave for hours without needing a break. New massaging front seats enhance comfort in the Enclave’s two top trim levels, and the test vehicle’s front seats were also heated and ventilated.

Second-row captain’s chairs are standard, limiting seating capacity to a maximum of seven (and just four when the third-row seat is folded down). The captain’s chairs offer plenty of room for adults and slide forward to make extra space for anyone seated in the third row. A Smart Slide function works when a child safety seat is installed, though it’s fairly easy for grown-ups to step through between the seats.

With the second-row seats moved to their middle position, adults fit in the Enclave’s third-row seat. However, the bottom cushion lacks thigh support, so this Buick is not as comfortable in the way-back as some three-row competitors, such as the Volkswagen Atlas.

Climate Control System

Divorced from the infotainment system, the Enclave’s climate controls are a simple collection of buttons and knobs, and the test vehicle included separate second-row seat controls and an air ionization system.

In spite of the test vehicle’s black leather interior, dual-panel sunroof, and the bright spring sunshine, the triple-zone climate control system effectively cooled the cabin with little waiting. No doubt the ventilated front seats helped in this regard, and the round overhead air vents for the rear passengers assist to properly direct airflow.

On cold days, the Avenir’s heated front and second-row seats are no doubt helpful, as is the automatic heated steering wheel.

Infotainment System

Equipped with new features such as connected navigation and upgraded SiriusXM 360L satellite radio, the Enclave’s infotainment system is a model of simplicity and ease of use. However, especially in a vehicle aiming at an upscale audience, an 8-inch display size is increasingly antiquated no matter how great the graphics are or how fast the system responds to input.

Additional highlights include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Buick Connected Services through OnStar. The Wi-Fi and OnStar require a subscription to use, but the standard Teen Driver parental report card technology does not cost extra.

During testing, the voice recognition system did a great job of recognizing and responding correctly to most naturally spoken queries. The available 10-speaker Bose premium sound system provides good if not great audio quality.

Storage and Space

Like many vehicles with electronic transmission controls, the 2020 Enclave offers split center console storage. Beneath the “bridge” the center console creates, there is a floor-mounted tray that is visible to anyone looking in the windows. The hidden storage under the center armrest is a good size, but it has an odd trapezoidal lid that reveals a full tray when opened. In order to access the space underneath, that tray requires removal.

Is this approach stylish? Yes. Is it functional? Not as much as it could and should be. At least the Enclave also offers a good-size glove compartment, useful door panel bins, and a bin under the climate control panel equipped with an available wireless charging pad.

There is no quibbling with the Enclave’s cargo space, though. Including the hidden compartment under the load floor, there is a generous 23.6 cu.-ft. of space behind the third-row seat. Fold the seat down to access a large 58 cu.-ft. area. Maximum space with the second-row seats folded measures 97.6 cu.-ft., which is among the best in the class.

Visibility and Safety

Because the Enclave wears its styling so well, it looks smaller than it is. Make no mistake, though: this is a big SUV. Fortunately, for 2020, outward visibility improves thanks to an available rear camera mirror and new surround-view camera system with a forward-view camera. Between these upgrades, and the front and rear parking assistance sensors, maneuvering this Buick is easier than it otherwise might be.

Enclave owners are more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for safety features, which might be the reason forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are only offered with Premium and Avenir trim levels. And if you want automatic braking that works at speeds over 50 mph, Avenir trim is a requirement. For other advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), Essence or Premium trim is a minimum requirement.

What’s included on every 2020 Enclave? Basics like a reversing camera and more unusual features like a rear seat reminder system intended to prevent parents from accidentally leaving a child in the back seat after parking and exiting the SUV. The Enclave also has a seventh airbag that inflates between the front-seat occupants for improved protection in side-impact collisions.

Speaking of collisions, a full set of crash-test data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is unavailable. As this is written, the Enclave has not been tested for small-overlap frontal-impact protection for the front passenger. In other IIHS tests, the Enclave gets Good ratings except for a Marginal rating for headlight performance.

As far as ADAS performance is concerned, the Enclave Avenir’s adaptive cruise control works smoothly, though even with the system calibrated to allow the largest gap ahead it still rushed pretty fast up a slow-moving semi-truck, slamming too hard on the brakes once it recognized the obstacle. Also, the lane-keeping assistance system proved hit-and-miss in terms of its effectiveness. Both observations underscore the fact that these are driver assistance technologies and not driver replacement technologies.

Engine/Transmission

The Buick Enclave offers a single engine and transmission choice, a 3.6-liter V-6 engine paired with a smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission. Making 310 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque, the V-6 effortlessly propels the Enclave using just the front wheels or, as an option, all four of them. The maximum tow rating is 5,000 pounds.

If there’s anything to complain about with the powertrain, I thought more engine noise made its way into the cabin than I expected for a “Quiet Tuned” Buick. The electronic transmission shifter is a little fiddly, too, though you get used to it over time.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, a 2020 Buick Enclave with all-wheel drive should get 20 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 19 mpg on my usual mountainous testing loop, and 19.4 mpg during a trip into Los Angeles to deliver supplies to family members during the coronavirus lockdown.

Owners cite fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of the Enclave, but given the SUV’s size and capabilities, and its real-world result proximate to official ratings, it meets expectations.

Driving Dynamics

Thanks to the optional Technology Package, the test vehicle includes a continuously variable real-time adaptive damping suspension. It is excellent and offers two different profiles based on the selected driving mode: Tour and Sport.

I used Sport the majority of time because it eliminates the SUV’s soft and slightly woozy ride in Tour mode. At the same time, though, over broken pavement in Sport mode it doesn’t absorb as much impact harshness as I expected. That means your choice of a setting for the daily drive will be largely dictated by the condition of local infrastructure.

In the mountains, the upgraded suspension and Sport driving mode made the Enclave a pleasure to pilot – as far as large 3-row SUVs go. Stable cornering, natural steering effort and response, and easily modulated brakes all contribute to the Buick’s unexpected athleticism.

Regardless of driving mode or road type, in spite of its acoustic laminated windshield and Buick QuietTuning efforts the Enclave Avenir allows more engine, wind, and road noise into the cabin than it ought to. Also, on a regular basis after coming to a full stop, the Enclave would slightly rock fore and aft, an unusual trait that I can’t recall detecting in any vehicle, ever.

Final Impressions

Buick continues to find its footing as an aspirational brand positioned between Chevrolet and Cadillac, with an emphasis on style, simplicity, and subtlety.

The company’s largest and most expensive vehicle, the 2020 Buick Enclave, certainly is an appealing SUV. There isn’t much to criticize here, but at the same time there isn’t much to rave about. In particular, value eludes the Enclave, especially when compared to competitors like the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, and Volkswagen Atlas.

Nevertheless, discounts are typically available, helping to take some of the sting out of the sticker price. If you find a great deal on a Buick Enclave, it will likely prove itself to be a satisfying choice is a family-sized SUV.

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