It used to be that the big family bus was long, low, and wide, stylishly decked out in woodgrain and accented with subtle touches like a stand-up hood ornament to add a note of class. Buick’s was the Estate Wagon, a name that subtly conveyed a sense of moneyed suburban ease, and for years it stood near the top of the pecking order. Today, the big family bus is long and tall but still pretty wide, stylishly decked out with extra-large chrome wheels and accented with subtle touches like LED lighting to add a note of class. Buick’s is the Enclave, a name that also conveys a sense of moneyed suburban ease, and although the shape, the mechanicals, and the features have all changed, the mission remains much the same.
To GM’s credit, it recognized pretty early that the three-row crossover was the new family hauler; it released the Enclave back in 2008 along with sister models from GMC, Saturn, and later Chevrolet. According to standard auto-industry practice, that means the Enclave is just about due for a redesign, but instead, GM’s big, family-hauling trio (the Saturn having long since disappeared) has been treated to the kind of minor update one might get in the middle of its life cycle.
For the Enclave, that means subtly reworked styling, with changes to the hood, front fenders, grille, and the front and rear soft bumper surfaces. The daytime running lights and rear taillights are now LEDs. Oh, and the C-pillars are black rather than body color, creating one large mass of window area. Previously, it was thought that a body-color C-pillar made the car look more like an SUV, while a single window mass looked more like a minivan. Today, GM designers seem less worried about that, as one said in explaining the 2013 styling changes: “We took the truck out of it.”
Some Haves and Have-Nots
There have been updates inside, too. A thin arc of blue mood lighting has been integrated into the redesigned dash and door panels; there’s a new center touch screen that incorporates Buick’s IntelliLink connectivity package; and the finishes are upgraded. The touch-screen navigation is about mid-pack both for graphics and for ease of use; the new climate controls, however, are very good. Although the new leather dash topper and contrast stitching are nice, there is still a surprising amount of hard plastic evident on the door panels and center console. Also surprising is the fact that the nearly-$40,000 base model doesn’t come with leather -- or that the top-spec Premium edition, at $46,520, doesn’t include navigation. In better news, a backup camera is newly standard on all models -- good thing, since it’s pretty much essential. My all-wheel-drive Premium test car, with navigation and rear-seat entertainment, rang in at $52,090. Included are swiveling HID headlights, blind-spot warning, dual sunroofs, and heated/cooled front seat. But there are still some missing items, such as keyless ignition, a heated steering wheel, and adaptive cruise control, features one finds in newer entries like the Infiniti JX35.
Compared to the Infiniti, the Buick is a notably bigger bus: nearly half a foot greater in wheelbase and overall length. It also just edges out the Ford Flex in both dimensions. It’s no surprise, then, that the Enclave has one of the more habitable third-row seats in the crossover arena. Adults who measure six feet tall and under can sit back there, provided the sliding second-row captains chairs are not all the way back. Even more indicative of the Enclave’s size is its cargo volume. Where so many three-row crossovers have hardly any space behind the third seat, the Enclave claims an impressive 23.3 cubic feet, which puts it at the head of the class.
The changes for 2013 largely left the Enclave’s mechanicals alone, but there really wasn’t much that needed doing. The sole engine offered is a 3.6-liter V-6 that puts out a respectable 288 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque. It’s matched with a very smooth six-speed automatic transmission. Because the Enclave is a fat boy at 4922 pounds, the 3.6-liter does not have it easy, but it’s up to the task. Fuel economy is an unremarkable 16/22 mpg (with all-wheel drive), but that’s about average for this class. The one mechanical change this year is new dampers, and with them the Enclave rides extremely well -- much better than the fancy-pants Cadillac Escalade -- and it even steers and handles decently. It’s also a quiet cruiser, giving credence to all Buick’s talk about “quiet tuning.”
We took the Enclave a couple hours north for a ski weekend in Massachusetts. Our trip was in the midst of mega-snow-storm Nemo, and the all-wheel-drive Enclave got us there without the lurid, tail-sliding drama that yesterday’s rear-wheel-drive wagons provided. We appreciated the room, quiet, and comfort, although in the bitter cold we would have welcomed a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and the interior overall is not as luxurious as a JX35. Coming home, we rode along in what seemed like a herd of crossovers: the Acura MDX, the BMW X5, the Ford Flex, and the GMC Acadia were among the more heavily represented. We felt one with them in the Enclave, a big family bus taking us on a typical family weekend road trip. It’s exactly the kind of thing Buicks have historically done well, and the Enclave ably brings that traditional ability into the modern age.