Four years after its introduction, the Buick Enclave remains a strong competitor — and a strong seller — in a tough segment. To quantify the latter point, consider that Buick has sold 23,998 Enclaves through the first five months of the year, compared with 18,821 Acura MDXs, 2112 Lincoln MKTs and 3872 Audi Q7s. Those sales would be in addition to the 33,526 mechanically identical GMC Acadias that were sold predominantly through the same dealer network during the same period.
The Enclave’s styling, in my opinion, remains a big factor behind its appeal. It’s expressive and instantly identifiable as a Buick — something that cannot be said of the “globally” developed LaCrosse and Regal — but isn’t overdone, as is the case with the Lincoln MKT. That theme continues inside, where the simple round gauges and tasteful wood trim don’t say GM parts bin.
Most important, the Enclave drives really well for a proper seven-seat vehicle. The steering has just the right amount of weight and feedback for a vehicle of this size, and is very accurate. The suspension doesn’t crash over bumps but doesn’t float, either.
There are a few places where the Enclave shows some gray hairs. The in-cabin technology, for instance, looks and feels every bit like it’s been on the market four years, even though it has, in fact, received updates like Bluetooth connectivity. Keyless ignition isn’t an option, something I might not have noticed if not for the very antiquated-looking keyless entry remote. On a more substantive note, I wonder if GM should consider expanding the engine lineup. No doubt, the 3.6-liter V-6 will appeal to the majority of customers in this segment and for good reason, as it offers a nice balance of respectable efficiency and smooth power. But with the Dodge Durango offering a V-8 on one end and Ford preparing the four-cylinder Explorer on the other, perhaps GM should follow suit, at least on some of its Lambda SUVs.
Those relatively minor points aside, the Enclave remains a solid choice among full-size utility vehicles. It’s also proof positive that a vehicle done right in the first place, without cutting corners, will pay dividends in the long run.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I distinctly remember reviewing the Buick Enclave when it was introduced in 2007. At that time the Rendezvous was still hanging out on dealer lots scaring away customers. No wonder the Enclave looked so stylish and desirable. Four years later the Enclave is still as handsome as a three-row crossover designed to replace a minivan will get. Vehicles that start the styling revolution for a brand don’t always age this well.
The interior of the Enclave is a mixed bag. There’s some nice wood trim, an analog clock, and comfortable leather seats, but the plastics and infotainment system aren’t class leading by any stretch of the imagination. Now that we’re in 2011, a DVD-based navigation system seems wildly out of date. Because the Enclave’s interior is so well insulated from wind and tire noise, there’s also a lot of audible noise coming from the DVD drive when the navigation system is retrieving new information.
I found the 3.6-liter V-6 to be perfectly adequate in this application. I disagree with David Zenlea that GM needs to offer more engine choices just for the sake of giving buyers a choice. Remember that the Enclave originally was supposed to get an optional 5.3-liter V-8 to differentiate itself from the Acadia, Traverse, and Saturn Outlook. Someone realized that made no sense and killed the plan before it went into production. And GM doesn’t have a compelling smaller-displacement engine that would handle the Enclave’s approximately 4800-pound curb weight and deliver acceptable performance.
The fact that the Enclave is selling so well despite being four years old is pretty impressive. There are newer competitors and more luxurious choices in the segment, but Buick seems to have struck a balance between price, looks, and equipment that appeals to a lot of people. That’s even more impressive considering how poorly GM was performing when this vehicle was engineered and brought to market.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
It’s hard to believe that Buick has sold almost 24,000 Enclaves so far this year. It’s not that it’s bad to drive or unattractive — in fact, it’s actually is quite good to drive and the fit and finish of the interior is excellent — it just looks a bit old fashioned to my eyes, inside and out. The sparkly dark brown paint on this particular vehicle really helps give the somewhat bulbous exterior a more sophisticated look. On the inside, there is nothing wrong the layout of the cabin but the use of multiple colors and textures make the cabin look messy. These criticisms are my own personal opinion though and, considering that the vehicle is selling so well, the Enclave’s interior must not be too big of an issue with consumers. But it is likely that the outdated navigation graphics and display are something that potential buyer’s would notice, especially if they have spent time in any of the Enclave’s competitors, specifically the Acura MDX.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I must disclose that I have never been a big fan of General Motor’s large “Lambda” crossovers (the Chevrolet Traverse, the GMC Acadia, the Buick Enclave, and the now-dead Saturn Outlook). After spending a week with a Traverse last year, I was amazed at its price tag — within a couple grand of that for a similarly equipped Enclave. When stacked against its Traverse and Acadia platform-mates, the Enclave is head-and-shoulders above the rest. Its design is much more cohesive (and immediately recognizable as a Buick), its powertrain seems quieter and more refined, and its interior is better designed and thought-out. If you’re going to buy a Lambda crossover, the Enclave is your way to go.
However, if you are willing to look outside of GM’s stable, the competition is compelling. If maximum size isn’t a factor, Acura’s MDX offers a much more luxurious package for the same price. Unlike the Enclave, where you can see exactly what bits are shared with the Chevy and GMC, there is little to betray the fact that the MDX and the Honda Pilot and Odyssey are related. The MDX also drives much more like a sporty car, versus the Enclave’s more lumbering ride. If space is an issue, take a look at the Ford Flex, which offers just as much in-car tech and luxurious accommodations as the Lincoln MKT.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The Lambda platform vehicles are one instance where GM did a commendable job of making each variant look distinct, rather than subjecting each brand to a taillight-exchange styling program, as was often the case in years past. The Enclave in particular looks so different from its GM brethren that it’s hard to believe they’re so closely related.
The Enclave does exactly what its intended to do, and does it very well. It’s a handsome vehicle that looks upmarket, carries its passengers in comfort and is well mannered on the road. The ride is smoother than most SUVs and crossovers, and even minivans, and it’s more nimble than one might expect, given its size. Calls for a bigger engine are misguided, as I believe this V-6 is a perfect match for the vehicle, and will satisfy 99% of potential buyers. Buyers test-driving Hemi-equipped Dodge Durangos are not cross-shopping the Enclave, in my opinion.
One thing to note, that my wife pointed out, is despite the seating position and height of the car, visibility is not the best. The A-pillar creates a massive blind spot, especially for a smaller driver with the seat moved forward.
One final complaint regarding the rear captains chairs, and I recall this from the Acadia as well: GM mounts the seatbelt buckle on a fixed, angled inward post that makes the seat too narrow to properly position even a basic booster seat, and buckling the angled clasp in makes it even harder. No parent likes a car where the kids are unable to easily buckle themselves. Annoying.
Those two things aside, I suspect most Enclave buyers will be extremely pleased with their decision, and it will meet their needs perfectly.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
It’s an easy trope to dismiss Buick as a brand meant only for old people who no longer care about driving. Indeed, Buick notes that the average Enclave buyer is 59 years old. Yet the Enclave remains a compelling choice for buyers of any age who want a seven-seat crossover. It’s incredibly roomy inside, drives well, and looks quite smart with its chrome trim and 19-inch wheels.
From the driver’s seat, the Enclave does feel more like a heavy SUV than a modern crossover, but the suspension is refined and doesn’t have the floaty feel that inspired stereotypes about older Buicks. The standard V-6 provides a good balance between acceleration and fuel economy — I don’t see any need for a larger engine.
There are several sore points that betray the Enclave’s upscale appearance, including cheap-looking wood trim and somewhat dated switchgear and electronics. As our test example is closing in on $50,000, I might be tempted to cross-shop the similar but cheaper Chevrolet Traverse.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
2011 Buick Enclave CXL-2 AWD
Base price (with destination): $44,870
Price as tested: $49,755
Power steering w/ variable assist
Dual exhaust w/ chrome tips
ABS, stability control, traction control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Remote keyless entry
Articulating HID projector headlamps
Chrome roof rails
19-inch chrome-clad wheels
Ultrasonic rear parking assist & backup camera
Heated/power folding mirrors
Leather seating (1st and 2nd rows)
Heated/cooled front seats
7-passenger seating w/ 2nd row captain’s chairs
8-way power driver’s seat/4-way power passenger seat
Tri-zone climate control
Auto-dimming inside rearview mirror
Leather-wrapped steering wheel w/ wood accents
AM/FM/CD audio system w/ AUX jack
XM satellite radio
Remote vehicle start
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Bose surround system
Rear seat audio controls
Options on this vehicle:
Audio system with navigation and DVD — $3185
– Touchscreen navigation
– DVD rear seat entertainment
– XM NavTraffic
Power sunroof w/ 2nd row skylight — $1400
20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels — $300
Key options not on vehicle:
16 / 22 / 18 mpg
Horsepower: 288 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
Curb weight: 4780 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch aluminum wheels
255/55R20 SUV all-season tires