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2018 Buick Enclave Ditches Portholes, Embraces Class

Design team takes us inside and out at the 2017 New York auto show

While wandering the floor of the 2017 New York auto show, we had the pleasure of chatting with three of the people responsible for the look of the new 2018 Buick Enclave — Buick Director of Design Bob Boniface, Color & Trim Lead Designer Catherine Black, and Interior Design Manager John Zelenak.

The conversation around Buick design has been heating up ever since the Avenir and Avista concepts garnered more stares at auto shows than the brand has enjoyed in many years. The designers shared their thoughts on the Enclave’s new look, pointing out some details which we should soon see improving Buick’s whole lineup.

2016 2018 Buick Enclave Side

1. Styling is more athletic

The 2018 Enclave’s extra 2.0 inches of length and wheelbase, along with 2.0 inches less height, give the car a more “landscape format,” as Boniface described it, while also improving ease of egress, providing second-row passengers with an extra 2.1 inches of legroom, and reducing aerodynamic drag. The result is a design that he says is “a little sleeker, a little leaner, more athletic,” with surfaces that are more taught, but not at the expense of the language that made the first-generation Enclave successful.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir headlamp

2. “Evonik Acrylite” headlamp LED light guides provide a unique signature

LED lighting is red-hot in the luxury segment and the 2018 Enclave’s entry is a setup called “Evonik Acrylite.” It’s an LED light guide inside the headlamp and it’s made out of polycarbonate that has been embedded with particulates. The result is a look that is similar to organic LEDs, says Boniface, and an accent that is transparent when the lights are off and glows when they are on, providing a recognizable visual signature.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir exterior details

3. Fender vents are functional and won’t be on all vehicles

Long a target of derision, Buick’s stick-on portholes are no more. Instead, the 2018 Enclave receives a classy, functional fender vent. Boniface says that vents are “an important part” of the upscale Buick lineup and that not all vehicles will receive one. Boniface wants the vents to be “consistent with the rest language on the car” and be three-dimensional pieces made out of high-quality materials. “We won’t put on a vent just for the sake of having a vent,” he says. “It has to be part of the character of the car.”

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir Exterior Comparison

4. Avenir trim brings subtle exterior changes

Perhaps overhyped for what it ended up being, Buick’s new Avenir premium trim consists of subtle changes that give the vehicle a classier look — starting with the 2018 Enclave. On the three-row crossover, exterior changes consist of unique 20-inch wheels and a mesh upper and lower grille with black chrome accent, which give it a look that Boniface describes as “discreet” and “a bit more performance-oriented.” The difference is surprisingly noticeable for how few parts are changed.

2013 2018 Buick Enclave Interior Comparison

5. Interior design is cleaner, more minimalist than before

The design of the center stack is much more minimalistic than that of the first-generation Enclave — reflecting customer feedback desiring a “simplistic, non-cluttered look” — and that of the dash is a clean, flowing one. Zelenak was keen to point out that soft materials were used on common touchpoints inside the cabin and that the hard materials were kept “down low, where you don’t even see them” (at least for the front two rows).

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir Interior Comparison

6. Enclave Avenir offers an even snazzier cabin

The key difference between the Enclave and the Enclave Avenir is the latter’s dedicated Chestnut interior, which Black says was inspired by high-end leather goods such as handbags and shoes. Leather panels inside the Avenir are accented with gray stitching and the seats feature gray piping, which contrasts well with all three colors used as well as the chrome accents. A subtle-yet-key detail is the center dash trim, which gradually transitions from black surfacing to wood. The other significant change is on the Avenir’s steering wheel, which features a wood piece at the top instead of a leather one. As for the obligatory badges, they’re limited to the floor mats and headrests. The overall effect is a more upscale look that will appeal to more than a few customers — and thus boost Buick’s bottom line. (I just wouldn’t call Avenir a “sub-brand”.)

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23 / 115 cu. ft.

Seating:

7/7

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302 @ 6800