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