First Drive: 2013 Buick Enclave
It's been a long time coming for the Buick Enclave's first facelift. With a recess for bankruptcy along the way, three years to the typical mid-cycle refresh has become five years. Fortunately for GM, the Enclave and its Lambda-platform siblings -- the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia -- were assets, not liabilities, when the cash dried up. The sensible family haulers were well positioned to weather a financial drought as the rebuttal to a criticism that GM couldn't build a car that people actually wanted. For Buick, the efficient, stylish, upscale crossover had single-handedly resuscitated a brand that previously looked as healthy as Oldsmobile.
Those original qualities will have to sustain the Enclave for some time yet, as tardiness also comes with triviality. This mid-cycle makeover is more like a touch-up. There's a bigger, toothier grille on the Enclave's redesigned snout, which also gets fresh xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights. New exhaust outlets exit through the rear bumper, the taillights have been restyled, and the non-functional portholes move from the sides of the hood to the top. Buick also did away with the mismatched color scheme of the previous Enclave's exterior and opted instead for a cleaner monochromatic look. Inside, the only noteworthy addition is a strip of ice blue ambient lighting that runs along the top of the dash and front door panels, with a gaudy "Enclave" logo stuck right in the middle. That the new Enclave is largely indistinguishable from its attractive predecessor is no bad thing, though. It started life as Marsha in the Lambda Bunch and has aged as well as Warren Beatty.
The unchanged powertrain hangs in there, too. The 288-hp V-6, plunked into the Enclave's engine bay in 2009, is a reasonably refined tool and it's mated to the same well-tuned six-speed automatic transmission. The only major changes to the chassis are dual-flow front dampers, which aim to reduce road feel and improve ride comfort, and a revised rear suspension setup. Did we notice any ride difference over the outgoing model? Nope. But, like the car's looks, the fact that the Enclave rides like its predecessor shouldn't be held against it. The biggest Buick floats over rough roads and is never jarring. Steering and handling remain impressive for a vehicle of this size. It's not nimble, but the Enclave doesn't lose all composure when you show it a turn, which is surprising since the all-wheel-drive model weighs almost 5000 pounds. That's a lot of mass but the V-6 engine puts out enough oomph to manage it and can still handle 4500 lb of towing duty (when equipped with the $525 trailering package).
Pit the outgoing Enclave against a new-for-2013 Infiniti JX35, and the American would hold its own: more power with similar fuel economy, good body control, more third-row legroom, and a larger luggage area. However, the Infiniti would trounce the older Enclave when it came to technology. For 2013, Buick puts up a fight by pumping up the in-car tech. A backup camera now comes standard. The camera's image used to show up in the rearview mirror but is now displayed (much larger) on the center stack's seven-inch touchscreen, which is standard as well. The usual tech-musts are present, including Bluetooth, an auxiliary audio jack, and a USB port. Navigation, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, and a rear seat entertainment package are all available. What excited us most was the addition of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection on uplevel Enclaves. Buyers better cough up the extra $4015 to move from the base to mid-level Enclave because both safety features are must-haves on any crossover that's as large as a hippopotamus with hypothyroidism (and, hey, heated front seats are part of the deal, too). The niftiest bit of tech that comes with this update is a front-center-side airbag. This pillow pops out of the driver's seat, inflates in the center of the front row, and should keep the driver and front passenger from knocking noggins in a crash. There's room for improvement in the electronics department, though. For instance, keyless entry and ignition would be nice to have, even as an option.
The 2013 refresh was much needed, but the Enclave's greatest strengths are still derived from the groundwork laid in 2007. The cosmetic tweaks and tech additions keep it competitive with the new rivals, but one thing's for sure: The Enclave can't wait another five years for its next update.
BASE PRICE: $39,270
ENGINE: 3.6L V-6, 288 hp, 270 lb-ft
DRIVE: Front- or 4-wheel
EPA MILEAGE: 17/24, 16/22 mpg (FWD, 4WD)