Buick Enclave – 2008 Review: As kids, Cracker Jack was a favorite treat. It was delicious and you got a prize, which was sometimes a really cool toy. As adults, we always look for a vehicle that is in its own way delicious and comes with a prize. Such is the case with the new Buick Enclave. Attractive on the outside and the prize isn’t on the inside, it is the inside. GM has struggled for several years, on different fronts. The Enclave demonstrates the General’s improvement on the product front. Not just a “good as GM cars go” vehicle, the new crossover is crackerjack.
By Bob Beamesderfer
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Buick provided us with a pre-production Enclave CXL with front-wheel drive. Among the big crossover’s standard features are variable-assist power steering, stability and traction control, side impact and head curtain airbags, tire-pressure monitoring, power liftgate, tri-zone climate control, fog lamps, and auto-dimming mirror. They added a few options, including 20-inch chrome wheels; an Entertainment Package with six disc CD/MP3 changer, rear seat audio, Bose speakers; a Driver Confidence Package with remote start, ultrasonic rear parking assist and heated windshield washer fluid. Starting price for the CXL is $34,990, including $735 destination charge; with options our test vehicle came to $37,780.
While a little more power would be nice, the 3.6 liter V-6 delivers its 275 horsepower and 251 lb.-ft. of torque early and smoothly. The six-speed transmission works well in Drive and the only hunting trips took place in very demanding situation: a couple of uphill, slow hairpin turns. Manual shift mode isn’t set up the same as other “sport” shift automatics. The console lever is placed in L, a thumb-actuated rocker switch changes gears. All shifting is up to the driver; this transmission neither upshifts nor downshifts by itself in manual mode.
Nobody expects a crossover to be a canyon-carver, but the Enclave handles well for a large, front-wheel drive vehicle. Steering response is good and precise, although the feel is a bit numb. There is less understeer than we’d expect from vehicle of this size. While the ride is floaty at times, for the most part you feel connected to the road but not battered by it. The brakes do a good job of bringing the crossover to a stop; the antilock system works well and there’s no drama.
The Enclave has very good visibility all the way around, although the rear window is a bit small. Back-up assist is helpful and has three color coded lights located in the headliner that indicate how close the vehicle is to an object. Side mirrors are good-sized. One drawback is that it’s difficult to gauge where the front of the vehicle is to other vehicles or objects when you’re parking.
Fun to Drive
The Enclave is a comfortable vehicle to drive, performs well and gets decent mileage for its size. Although cumbersome in small parking lots, that’s a minor tradeoff. With a spacious interior and quiet ride, the Enclave is a good people mover. Fuel economy ranged from 13.7 to 15.9 mpg in mixed city, freeway and mountain road driving.
Buick is a brand that is known for comfort, and the Enclave is no exception. An eight-way adjustable seat covered with perforated leather and a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel ensure the driver can get everything where he or she wants. While the passenger seat isn’t as adjustable, it’s still got the dual lumbar support. Plenty of head and leg room make the Buick an accommodating ride for taller drivers and passengers. The center armrest is nicely padded and slides back and forth, locking in five different positions. The nicely sized steering wheel is covered in leather with wood accents.
With the third-row seats stowed, there’s a lot of head and leg room. The captain’s chairs are almost as nice as the front seats, comfortable and supportive. Even with the third-row seats raised, there’s still room for adult passengers in the second row. You might not make seven adult passengers completely comfortable in the Enclave, but leg room is still generous. For those needing to seat an eighth passenger, there’s an optional bench seat for the second row.
Third row seats are less plush than the second row, but still comfortable. The bench seats three, but there are only headrests in the outboard positions. The passenger sitting in the middle does get morel leg room. The seats are easy to raise and lower from the back of the vehicle. The only thing that requires opening one of the back doors is releasing the center passenger shoulder belt. That makes this setup one of the easier to deal with. Accessing the back seats was easy, thanks to the folding and sliding second-row seats.
If you like a quiet interior and ride – and who doesn’t? – then the Enclave won’t disappoint. With very little wind noise and subdued road noise, the inside is placid even at freeway speeds. There’s a bit of engine and transmission noise while cruising, but nothing objectionable; under acceleration, the V-6 has a nice growl and isn’t the least bit thrashy. Overall, one of the quietest vehicles we’ve tested in some time.
With a power hatch and a low sill, loading the Enclave is a breeze. The hatch opens remotely from the front seat or using the key fob. Cargo space is 66.0 cubic feet with third row stowed and drops to 18.9 cubic feet with the third row in use. Fold all the seats down and you get 155.1 cubic feet. There are four tie-down hooks in the two on each side, arranged vertically instead of the usual in-floor setup. There were also hooks for a cargo net, although our test vehicle didn’t have one. There is also one 12-volt outlet.
Our Buick Enclave CXL test vehicle was a pre-production unit. We did not assess build quality, as it is our rule to praise or critique this aspect of a vehicle only when it is reflective of what consumers will find at the local dealership.
Buick put good quality materials in the Enclave, from the leather on the seats to the fabric headliner. The arm rests on the doors are nicely padded. A rough-grain plastic on the door sills and dashboard had firm padding and was soft to the touch. Grippy rubber on the interior door handles and decent looking faux wood trim and aluminum finished plastic add to what is a well-thought out interior. Hard plastic is present where practical: the lower portions of door panels and in the cargo area.
The Enclave drew compliments for its exterior styling from several people. There’s just enough chrome trim to keep things interesting, and some nice details, such as faux vents on the hood. The most important aspect of the styling on this vehicle is that the proportions look good. That’s not something that could be said about a lot of GM vehicles over the past 15 years. Interior styling is attractive and functional. Nice materials with attractive textures make for a pleasant space. A small analog clock sits in an easy-to-read position between the vents at the top of the center stack.
It’s an American tradition to have more cupholders than seats. The Enclave continues this with eight of ‘em: two in front, four in the center row and two for the third row. Glove box is a decent size and there are bins in all four doors. There are two open bins in the center console, one with coin-holder slots, and the sliding armrest has a compartment. There’s a bin on the passenger’s side of the center stack and the front seats have pockets on the back. There’s a large compartment and two smaller bins under the cargo area.
Our test vehicle came with the optional six-disc changer and Bose speaker system. Straightforward and logical rule the day here. Controls are well-marked and good sized and the two rotary knobs have rubber grips. The display has a nice design that shows which preset group is selected and displays the frequencies above each of the six buttons and indicates the selected station: Very readable at a glance. You can also browse the presets without changing stations. Controls on the steering wheel include volume, mute, source, preset/track buttons. Buick provides an auxiliary input jack on the front panel.
The setup in our test vehicle was a second set of controls for the system upfront instead of a separate unit. Rear passengers can change stations on any band not being used by the front seat system. So, if the front passengers are listening to satellite radio, those in back can control FM and AM bands. They also can listen to a disc while the front passengers listen to the radio or vice versa. When the rear system is on, the speakers in the rear doors are muted to make it easier for the rear passengers to hear.
The front system was dual zone and automatic, with push buttons for temperature, airflow, A/C, dual or single zone, rear-seat system on/off, rear window defrost, auto, and fresh or recirculate. GM finally has gotten the word on the fresh/recirculate setting, which now stays where you want it instead of defaulting to fresh when the car is switched off. Heated seats have three settings and warm just the seatback or the whole seat. Rear controls consist of fan speed, temperature and airflow, which is from either the floor or the ceiling or both.
The Enclave has the standard array of window, lock and mirror buttons on the driver’s arm rest. Buick has made the move to a dash-mounted rotary knob for the headlights. The cruise control switches are on left of the steering wheel and accessible with your thumb. Four buttons under the audio controls deal with settings for the driver’s information screen that sits between the tachometer and speedometer. There are also buttons at the bottom of the center stack for the rear windshield wiper/washer, traction control, power rear hatch open/close and to switch the hatch to manual mode.
Buick looks to place the Enclave up against the Acura MDX and the Volvo XC90. It also competes against high-end minivans, such as the Honda Odyssey with the Touring package, or Chrysler Town & Country Limited. The Lincoln MKX and Lexus RX 350 are close on price and options, but neither offers a third row of seats. All that plays into Buick’s hands for now. The Enclave would be more competitive if Buick offered a few more high-end options. For now it can lay claim to being a bargain even if it doesn’t offer electronic suspension damping.
2ND Opinion –
If every vehicle GM built was as well executed as the Buick Enclave, the company’s troubles would be over, at least from a product standpoint. This is possibly the best vehicle GM is making right now, until the new Cadillac CTS comes along. There are only a few nitpicky detractions in the Enclave, and none is a deal breaker. This is a vehicle that isn’t good for GM, or even good for a Buick. This is just good, period.
MyRide.com Road Test Editor
2ND Opinion –
The Buick Enclave is about as good as it gets when it comes to crossover vehicles. It is well thought out and executed from the interior to the exterior. It’s quiet, shifts smoothly and has plenty of power for cruising. It’s surprisingly agile for a vehicle of this size, handling steering inputs as well as any sedan and despite its size, you’ll feel comfortable maneuvering it through traffic with the only hitch being backing up, but a warning tone helps out with those duties. Smoothness and cruising comfort are a Buick trademark so there are really no surprises there. …
MyRide Associate Editor