Luxury for the real world
By Nina Russin
The Enclave is Buick's full-sized crossover vehicle, with seating for up to eight passengers. While the 2012 car is basically a carryover, Buick has eliminated the CX and CXL badges. Four available trim levels for 2012 include the base 1SB, mid-grade 1SD, mid-grade with leather 1SL and 1SN premium.
Hill-hold assist, a safety feature which hangs onto the brakes to prevent the car from sliding backwards on steep grades, is now standard. So is electronic pedal override: a new technology which reduces engine power if the driver inadvertently depresses the accelerator and brake pedals at the same time.
Power comes from a 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 288 horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers can choose between front or all-wheel drive.
The test car is the all-wheel drive premium grade, priced from $45,080. MSRP does not include the $810 delivery charge. Standard convenience features include leather trim, first and second-row captain's chairs, remote keyless entry and start, a premium audio system with satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, heated and cooled seats.
Standard safety features include six airbags, stability control and OnStar emergency crash response. Adaptive headlamps, which swivel according to steering inputs to light dark corners of the road, are also standard.
A navigation and rear seat DVD option adds real-time XM traffic and weather updates ($3185). A power sunroof with a second-row glass roof panel costs $1400, while metallic red paint adds $395. Twenty-inch chrome rims are a $300 option, bringing the price as tested to $51,170.
Test drive in southern California
I spent a day behind the wheel of the Enclave on a recent trip to San Diego. Although there were no wet streets on which to test the all-wheel drive system, I was able to evaluate the crossover's handling in rush-hour traffic on downtown city streets and nearby highways. I also spent some time on the Pacific Coast Highway where traffic was less dense, so I could get a feel for braking and steering response at moderate speeds.
I wouldn't recommend the leather trim or optional chrome rims on the test car for buyers with active lifestyles because of the additional maintenance both require. Aside from that the Enclave's smooth handling and roomy, versatile interior makes it an appealing option for families who need three rows of seating.
The Enclave is surprisingly maneuverable for a car with a 119-inch wheelbase. The roomy interior gives all three rows of passengers enough hip room, but the car's track is narrow enough to get the driver around buses or delivery trucks which might be obstructing part of a lane. I was also surprised at how well the Enclave fit into some narrow parking slots in the downtown area.
The side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots in the back corners. The standard rear backup camera displays a wide-angle view to the rear. It eliminates the blind spot below the rear glass: an important safety feature for parents with small children. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow.
Standard ultrasonic rear park assist gives audio prompts if the driver is in danger of hitting an obstacle.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is good on both sides. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes on the highway.
The V-6 engine produces peak torque of 270 foot-pounds at 3400 rpm. Making the torque available at relatively low engine speeds gives the Enclave good acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range which drivers use on highway entrance ramps.
Throttle response is surprisingly good for such a big car. The Enclave had no problems keeping up with traffic and passing slower vehicles on the highway. It made quick work of the steep grade on Torrey Pines Road. Even under load, the transmission progressed smoothly through the gears with a minimum of shift shock.
Fuel economy is as good as one can expect for a 5000-pound vehicle with all-wheel drive. EPA estimates of 16 miles-per-gallon around town and 22 on the highway were similar to my figures on the test drive.
TheV-6 engine runs fine on 87-octane gasoline, despite its high compression ratio. Buyers who don't need the wet weather traction all-wheel drive offers can gain about two miles-per-gallon by purchasing the front-wheel drive model.
The Enclave's steering response, ride and handling are the best indicator of how much Buick has evolved over the past decade. The hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system has plenty of assist for maneuvering through crowded parking lots and excellent on-center response at speed. A forty-foot turning radius means that U-turns are limited to wider four-lane suburban roads.
The four-wheel independent suspension is compliant without feeling mushy. A stabilizer bar on the front axle keeps the chassis flat in the corners.
Four-wheel ventilated disk brakes stop the car quickly without being dicey.
It's obvious that the people who designed the Enclave's interior were intimately familiar with the needs of active families. Storage areas are abundant and well designed. A locking glovebox provides secure storage for front-row passengers. Both cup and bottle holders are large enough for twenty-ounce water bottles.
Overhead reading lamps keep the interior bright after dark. There is an abundance of 12-volt power points, and a USB port to interface with iPods.
A sliding armrest enables drivers of all sizes to be comfortable. Two-position driver's seat memory controls make it easy for multiple family members to share the car.
All three rows of seating are easy to access, thanks to the pass-through between the second-row captain's chairs. I had no problem climbing into a third-row seat. There is enough legroom in back for small adults on shorter trips.
Families who need additional seating can opt for a 60/40 split folding bench seat in the second row.
The Enclave easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards, and can tow up to 4500 pounds when equipped with a towing hitch.
The Buick Enclave comes with front, side and side curtain airbags. The side curtain airbags protect all three rows of passengers in the event of a side impact or rollover collision. Other standard safety features include four-channel antilock braking, traction and stability control. A panic brake assist feature primes the brake calipers for faster response if a collision is imminent.
OnStar automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel if the car's airbags deploy. The service can also download turn-by-turn directions with voice prompts into the vehicle. I've used OnStar on several occasions when I've veered off-route and can't say enough good things about this technology.
Buick builds the Enclave at its Lansing, Michigan assembly plant.
Likes: A versatile seven-passenger crossover vehicle with four-season capability and a versatile interior that meets the needs of families with active lifestyles.
Model: Enclave AWD Premium
Base price: $45,080
As tested: $51,170
Horsepower: 288 Hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 270 lbs.-ft. @ 3400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway