SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Venue for this test drive in a spectacular new crossover utility vehicle from the Buick brand of General Motors happens to be a spectacular, although quirky and brief, route: Lombard Street in San Francisco, so-called crookedest street in the world due to a one-block section between Hyde and Leavenworth that cascades in corkscrew turns down Russian Hill.
Buick's spectacular CUV -- looking oh-so-sharp in a slinky new package stretched excessively long and decorated with a black-chromed prow flashing LED blue translucent rings around xenon headlamps on forward corners plus fender blisters rippling around multi-spoke alloy wheels -- goes by the name of Enclave.
This big CUV, stretching almost 17 feet long and well over six feet wide, comes with a full-size passenger compartment stocking three rows of seats for seven or eight passengers and a wagonload of fancy features.
Enclave's 2013 editions show a fresh exterior design, revamped cabin amenities such as a dashboard high-resolution color display with touch-screen control plus Choccochino leather and Cocoa leather color combinations, three new trim designations and new safety technologies including the auto industry's first front center side air bag designed to minimize injury from front-seat riders knocking into each other during a side-impact collision.
Enclave's exterior enhancements include new front fascia featuring a black-chrome waterfall grille, standard xenon HID lamps and LED accent lighting, new rear fascia with integrated exhaust outlets and LED taillamps, and revised 19-inch and 20-inch aluminum wheel designs.
This wagon employs an integral body-frame structure which compares to a front-wheel-drive car rather than a SUV's rear-wheel-drive body-on-frame truck platform.
Enclave models of 2013 comprise three trims -- Enclave Convenience, Enclave Leather and Enclave Premium -- and each stocks electronic traction control (ETC) and GM's electronic stability device, StabiliTrak, with options for front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive traction.
Climb aboard for a drive test and you'll quickly observe that Enclave reveals an impressive quality of quietness in the cabin in terms of reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
Virtually all external NVH seems locked outside, the result of wrapping the compartment liberally with sound-deadening material, including thick layers of laminate applied to the windshield and front side windows.
The effort to control NVH inside Enclave is labeled by Buick marketeers as Quiet Tuning. It represents a sense of refinement more akin to the finest luxury sedans rather than big wagons.
Enclave's smooth ride quality also compares to plush sedans, thanks to independent components for both front and rear suspension systems.
There's a coil-over strut design up front with direct-acting stabilizer bar, and in the rear the independent H-arm arrangement has twin-tube shocks mounted on a sub-frame assembly to isolate the road-bump action.
Enclave exhibits rather agile steering attributes due to the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, and the brakes rig a disc at every wheel with electronic tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS).
Passive safety systems are aboard including frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats, curtain-style air bags above outboard seats in all rows, and the new front center side air bag which deploys from the inboard side of the driver's seat and inflates between driver and front passenger.
Also on tap is GM's rollover sensing system, dubbed rollover mitigation technology (RMT). It will automatically deploy the side-impact air bags and curtain-style air bags if on-board sensors detect a potential vehicular roll event.
Enclave comes with standard front-wheel-drive traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive system.
The intelligent AWD rig employs a computer and wheel sensors in conjunction with ABS and StabiliTrak to determine how much power to apply to each wheel for maintaining tire traction on wet or slippery pavement.
Motivation for Enclave stems from a V6 engine which displaces 3.6 liters and contains dual overhead cams (DOHC), electronic throttle control (ETC), direct injection (DI) technology and variable valve timing (VVT).
The V6 produces 288 hp at 6300 rpm plus torque of 270 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.
The transmission is GM's fuel-saving Hydra-Matic 6T75 six-speed automatic updated with revised controls. With the 6T75 in play, the 2013 Enclave earns EPA fuel economy scores up to 24 mpg for highway cruising in the FWD edition, or 22 mpg with the AWD equipment.
Enclave's passenger compartment has room for three rows of seats and a rear bay for cargo. On the first row two wide bucket seats flank a floor console. On the second row the standard arrangement shows two captain's chairs which slide to and fro, although a sliding bench to accommodate three passengers is available. On the third row, a folding bench split 60/40 can squeeze up to three more riders aboard.
Access to the back bench is aided by extra width of the two rear portals plus second-row seats which move out of the way easily, thanks to a one-tap lever labeled Smart Slide.
Behind the third seat, a cargo area contains 23.3 cubic feet of room. Folding down seatbacks on the second and third rows expands the cargo capacity to 115.2 cubic feet.
Buick marks the 2013 price chart at $36,500 for Enclave Convenience/FWD.