CLAYTON, Mo. -- Bracing four-lane traffic on South Hanley Road in Clayton, the uptown high-rise outpost of St. Louis, we're perched in the leather-bound driver's bucket of a sparkling new CUV (crossover utility vehicle) from the Buick brand of General Motors.
A discreet badge on the tailgate spells this wagon's name in chrome letters: E-N-C-L-A-V-E.
Looking oh-so-sharp in a slinky package stretched excessively long and decorated with a chrome-plated prow flashing vast multi-lens headlamp clusters on corners plus fender blisters rippling around multi-spoke alloy wheels, the new Buick CUV appears different from the lot of right-angled and too-tall SUVs.
Its lower body seems substantial and strong like a SUV although the upper section including a narrow wrap of windows with tipped-back windshield and sweeping roofline may be more reminiscent of some classic sports car or even a GT-style coupe.
It's clearly a departure from the two-box school of wagon styling.
And Enclave is designed to act differently from that lot, thanks to the integral body-frame structure which compares to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than the conventional SUV's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame truck platform.
The curvaceous body styling disguises what amounts to a very large vehicle.
Its wheelbase runs almost ten feet in length, that sculpted body measures nearly 17 feet long by 6.5 feet wide and six high, and the full-size passenger compartment contains seats for seven or eight riders with a load of cushy amenities in the mode of a premium luxury car.
Enclave as a new full-size CUV supplants two other wagons in Buick's 2008 collection -- Rainier the truck-based SUV and Rendezvous, a mid-size CUV off a minivan platform.
Hop aboard for a test drive, like our time meandering through the Ozark Mountains of Missouri out from St. Louis, and you'll no doubt notice 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 QuietTuning. It represents a sense of refinement more akin to the finest luxury sedan rather than a big wagon.
Enclave's smooth ride quality also compares to a plush sedan, 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).
Further, all versions stock electronic traction control (ETC) and GM's electronic stability device, StabiliTrak.
Passive safety systems are aboard including frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags above outboard seats in all rows.
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 presents the option of FWD traction or a permanently-engaged all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
The intelligent AWD set uses a computer and wheel sensors to determine how much power to apply at each wheel for maintaining tire traction on slippery pavement.
Motivation for Enclave comes from a V6 engine by GM which displaces 3.6 liters and contains dual overhead cams and variable valve timing (VVT).
When linked with Enclave's dual exhaust system, the engine's output tallies to 275 hp at 6600 rpm plus torque of 251 lb-ft at 3200 rpm.
The transmission is GM's fuel-saving Hydra-Matic 6T75 six-speed automatic.
With the 6T75 in play, 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 cabin contains 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 additional riders aboard. Individual sections of the bench have bolsters for added comfort.
Access to the back bench is aided by extra width of the two rear portals plus second-row seats that move out of the way easily, thanks to the one-tap lever: Smart Slide.
The cargo space in Enclave is excellent.
With the back bench in place, a flat-floored cargo bay has 18.9 cubic feet of stow room. With the back bench folded down, the bay expands to 66 cubic feet. And with second and third tiers of seats down, the bay runs to 115.1 cubic feet.
Buick builds Enclave in two grades -- CX and CXL.
Gear standard on the CX ranges from xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, foglamps and StabiliTrak to a remote keyless entry fob, tri-zone automatic climate system, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, six-way power for the driver's seat, real mahogany on the steering wheel with a leather wrap, reading lamps for three rows of seats, and GM's OnStar telecommunications gear.
Upgrading to CXL adds more goods, like eight-way power for front seats, plus perforated and heated leather seats.
Buick marks MSRP figures down to $32,055 for the Enclave CX FWD and $34,055 for CX AWD. Enclave CXL FWD lists for $34,255 and CXL AWD begins at $36,255.
Description: Full-size 5-door CUV
Model options: Enclave CX, Enclave CXL
Wheelbase: 119.0 inches
Overall length: 201.5 inches
Engine size: DOHC 3.6-L V6/VVT
Rear/front drive: FWD, AWD
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power 4-disc, ABS/ETC/StabiliTrak/RMT
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side), 6 (side curtain)
Maximum GCWR: 2WD: 9500 pounds, 4WD: 9700 pounds
Maximum towing capacity: 2WD: 4500 pounds, 4WD: 4500 pounds
EPA mileage est. city/hwy.: FWD: 16/24 mpg, AWD: 16/22 mpg
MSRP: CX FWD: $ 32,055, CX AWD: $ 34,055, CXL FWD: $ 34,255, CXL AWD: $ 36,255