Buick Enclave a CUV worthy of its size

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

General Motors saved its best for last.

That was a conclusion easily reached after a few miles behind the wheel of the 2008 Buick Enclave, a full-sized crossover sport utility vehicle.

The Enclave is the third of General Motors’ vehicles off the so-called Lambda platform to reach the showroom. The Enclave is entering the marketplace about six months after its platform mates, the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, made their initial appearance.

It’s an impressive trio, all featuring a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 275 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. They all offer excellent build quality, outstanding handling traits, decent gas mileage, real-world room for six or seven passengers, all-wheel drive bad-weather capability and upscale interiors.

The Outlook is the least expensive of the three and is designed — according to General Motors — to meet family needs, a replacement for the out-of-favor minivan. The Acadia, which will be sold along side the Enclave in Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealerships, aims more at GMC truck buyers with an upright stance and more “professional grade” trim pieces.

That leaves the Enclave to challenge the luxury market with a stylish body that includes a large signature Buick waterfall grille, huge wheels, a wide stance, beautifully designed dashboard, soft leather seating and library-quiet interior.

And for extra measure, it comes with three traditional Buick portholes.

This may be the best Buick in decades.

The surroundings are tastefully plush with upscale materials. Seams are aligned and pieces neatly fit together. The interior is amazingly quiet, offering perhaps the most solitude of any American-made vehicle.

The gauges have aqua backlighting with white markings making them easy to read in sunshine or with sunglasses on. The double-stitched leather in the seats is soft to the touch and inviting.

And there’s more. Our week was filled with comments on the Buick’s styling.

One woman in our neighborhood offered this unsolicited comment: “I don’t really look at cars, can’t really tell one from another, but that car you’re driving now is the most beautiful I’ve seen in years. I want one.” That sentiment seems to be holding true in the marketplace as well. Enclave and its sisters are fast becoming real successes.

Whether it’s the big Buick grille or the flow of the lines, including a chrome roof rack that artfully curves with the roof, or simply the whole package we can’t say. But positive remarks on the Enclave styling were so many that we would be remiss in not reporting them.

While so-called crossovers — SUV-like vehicles with unibody platforms — have been in showrooms for years, the new Buick and its stablemates are among the largest to be manufactured so far.

And while we applaud GM’s efforts and specifically the well-done Enclave, it’s still a big vehicle with a big appetite, heavier and thirstier than many of its minivan counterparts.

The front-wheel drive version of the Enclave weighs in at a massive 4,780 pounds and carries a new 2008 EPA fuel rating of 16 mpg city and 24 highway. The all-wheel drive Enclave pushes 5,000 pounds.

On the other hand, the GM trio is a step in the right direction in replacing the old body-on-frame truck-based sport utilities that generally weigh even more and yield even less gas mileage.

We think the Enclave is well powered with the new V-6, certainly no rocket ship, but rather sprightly when compared to other big SUVs and the aforementioned minivans.

While the number most associated with the Enclave is a rather lackluster  8 seconds from 0-to-60, in real-world driving the Buick feels just fine, adequate in all situations including merging and passing.

General Motors has done a good job in the performance/mileage tradeoff.

The Enclave comes in just two trim levels — the CX and the CXL — and in either two-wheel or all-wheel drive starting at $32,055. Our front-wheel drive well-equipped test vehicle carried a base price of $34,990 and with several options a bottom line of $39,080 including $735 destination charge.

If you want to forsake the luxury bent of the Enclave but get basically the same vehicle for less money, the Saturn Outlook begins at $27,255 and the GMC Acadia starts at $29,255.

All feature the same drivetrain and all come with a 4,500-pound tow rating. And all feature scads of interior room for passengers and cargo. The new trio of crossovers beats the full-sized Chevrolet Tahoe in maximum cargo space by eight cubic feet at 116.2. The crossovers offer nearly eight more inches of legroom for third-row passengers. And there is a useable 19 cubic feet of storage behind the third-row seat.

Maybe we’re more snobbish than we care to admit, but we like the Enclave best — and why shouldn’t we since it carries a bigger price tag — because of its head-turning design, its luxury feel and its interior solitude.

The ride may be on the firm side for those used to a Park Avenue or a Lucerne, but it’s still a plush ride, a modern version of the European luxury ride.

Handling is predictable and confidence-inducing. The Enclave is easy to drive, but don’t get carried away on the twisting back roads. Remember, the big Buick is a people mover not a sports sedan.

Standard features abound including 18-inch wheels, full power including power driver’s seat, triple-zone automatic climate control, six-speaker stereo with CD player and MP3 jack and satellite radio, OnStar telematics with turn-by-turn navigation, power tailgate, antilock disc brakes with tire pressure monitoring and three-row side-curtain airbags.

The CXL adds 19-inch wheels, leather seating and heated power front seats with memory.

Options are many including DVD navigation, rear entertainment, upgraded Bose stereo, remote start, 20-inch wheels and a dual sunroof.

The Enclave is not perfect and Buick surely will continue to refine its newest product. But as it sits, the Enclave is the best product to wear a Buick nameplate in many years and it’s a worthy competitor to products from Lexus, Infiniti, Acura and Mercedes.

We hope the Enclave is a reliable predictor of the direction General Motors will take the Buick brand in the future. 


Base price, $32,055; as driven, $39,080 

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 

Horsepower: 275 @ 6,600 rpm 

Torque: 251 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm 

Transmission: 6-speed automatic 

Drive: front wheel 

Seating: 2/2/3 

Turning circle: 40.4 feet 

Wheelbase: 118.9 inches

Length: 201.8 inches 

Curb weight: 4,780 pounds 

Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds 

Cargo capacity: 116 cubic feet 

Luggage capacity: 19 cubic feet 

Fuel capacity: 22 gallons (regular) 

EPA mileage (2008): 24 highway, 16 city 

0-60: 8.2 seconds (Edmund's)

Also consider: Acura MDX, Hyundai Veracruz, GMC Acadia, Lexus RX350 

The Good

• Head-turning exterior design
• Upscale interior

• Passenger and cargo room abound 

The Bad

• Only time will tell if ithe Enclave can successfully compete against the luxury brands 

The Ugly 

• No matter how you cut it, big vehicles yield mediocre gas mileage