As with other modern unibody SUVs, this living-room luxury-along with market demand for three rows of seats, every type of stability and traction control, and every possible airbag iteration known to man-has offset the weight advantages these new car-based SUVs intend to offer. The 2008 Enclave is 8.4 inches longer than the 2007 Buick Rainier (a two-row SUV) with a six-inch-longer wheelbase. The Rainier tows up to 2200 pounds more than the Enclave and is about 450 pounds lighter. Compared with the three-row V-8 GMC Yukon, though, the Enclave is just 0.2 inch shorter and 600 pounds slimmer.

At the $3.50 gas pump, this means plus-2 mpg city and plus-3 mpg highway versus either the Yukon or Rainier six, based on 2007 EPA numbers. The 2008 Enclave uses the new EPA calculation, which drops fuel mileage 1 mpg city, 2 mpg highway for AWD models and 2/2 mpg for FWD models. The real advantage these new things have over trucky SUVs is that they can legitimately be called cars. Tall as it is, with its length and proportions, the Buick Enclave melds SUV and minivan into a modern station-wagon shape, heir to an early 1950s Roadmaster Estate or a 1971 Estate Wagon. Squish one of those wagons at both ends to make it not quite so long, but taller for good interior space, like watching a wide-screen movie on a small, square TV, and you've got the Enclave.

Further adding to its Buickness, the Enclave starts out more opulent than the Acadia or Outlook. The CX comes with patterned cloth seats, six-way power driver's seat, two-way power passenger's seat, power liftgate, MP3/CD/XM six-speaker stereo, power liftgate, rear backup camera, and HID "blue-eye" headlamps, shades of Frank Sinatra. Base price is $32,790, plus $2000 for AWD. The CXL trim package adds unique-tread Michelins on 19-inch wheels, perforated leather seating surfaces with eight-way power, heated seats with memory and driver lumbar support-$34,990 for FWD and $36,990 for AWD. Options include a large, two-panel sunroof, premium audio, DVD player, nav, and power tilt-and-telescope wheel; and dealer accessories include 20-inch wheels and a two-way advanced remote-start system that'll let you check such things as security status and whether any doors are unlocked from afar. The Buick costs a couple grand more than the Acadia, which costs a couple grand more than a base Outlook; and they all can be luxed up to within an inch of each other. Nevertheless, it'll be interesting to see whether Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealers demand an Acadia Denali. If the Buick Enclave does its job, dealers won't want one.

Building a better brand: What Buick must do next

Once upon a time, Buick was on top of the world. Design chief Harley Earl blessed it with his attention, bringing modern, flowing lines to the 1949 models. By 1954, the preternaturally aspirational brand passed blue-collar Plymouth for third place in sales. GM doesn't need to sell to people who remember those days, but just as 1959 Cadillacs set the attitude for GM's luxury division, early-1950s Buicks can inform that brand how to compete with low to mid-Lexus and Audi models. Here's the recipe:

Enclave: Add the V-8 Super for 2010, exclusive to Buick's Lambda, plus maybe a hybrid version.

Epsilon front-drive sedan: When the 2009 LaCrosse gets this platform, it should start as well equipped as a midlevel Saturn Aura and option up to full-boat luxury for those who don't want to give up front drive, competing with Lexus ES 350. Include a luxury-equipped hybrid version.

Zeta rear-drive sedan: North America gets the Holden Statesman-based Park Avenue just introduced in China for 2010 or 2011. For cost, it'll probably come over virtually unchanged, but it could use new sheetmetal with Enclave-style side surfacing and perhaps a more formal roofline. At the very least, it must lose the Impala-like taillamps. It should range from the low $30s, with a direct gas-injection 3.6-liter V-6 to the $40s for a full-boat high-feature V-8 model, positioned like a sedan version of the Enclave. Name? "Velite" still sounds good, though "Invicta" or "Electra" would add a nice touch of post-modernism.

Halo: Buick is pushing for a production coupe like the Riviera concept or the Velite convertible concept, but it awaits approval. Once Buick's comeback is secure, it deserves a halo on the short-wheelbase rear-drive platform. A Velite ragtop could be to the Zeta sedan what the 1953 Skylark was to the Roadmaster, but the Riviera is much more likely.


2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
BASE PRICE $32,790-$36,990
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, FWD/AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/275-hp/251-lb-ft* DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4800-5000 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 118.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 201.8 x 79.0 x 72.2 in
0-60 MPH 8.2-8.4 sec (MT est.)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16-22/16-24 mpg** (AWD/FWD)
CO2 emissions 1.063693-1.030625 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
*SAE certified; **2008 EPA method