The Buick Enclave made quite a splash at Motor Trend magazine when the luxury crossover first debuted in the 2008 model year. The eight-passenger crossover covers most of its bases, but there hasn't been a significant update since it initially arrived in showrooms. When the Enclave first arrived, we said the car rejustified the brand's existence. Then again, we also said the big crossover needed work.

So the discerning public has responded . . . by sending sales through the roof? Thanks in part to a lack of competitors in the seven- to eight-passenger large luxury crossover class -- priced in the low $40,000 range - the Enclave has excelled in the market. The SUV was Buick's top-selling vehicle in 2009 and the second-best seller in 2008 and 2010. Sales are expected to be even higher this year.

No wonder changes to the 2011 Buick Enclave were limited to new 19-inch chrome wheels and three new colors. Those waiting for more changes in the 2012 model year can stop holding their breath. Hill Hold Assist, a center console power outlet, and electronic pedal override are now standard, and there's a new shade of red paint.

While there are some areas that could use some attention, the exterior is still plenty appealing. The 2011 Enclave remains one of the most attractive full-size crossovers available today. With its waterfall grille and teardrop blue-ringed headlights, the Enclave has a refined design, one that's good enough to function as a status symbol for those tired of paying $70,000 for a Cadillac Escalade. Take a look at the tastefully sculpted sheetmetal on the side or the taillights with chrome edges and it's clear this is one of GM's best-ever badge-engineered exterior styling jobs.

Too bad we can't say the same about the interior. The instrument cluster has chrome-ringed gauges but the rest of the gauge work lacks flair. The wood-like trim covering every corner of the interior is nice, but we'd like it more if it matched the mahogany-inlaid steering wheel. The dome-shaped central air vents are creatively designed, but the center stack is another disappointment. It seems that with every step forward the 2011 Enclave makes inside, something else takes it a step back. Like the unlock/lock tabs, which feel flimsy. Or the unintelligible trip computer controls that, with a small adjustment, are also used on the Chevrolet Silverado HD. Or HVAC controls that don't provide an easier-to-use dial to control temperature and fan speed. Or the sound system's tuning knob, which is slow to react. Or the sunroof cover that doesn't completely shield passengers from light when the sun is directly overhead. (Memo to Buick: Take a look at the thicker cover on a Kia Sportage SX.)

Judging by the black plastic panel that surrounds the smallish DVD-based navigation system screen and the rest of the controls on the center stack, we expect future Enclaves will have enough room for Buick's IntelliLink, an infotainment system that can play Pandora or Stitcher through a phone and allows for a more seamless integration of portable devices. Once this system makes it to the Enclave, the crossover will probably use a 7- or 8-inch high-resolution touch-screen display. Until that happens, we're left to gripe about the Enclave. How difficult could it be to add soothing ambient lighting like that in our former long-term 2010 Buick LaCrosse?

The 2011 Enclave is powered by a 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 that makes 288 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. Since the engine is nearly identical to the one under the hood of the mechanically related GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, the Buick is happy to run on 87 octane. Towing capacity maxes out at 4500 pounds and the turning radius on this large crossover is a decent 40.4 feet.

On paper, the Enclave's V-6 doesn't seem strong enough for an SUV with an as-tested curb weight of 5057 pounds, but the power level is near ideal. Acceleration from 0-60 mph comes in 8.4 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 16.5 seconds at 84.2 mph. The 201.5-inch Buick completed our figure-eight course in 28.1 seconds at 0.57 g. Braking from 60-0 mph took 124 feet, matching the performance of a 2011 Audi Q7 diesel with all-wheel drive. We'd like to see something around 300 horsepower in the future, to help distinguish this Lambda crossover from the Chevrolet and GMC siblings.

Fuel economy on the all-wheel-drive model is 16/22 mpg city/highway and 17/24 mpg on front-wheel-drive models. Our real-world mileage in our AWD tester was a bit lower than advertised. Its six-speed automatic transmission is geared to maximize fuel economy, but sometimes downshifts at highway speeds when called upon by moderate to high throttle inputs. There's a little body roll on the Enclave, but nothing out of place on a large crossover like this. The ride is appropriately cushy, though those who favor a more relaxed ride should eschew the optional 20-inch wheels, despite how attractive they are.

Though the Enclave doesn't slip through the air as easily as say, a Chevrolet Volt, the SUV is still sufficiently quiet. Inside, the controls for folding down the second- and third-row seats are easy to use and eight-passenger seating is optional on all trims. Cargo volume is a respectable 23.2 cubic feet with all three rows of seating up, 67.5 cubic feet with the third row out of the way, and 115.3 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down, too.

If the rear seats are folded down, though, you won't be able to enjoy the rear entertainment system. The one in our $50,445 tester had a fold-down 8-inch screen viewable by second- and third-row passengers. Buick should consider a rear entertainment system that integrates screens in the back of the first row passenger headrests. Pricing on the Enclave starts at $36,425 for a CX model, one that less than 10 percent of buyers have bought so far this year. Just over half of all buyers go for a CXL-1 model, which retails for $39,540. Add $2000 on any trim for all-wheel drive.

Another area in which the Enclave falls behind is smart keyless entry. Yes, you can use the remote vehicle start feature from as far away as 200 feet, but we'd trade that feature for a smart keyless entry system like the kind found on cars as cheap as a Nissan Sentra. But let's focus on the positive. Once you enter the Enclave, the available articulating HID headlights greet you by briefly turning outward, then toward the center. It's a special touch, one we've also seen on the LaCrosse.

The Enclave will help keep its occupants safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2011 Buick five stars (out of a possible five) in the newly stringent safety tests. At the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Enclave (as well as the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse) is a Top Safety Pick for 2011.

Although there are minor differences among the Acadia, Traverse, and Enclave, ultimately choosing the Buick is a question of image. It's the most attractive of the GM SUV trio and it does a slightly better job of appearing upscale in the interior. There's still work to be done, though, before the Enclave can be considered world class. We'll see what the next significant update brings, and it isn't likely until the 2013 model year at the earliest. Not that Buick's in a huge hurry, as the Enclave has become the brand's best-selling vehicle for the first third of 2011.


2011 Buick Enclave CXL-2
BASE PRICE $44,095
PRICE AS TESTED $50,445
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/288-hp/270-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5057 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 119.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 201.5 x 79.0 x 72.5 in
0-60 MPH 8.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.5 sec @ 84.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 124 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/22 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.06 lb/mile
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