2018 Buick Enclave First Drive
Quicker, Nimbler, Roomier, More Fuel Efficient
When we interviewed recently retired General Motors Design vice president Ed Welburn way back in in 2006, he told us that he and his team had established “icon” vehicles that would set the design theme (or “form language”) for each GM brand going forward. And that icon vehicle for Buick was the just-introduced 2006 Enclave three-row crossover concept vehicle.
We thought that concept CUV was gorgeous inside and out, and if Buick’s then-boring cars would soon start looking like that, it would be great for GM’s once-proud premium Buick brand.” Other observers agreed. “It sets the bar high for a future of Buicks that aim to restore the marque’s luster in the near-luxury battleground,” Autoweek magazine wrote at the time.
Sure enough, when the very fine-looking production 2008 Enclave arrived the following spring, and other new Buicks began to follow in its finely styled tire tracks, the brand’s reputation and sales started turning around. And we’re certain that its well-received new design theme (combined with strong popularity and sales in China) helped save Buick from the chopping block when the government task force dictating GM's recovery from its 2009 bankruptcy forced it to drop half of its U.S. brands (Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer).
Now here comes Buick’s all-new second-generation 2018 Enclave to follow that first one’s decade of marketplace success. From its new-design Buick grille (replacing the long-iconic bold vertical bars) through its visually longer, slimmer body to its artfully sculpted derriere, it is substantially improved in every meaningful way. Its all-new stiffer, stronger, longer-wheelbase architecture (shared with the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse) enables improved ride, handling, towing capability and crash safety, and its large mid-size (some might say “full-size”) body offers class-leading cargo and people capacity, even in the adult-size back row.
With standard second-row captain’s chairs, this new Enclave boasts comfortable seating for seven and more cargo volume behind the first row than the Acura MDX, Audi Q7 and Infiniti QX60 with which it competes. And that three-abreast third row boasts 5.4 in. more legroom than the MDX, 4.3 in. more than the Q7 and nearly three inches more than the QX60.
This new one also offers 10 percent more overall interior space (including 3.1 cu. ft. of hidden under-floor storage) than the Gen I Enclave and an impressive 23.6 cubic feet of cargo room behind its third row. The second- and third-row seats fold flat for a wide, nearly-flat load floor, and available second-row SmartSlide seats give easy access to the third row, which is (optionally) power folding. And the passenger-side SmartSlide seat has a pitch/slide function for access even with an empty forward-facing child seat in place…but why not both sides?
Its enhanced suite of standard and available safety technologies includes a standard rear vision camera, rear park assist and seven air bags, including GM’s unique front center side airbag designed to keep front occupants from crashing into each other in a side-impact crash. Available features include forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, safety alert seat, following distance indicator and front park assist, all enabled by 17 radar, camera and ultrasonic sensors. Bi-functional LED projector headlamps and LED tail lamps with Evonik Acrylite technology give a distinctive look at night.
Also standard are keyless entry, push-button start, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and five years of GM’s OnStar Basic Plan1, plus a myBuick connectivity app with OnStar Smart Driver, which Buick describes as “an opt-in service designed to help Buick owners maximize their vehicle’s overall performance and become better drivers.” Also available are a hands-free power-programmable liftgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, universal home remote, six USB ports, frameless eight-inch diagonal infotainment system with Teen Driver, Rear Seat Reminder2 (an industry-first feature that reminds drivers to check the back seats as they exit their vehicles under certain circumstances) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
While the Gen I Enclave set a class benchmark for cabin quietness, this 2018 version carries Buick QuietTuning to the next dimension through new levels of aerodynamic tuning, sound-deadening and sealing acoustics and active noise cancellation. A 10-speaker Bose Premium sound system is available, and an all-new air ionizer (standard on Essence, Premium and new top-of-the-line Avenir models) eliminates odors and provides higher air quality by reducing bacteria, viruses, dust, debris and pollen.
More than ample performance (even when loaded) is provided by the Enclave's standard (and only) 3.6L V-6 engine, which spins out a healthy 310 horses and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. A much-improved version of GM's long-running direct-injection DOHC, 24-valve 3.6L V-6 driving through a new nine-speed automatic transmission, it also delivers 18 EPA mpg city, 26 highway and 21 combined with FWD, one mpg lower with AWD. That's impressive for such a large and capable vehicle.
Also impressive is the 2018 Enclave's surprisingly nimble handling, balanced by well-isolated, highly refined ride quality, both provided by its MacPherson strut front and five-link rear suspension expertly tuned by its development group. And thanks in part to substantially lighter weight -- about 400 lb. lighter on average than the previous Enclave, depending on model and trim -- it feels on the road like a much smaller vehicle. Its turning circle is 39 feet (1.4-ft. tighter than before), its tow rating is 5,000 lb., and its available "intelligent" (and Buick-first switchable) AWD with active twin-clutch rear differential improves both control and efficiency. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are stand, 20-inchers optional.
Starting at about $41K, the 2018 Enclave three-row crossover is available in Enclave, Essence and Premium trim levels as well as a new Avenir luxury sub-brand that provides a new top-of-the line, ultra-plush level of luxury above even the feature-loaded Premium trim -- as Denali does for GMC. The Enclave Avenir is distinguished by a specific mesh grille, special 20-in. six-spoke wheels, extra-premium materials throughout and other exterior and interior touches. Our leather-lined test Enclave Avenir AWD topped out at nearly $58K.
Based on our day long drive on a variety of roads ranging from freeways to twisty mountain two-lanes, we see no reason why this all-new lighter, roomier, more capable, more powerful, more fuel efficient, better-handling and better-equipped all-new Enclave should not succeed at least as well as its predecessor has, maybe better. And if the new ultra-lux Avenir succeeds as well, look for more Buick Avenir models rolling down the road before long.