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2011 Buick Enclave Review
Enclave continues to be a compelling choice for those in search of a large luxury SUV
By Mark Atkinson, Photography by Buick, Apr. 27, 2011

It’s no secret that Buick is enjoying a real renaissance. Dealers who used to sell single-digit numbers a month now can’t keep the hot Regal and LaCrosse models on the lot, and are certainly going through more free coffee in the process. But while those Chinese and European-inspired (or in Regal’s case, imported directly) sedans might get all the attention now, it was a larger vehicle wearing the Buick crest that started getting butts in seats.

FAST FACTS

1. The Enclave continues to be Buick’s top model and despite being on sale for four years, had its best sales year in 2010, up 50 percent.

2. A 3.6L V6 makes 288-hp and gets 17/24-mpg FWD and 16/22-mpg AWD.

3. Enclave models start from $35,615 plus $2,000 for AWD.

4. The Enclave seats 7 or 8, can tow up to 4,500 lbs and has a total of 115 cu-ft of cargo room.

The Enclave crossover has been a perennial strong seller for the brand since its introduction back in 2007 as one of General Motors’ first three offerings built off the large Lambda platform. Buick had a sketchy past with visually unappealing SUVs, and the gorgeous, classy and darned-sexy Enclave put those demons to rest. Compared with the Pontiac Aztek-cousin Rendezvous, Chevy TrailBlazer-based Rainier and the badge-engineered Terraza minivan, the Enclave was the second-coming of Harley Earl.

DESIGN HAS AGED WELL, INTERIOR HAS NOT

Even five years on it still looks fresh – there’s been some detail changes over the years, but no heavy redesign is needed. Our top-line CXL tester uses optional bling-tastic 20-inch chrome wheels to good effect, and the brightwork continues on the modern ‘portholes’ on the hood, strips across the front bumper, the window surrounds, and roof rails. The swiveling xenon headlights have a jeweled effect too, adding to the shine.

If it’s anywhere that the Enclave lets the side down, it’s the interior. Certainly a classy design when new, several other competitors do offer more modern designs. There are still big swaths of plastic that hint at the bad-old days at GM, but its high equipment levels, huge space and comfort make up the difference.

All Enclaves come as seven-seaters, with a pair of captain’s chairs separated by a big optional second-row console that’s perfect for storing the clutter and detritus these big crossovers can generate. Access to the generous third-row bench isn’t affected either. For those needing minivan levels of people-hauling ability, an eight-seat layout is optional. The cargo area is suitably huge, expanding to 115 cu-ft with the seats folded.

The big Buick comes standard with a rear-parking camera and sensors, OnStar, XM radio, and Bluetooth hands-free, while the loaded CXL model adds heated and cooled front seats, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and an upgraded Bose audio system. Options like a power sunroof, rear-mounted entertainment system and navigation round out the luxury additions.

Mechanically, the Enclave uses GM’s familiar 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission combo to score 17-mpg city, 24-mpg highway despite generating 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. It has a potential range of over 520 miles with its class-leading 22-gallon fuel tank. All-wheel drive is optional too, and works well with the standard traction and stability control at keeping the Buick stable in inclement weather. Properly equipped, the Enclave can tow 4,500 lb, so it’s not just a big poseur either.

BIG AND COMFORTABLE

On the road, the Enclave doesn’t follow its younger siblings’ focus on road-holding, preferring instead to out-Lexus Lexus. Numb, light steering, soft dampers, plenty of roll in the corners, but it’s controlled – not boat-like in any regard. It’s when driving that you really get a sense of just how wide these big GM crossovers are – you’re sitting quite far away from your front-seat passenger. It doesn’t lend the immediate confidence of the Explorer or new Dodge Durango, similarly sized three-row beasts.

In an effort to mimic its competitors’ tomb-quiet cabins, the Enclave uses Buick’s QuietTuning technology, which really is just a dedicated effort to stop noise vibrations from entering the interior. There are triple door seals, laminated windshield and side glass, sound deadening in the cabin and engine compartment, and the big V6 has been tuned and muffled appropriately. However, in reality, the Enclave didn’t seem any less noisy than the Ford Explorer, although the latter has five years worth of research and construction techniques more than the Buick.

While front-wheel-drive CX models start at $35,615, our all-wheel-drive CXL-2 starts at $44,905. Adding the 20-inch wheels ($300), sunroof ($1,400), rear-seat entertainment with navigation ($3,185), brings the total to a couple hundred bucks under 50 grand. While pricey, the value for money argument is difficult to beat. To find a similarly equipped, full-size three-row luxury SUV or crossover for this money is difficult. Buick’s own suggestions of the Lexus RX 350, Lincoln MKT and Acura MDX aren’t bad, and the Enclave holds up well against them. Both the Lincoln and Acura are smaller in stature than the Buick, while the RX 350 doesn’t even offer a third row of seats.

Strangely enough, the closest rival to the Enclave comes from within: the GMC Acadia, which is built on the same mechanicals, shares the same engine, ratings, cargo space, etc., now offers a full-blown Denali trim for 2011, which strangely enough, is actually slightly more expensive than the Buick...

THE VERDICT

Given its relative age, the Enclave remains one of the most attractive vehicles on the road, offers full-size luxury with room to stretch out and enjoy your trip. Buick’s transformation isn’t quite complete, but if the Regal and LaCrosse have such a long and popular lifespan, then the company is well positioned for the future.

LOVE IT
  • Still sexy and striking to look at
  • Smooth V6, strong transmission
  • Acres of cargo and passenger room
LEAVE IT
  • Interior hasn’t aged as well
  • Competition mainly from inside GM
  • Feels large on the road

RELATED READING

2010 GMC Acadia SLT-2 AWD Review
2011 Ford Explorer Review – First Drive [Video]
2011 Dodge Durango Review – First Drive
2010 Lexus RX350 Review
2010 Acura MDX Review
2010 Lincoln MKT AWD EcoBoost Review