2018 Buick Enclave Review

Well Worth the Wait

Earlier this year, I tested the Buick Envision crossover.

An upscale midsize model with a stylish body and premium cabin, it showed plenty of promise, but ultimately, I came away unimpressed. The vehicle’s twitchy steering, unsettled ride, and noisier-than-necessary interior were disappointing. Ostensibly an upscale product, it should have delivered more, especially for the money.

Now that there’s an autumn chill in the air at northern latitudes, it’s the Enclave’s turn to receive some attention. For 2018, the tri-shield’s flagship model has been totally redesigned after a decade on the market, an almost unheard-of timespan for a nameplate to soldier on without an overhaul.

But it was worth the wait because Buick’s new Enclave has a passel of enhancements that drivers are sure to appreciate, things like a more luxurious and spacious interior, an extra helping of tech, enhanced refinement and greater comfort than before.

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BIG Changes for 2018

Supporting these enhancements is a new architecture, the same one Chevrolet’s Traverse is built on. These vehicles share many of the same hard components, things like the floor pans and engine cradle, but pretty much everything an owner sees and touches is different in the Enclave.

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Compared to outgoing versions of this three-row utility, the 2018 model’s wheelbase and overall body have been stretched by about two inches each, dimensional changes that primarily benefit passengers in the rear seats. Legroom in the third-row is supposedly significantly greater than what’s offered in rival crossovers, with the Enclave beating the Acura MDX by 5.6 inches (142 mm), the Audi Q7 by some 4.5 (114 mm) and the Infiniti QX60 by around 3 (76 mm). While hardly vast, this Buick’s third row is spacious enough to accommodate adults without too much grumbling, provided they’re not sequestered back there for too long.

Using SAE methods, overall passenger volume has been increased by about 10 percent, though curiously this is not reflected on the spec sheet. According to the numbers, last year’s Enclave is more spacious. In spite of this, it’s actually a touch smaller inside since it was not measured using a standardized method.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Buick Envision Review

Cargo capacity in this 2018 Buick is likewise generous, clocking in at about 58 cubic feet (1,643 liters) with the rear-most seats folded flat; drop the second-row buckets as well and that figure balloons to nearly 98 (2,765 liters). A hidden compartment under the rear cargo area is perfect for stashing valuables. It checks out at more than three cubic feet (88.6 liters), plenty of room for items you’d like to keep away from nosy passersby.

Helping improve both performance and efficiency, the new Enclave has lost a significant amount of weight. Varying based on trim level, it’s nonetheless down around 360 pounds (163 kilograms), which is a huge difference.

Quiet Tuning

This Buick’s body is all new, with swoopy styling that’s both upscale and attractive, especially in range-topping form.

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The other big news for 2018 is the launch of Buick’s Avenir sub-brand, which is making its market debut with this vehicle. Think of it as a fourth trim level, sitting above Premium, Essence and standard Enclaves.

Separating Avenirs from more basic versions are plenty of alterations. The ones you’re most likely to notice include mesh grille inserts, special 20-inch wheels, and a chestnut-brown interior. Enclaves so equipped also gain mahogany-trimmed steering wheels, adaptive cruise control, and adjustable shock absorbers.

Keeping undesirable noise as far away from passengers as possible, the 2018 Enclave has been “Quiet Tuned,” engineered to be as refined as possible. Compared to the more plebian Traverse, they feature laminated glass, more foam insulation, multi-layer wheel liners, an extra helping of spray-on sound deadener and even active noise cancellation.

More Amenities Than Ever

Like its windswept body, the Enclave’s interior is flowing and swoopy, with gentle curves and elegant details. Throughout, the materials quality is high, as is comfort.

The second-row seats sit about chair height, which gives passengers good outward visibility and helps prevent fatigue on long trips.

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A hands-free power liftgate is standard on every 2018 Buick Enclave. An illuminated Buick badge projected on the ground from underneath the vehicle serves as a marker where you need to gesture with your leg to activate this feature, a clever touch.

Higher-end models also benefit from an ionizer in the climate control system, which eliminates unwanted odors while reducing bacteria, viruses, dust, and debris from the interior air.

Other high-tech goodies offered in the Enclave include a rear-camera mirror, which improves aft visibility by some 300 percent. There are also standard LED headlamps with Buick’s Evonik Acrylite technology, which creates an unmistakable appearance at night, with certain lighting elements emitting a frosty glow.

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Forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and other driver aids are available for extra cash, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, accessed through an infotainment system with an eight-inch screen.

Greasy Bits

Under the hood, just one powerplant is offered, a well-respected 3.6-liter V6 that in this application delivers 310 horses and 266 pound-feet of torque, much of which is available in the midrange.

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This engine is also amazingly smooth, seemingly friction-free; hardly any noise or vibration is felt, even as you wind it out. A new nine-speed automatic transmission is standard in every Enclave, a gearbox that was co-developed with Ford.

There’s a twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system as well. Responding quickly to varying road conditions, it can also be disabled at the push of a button for enhanced economy. Of course, reduced weight and significantly improved aerodynamics don’t hurt in this department, either.

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When it comes to miserly motoring, front-drive Enclaves should deliver 18 miles per gallon in city driving (13.8 L/100 km), 26 on the highway (9.4 L/100 km) and 21 combined (11.8 L/100 km). Go for all-wheel-drive and each of those figures drops by one mpg.

The Drive

Putting it through its paces, the new Enclave proved to be a capable and surprisingly engaging crossover. The overall ride is soft with just a touch of float over large road undulations. It coddles passengers without wallowing, which is just right for this brand and segment. The interior is also pleasantly serene at all speeds and engine rpm.

Steering is light to the touch and reasonably quick, which makes this vehicle feel more maneuverable than you might expect, especially for something more than 204 inches long (5,189 mm). Even though it has a pillow-soft ride, body roll is almost nonexistent while cornering, which is quite shocking.

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One of the ride-and-handling engineers at the Enclave drive event explained to me they put stiffer springs and far thicker stabilizer bars on their crossovers than you’d ever expect. This keeps their tall bodies flat through corners while the vehicles’ relatively heavy mass prevents the ride from going to hell.

With a generous stable of under-hood horses, the Enclave is plenty quick for a large crossover vehicle.  From a stop, front-drive examples can hit 60 miles an hour (96.6 km/h) in 6.4 seconds. All-wheel-drive models take half a second longer. Never does this vehicle feel overmatched, though this could change with a full load of people or cargo.

Or while towing. When properly equipped, the Enclave is now rated to drag up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), enough to handle a large sport boat. The turning circle has also been shortened by nearly a foot and a half (457 mm), making this vehicle just a bit more maneuverable.

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Despite having so many gears crammed into such a small space, the nine-speed transmission shifts quickly, without any banging, jerking or other sexually suggestive verbs. It’s tuned pretty much perfectly, which certainly hasn’t been the case with similar transmissions offered by other manufacturers, however, if there’s one thing that could be improved it’s the fiddly electronic shifter. Initially I found it confusing to use, but more worryingly than that, on a couple occasions the vehicle didn’t go into park when I pressed the button, which is an obvious safety issue.

The Verdict: 2018 Buick Enclave Review

Like most good things, the 2018 Buick Enclave isn’t cheap. The most basic version of this three-row utility vehicle stickers for just shy of $41k, including $975 in destination charges. Understandably, top-shelf Avenirs are quite a bit richer than that. The example I tested rolled out of GM’s Delta Township Assembly Plant in Lansing, Michigan, wearing a price tag of $59,435.

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But even at nearly $60K, I wasn’t aghast. After driving just one block in the new Enclave, I knew I liked it more – a lot more – than the smaller Envision. This is an all-around pleasant vehicle, with a spacious, premium interior, welcome technology, and silky-smooth drivetrain. It’s a worthy standard bearer for Buick and a premium large crossover you’d be wise to consider.

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