Buick, the cornerstone of 100-year-old General Motors, is trying to find new buyers by offering a high quality crossover, the Enclave, to compete with competitors from Acura, Lexus and Volvo, among others. Buick still offers big sedans for its dwindling senior citizen population, but the crossover market is where it's at for families today, and Buick wants a piece of it.
The platform upon which this curvaceous competitor rides is shared with GMC and Saturn versions in 2008, and for 2009, mass market brand Chevrolet gets its own iteration. So what does Buick offer to distinguish itself? Buick style accommodations.
It starts up front with the vertical bar grille, which resonates historically back to at least the 1950s. I still recall the "toothy" Buicks that trolled the roads when I was eye level to their headlamps. The chrome today is nonmetallic, but gleams in rustproof splendor on that grille and elsewhere about the body.
The voluptuously sculpted Enclave looks little like the GMC and Saturn models, which take their cues from SUVs. The Enclave looks more like its Japanese competitors, but with an extra flourish in the style of longtime GM design studio head Harley Earl, who brought the world pontoon fenders and fastback rooflines before retiring during the tailfin era of the late 1950s.
The famous Buick ventiports are tucked along the edge of the stubby hood, but they are a one-piece garnish and not three (or four) separate holes like on the classic models. It's anyone's guess what Mr. Earl would think of this car's proportions, which would likely remind him more of the contemporary Chevrolet Suburban than his low, sleek Y-Job, considered the first "concept car."
Style differentiates the Enclave interior as well. The most obvious attraction is the large semicircular dash center with wings, with enough visual complexity and movement to evoke the 1950's cars, Buick's most popular sellers. This rounded design is echoed in the raised logo circle on the tail of the car, the silhouette of which you can see in your rearview mirror.
The Enclave comes in two flavors, CX and CXL. My White Diamond Tricoat CX offered cloth seats, another 1950s feature, but in a wild wavy line pattern that practically defies description. Leather is standard in the CXL model.
Although my tester's leather and wood steering wheel was quite elegant, I was surprised to see nonluxury touches, such as manual adjustment for the seatback angle and the steering wheel height (these get power in the CXL). Materials are mostly nice, but the rubbery section near the interior door handles had the tactile sensation of a tire. Standard features include a power liftgate, Stabilitrak electronic stability control, traction control, XM Satellite Radio and GM's famous OnStar system, with Turn-by-Turn voice-guided navigation.
The CXL adds additional power adjustments, presets for the seats and mirrors, and those seats are heated and leather-covered. You also get a bump from 18-inch wheels to a blingy set of 19-inchers, and a real (compact) spare tire instead of an inflation kit. Driving along in the Enclave is a pleasant and quiet experience. The 3.6-liter V6 sends 275 horsepower through a six speed automatic transmission, which, if you're feeling a little sporty, you can shift manually.
The Enclave offers standard seven-passenger seating, with second-row captain's chairs and a comfortable third-row bench. When you load up the Enclave, its size becomes a virtue and not a liability. Five star crash ratings and a full complement of airbags, in addition to the electronic safety features already mentioned, make the Enclave a safe ride.
The car weights nearly two-and-a-half tons, so fuel mileage is not stellar. I averaged 15.8 miles per gallon. The EPA gives the car 16 City, 24 Highway on its idealized test cycle. It also awards it Green Vehicle Guide ratings of 6 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas. That's midrange. The all-wheel-drive version of the car drops to 22 mpg Highway.
Prices start at $32,790 plus $735 destination charge for the front-wheel-drive CX. The top model, the CXL with all-wheel drive, runs $36,990 plus destination charge. Add options and those figures will rise. My tester had an Entertainment Package with six-disc CD, Bose speakers and rear-seat audio, a Driver Confidence Package with ultrasonic rear parking assist and two cold-weather favorites, remote start and heated windshield washer fluid system. Including an alloy wheel upgrade and $795 for the fancy paint, the bottom line came to $36,045.
With $3.50 - $4.00 gas and global warming a fact of life today, many people are choosing to downsize their cars. The Enclave is old school, as befits a 105-year-old brand, but if you need to carry six people with you, it could be a reasonable and appealing choice.