The 2008 Buick Enclave SUV might be considered an updated version of one of its early 1970s Estate station wagons, with plenty of room and a generally car-like feel.
The sleek midsize Enclave follows Buick's rich styling tradition. The first General Motors experimental concept car was the slick 1939 Buick Y-Job, and Buick's 1953 Skylark convertible and stunning 1963 Riviera coupe are classics. Buick autos later got smooth, Jaguar-like styling, but the Enclave is the first Buick truck that belongs with the best-styled Buick autos.
The Enclave is similar in many respects to GM's Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. All have unique styling, but the Buick model looks the best of the trio.
This Buick is assembled as well as some top Japanese SUVs. It comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and in CX and higher-line CXL trim levels. Prices range from $32,055 for a CX with front-wheel drive to $36,255 for the one I tested-an all-wheel-drive CXL.
Seven-passenger seating is standard with second-row bucket seats that permit a wide aisle to the third-row bench seat. A second-row bench seat also is offered for 8-passsenger seating.
Spacious Passenger Area
The first- and second-row seating areas are roomy, although the large front bucket seats need more lateral support. The third-row seat area is spacious, even for two 6-footers. It can easily be reached from the outside because second-row seats slide forward and have flip-forward bottom cushions and sliding backrests.
Even the base CX is loaded with comfort and convenience equipment, including a power tailgate for those carrying groceries or other cargo. There also is tri-zone climate control, power front seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and power mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry
The CXL adds uptown items such as leather upholstery, heated front seats and a front passenger seat with a wider range of power adjustments.
This is a family vehicle, so Buick loads it with safety features. They include anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, electronic stability control with rollover mitigation technology, front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags with rollover deployment.
There's a variety of options. They include a $1,300 power sunroof with a skylight for second-row occupants and a $4,320 Entertainment Package with navigation and DVD entertainment systems, rearview camera, rear audio controls and an upscale Bose sound system.
There also are handsome $1,495 alloy wheels for the CXL, but they're best left to warm-weather areas of the country that aren't cursed with corrosive winter road salt.
The Enclave has a smooth, quiet 3.6-liter V6 with 275 horsepower. It provides lively in-town acceleration and decent merging and 65-75 mph passing. But don't expect neck-snapping acceleration above 60 mph because the Enclave weighs 4,780 to 4,985 pounds. (Buick might offer a 2010 Enclave with a V8, and the V6 probably will get more power.)
The 6-speed automatic transmission upshifts smoothly. It's generally responsive, but can get caught in too high a gear, and sudden downshifts cause it to select a lower gear in a jerky manner.
Estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg in the city and 24 on highways with front-wheel drive and 16 and 22 with all-wheel drive. Only 87-octane gasoline is needed, although Buick says 89-octane delivers the best performance.
The Enclave drives in a car-like manner. Steering is precise, and the ride is smooth and well-controlled over bad roads. The tall-but-wide Enclave is stable, with moderate body sway when negotiating curves-although its weight discourages sporty driving. The brake pedal has a linear action, and stops are quick and undramatic.
The new Buick is fairly easy to enter because of its low floor, and long doors with large handles assist entry. Occupants sit high, and large outside mirrors enhance driver safety.
Quiet, Upscale Interior
The interior looks upscale. It's also quiet because of such items as an acoustic-laminated windshield and triple door seals. The luminous gauges are easy to read, even in bright sunlight. Climate and sound system controls are small, but easily reached.
I couldn't get the express-down driver power window out of express mode with the window switch. Stopping it when it was moving up in express mode was easy, though, and it has an anti-pinch feature.
The shifter partially blocks the two console cupholders for the driver, but the covered console storage bin is deep. Pockets in all doors are too small to be very useful.
Dual lights for the front visor mirrors are a thoughtful touch, but the elegant-looking center dashboard analog clock almost seems like a decorative item because it's too small to be read easily.
Generous Cargo Room
The wide cargo opening is rather high, but there's a good amount of cargo room even with the third-row seatbacks in an upright position. And the third seat folds flat to significantly enlarge the cargo area. Second-row seatbacks also fold forward to increase cargo space.
The hood has a hydraulic strut that does away with an awkward prop rod and swings open to reveal a large plastic cover for the sideways-mounted V6 and easily reached fluid filler areas.
The midsize SUV market no longer is one of the hottest, but it still has plenty of entries and the Enclave is one of the better ones.