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2018 Buick Enclave: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Buick Enclave, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Buick Enclave Review

Crossovers aren’t a big thing at Buick — they’re just about everything. Small wonder, then, that the launch of the completely redesigned 2018 Buick Enclave is such a big deal. Crossovers account for nearly 80 percent of Buick sales. That’s huge! It’s been a decade since the original Enclave rolled into showrooms. That’s a long time for the vehicle sitting atop Buick’s crossover food chain, and it’s high time Buick gave its 3-row ute a major makeover.

Clearly, when Chevrolet released its next-gen Traverse in late summer, the next Enclave, which shares a platform and most of its mechanicals with the Chevy, couldn’t have been far behind. The Enclave, we think, wears its update better than the Traverse. Somehow it manages to look more streamlined and athletic. It certainly looks more so than the first-gen Enclave.

Buick chose the 2018 Enclave to introduce its Avenir subbrand. Think Denali for Buick. Avenir defines ultimate luxury for Buick or, should we say, will define? We think Buick will expand Avenir content in the future. As it appears on the 2018 Enclave, it includes bigger wheels, a mesh grille, unique exterior colors, an upgraded leather interior and some Avenir logos scattered about.

We recently got to drive the 2018 Enclave Avenir through the mountains of northern Georgia and western North Carolina during its media introduction. See the 2018 Buick Enclave models for sale near you

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Although the width is basically unchanged, Buick stretched the Enclave by close to 2.5 inches in length, to 204.3 inches. The wheelbase is longer, too, by 2.0 inches. Buick invested virtually all the extra length in second-row legroom, which has grown from 36.8 inches to 38.9.

Seven adults can fit into the Enclave. Comfy and offering adequate support, the first two rows of captain’s chairs are a pleasant place to hang for a few hundred miles. Those exiled to the 3-person split third-row bench may feel a bit cramped, depending on their girth and height.

Comparing cargo room, the Enclave always ranks high among midsize crossovers. Folding down the second- and third-row seats creates a perfectly flat cargo floor. Cargo room behind the third row has grown a tad, but maximum space with all seats folded is down significantly. This is due in part to the 2018’s lower, sleeker roofline. One welcome bonus is a 3 cu-ft. storage space hidden under the load floor.

Interior styling doesn’t get much simpler and more elegant. Lifted directly from Buick’s Avista concept car, the basic styling of the dashboard and instrument panel is fluid and understated. A small smattering of buttons provides control over the important things. Everything your hands or elbows touch is soft-touch material. And quiet: Buick has always prided itself on the quiet of its cabins. Riding down the highway in the Enclave is like traveling in a sensory deprivation chamber. A low growl from the engine under hard acceleration is about the only noise filtering through.

Roll Call

Four different grades make up the Enclave roster: Enclave 1SV, Essence, Premium and Avenir. With the factory destination fee, base prices for front-wheel-drive models run from $41,945 for the entry-level Enclave 1SV to $55,365 for the Avenir. The Essence, the grade Buick expects to be the volume seller, comes in at $46,165, with the Premium at $49,965.

All but the Enclave 1SV can be armed with AWD. A typical $2,000 on-demand AWD system is offered on the Essence. The Premium and Avenir qualify for a more complex $2,300 Intelligent AWD system with a rear axle that can switch torque from wheel to wheel.

Every Enclave comes with seven airbags, tri-zone automatic climate control, six USB ports, cruise control, a Driver Information Center with a 4.2-inch display, full power accessories, remote keyless locks and start, a rear-vision camera, leather seating, power-adjustable heated front seats, an easy-access second-row seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, LED headlights and daytime running lights, active front grille shutters, auto on/off headlights, a power hands-free power rear lift gate, turn signals integrated into the outboard mirrors, rear park assist, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar telematics, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability and an infotainment system with an 8-in touchscreen, SiriusXM capability, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Get Up and Go

Don’t search your Buick dealer’s lot for a 4-cylinder version of the Enclave. It doesn’t exist. Every Enclave comes with a 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and a 9-speed automatic transmission. This is 22 ponies more than last year’s 3.6L, somewhat making up for the loss of 4 lb-ft of torque, to 266 lb-ft.

The Enclave won’t dazzle you with its acceleration, but it has plenty of thrust. It didn’t run out of breath as we sprinted up hills and was more than capable of overtaking slower traffic when we needed to pass on two-lane county roads. Although the model differs from trim to trim, Buick shaved nearly 400 lbs from last year’s base trim to this year’s. The Enclave drives smaller that it looks. It’s fairly nimble and responsive.

Fuel economy isn’t crazy-bad, either. According to government estimates, FWD versions deliver 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Opting for AWD knocks 1 mpg off each number.

Other Stuff

As you move up through its grades, the Enclave has some clever and high-tech features, like the standard power hands-free liftgate that shines a small Buick logo on the ground to show you where to put your foot to trigger the automatic opening. Beyond the rearview camera and rear parking assist, most of the safety and drive-assist technology isn’t offered on the base model.

Moving up to the Essence adds the Driver Confidence package with lane-change alert, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Moving up to the Premium or Avenir grades includes the Driver Confidence II package, adding low-speed forward automatic braking. Available on the Avenir as an extra-cost option is the Technology package, with adaptive full-speed cruise control with stop/go and front full automatic braking, as well as an upgraded Premium Suspension package with continuously variable real-time damping.

In Conclusion

As a premium cruiser, the 2018 Buick Enclave measures up. Luxurious, comfortable and light on its feet, it checks all the boxes. Sure, you can find a nit to pick here and there (at first blush, we weren’t wild about its electronic shifter but would probably warm up to it over time), but overall, it’s a big improvement over a vehicle we already liked … a lot.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

Find a Buick Enclave for sale


Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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