THE PROS & CONS
What’s best:Spacious, available safety equipment, towing capacity
What’s worst:Devil is in the details, fussy audio/nav system, rear shocks need firmer damping
Interesting:Enclave’s six-speed transmission is from a joint Ford/GM venture
A husband, wife, two kids, and their dog, all in a Buick, on their way to go camping sounds like the North American dream, doesn’t it Certainly Buick would like you to think so.
In my case, one of the two kids and the Buick are borrowed (Morgan is my best friend’s daughter, the Buick belongs to GM Canada’s press fleet), but the trip is just as real; it’s the Early family’s (somewhat) yearly trip to Craigleith Provincial Park, located right at the foot of Blue Mountain, on the rocky shore of beautiful Nottawasaga Bay.
Calling Craigleith a ‘park’ is a bit of an exaggeration. Really, it’s a narrow, treed strip of campsites on the waterfront between Hwy. 26 and the bay.
Similarly, calling Buick’s Enclave an ‘SUV’ would be inaccurate, because even though it’s a large vehicle that can be configured to seat eight and tow up to 4,500 lbs. (2,014 kg.), it’s actually a front-wheel drive-based vehicle that uses a platform (named Lambda) originally slated to be shared with GM’s next generation minivans.
This is not a failing.
Honda’s Pilot and Toyota’s Highlander have the same sort of relationship with the Odyssey and Sienna, respectively. None of these vehicles are meant for real off-road duty. GM will happily sell you a Chevy Tahoe for that.
While we’re talking about relationships, bear in mind that most of what goes for this big Buick can be said of its Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia siblings, all of which share the same 281/288 hp 3.6-litre direct-injected V6 (single vs. dual exhaust), six-speed transmission, and basic seven- or eight-passenger interior layout.
All three of these vehicles underwent a successful restyle two years ago. Starting at $33,355, the Chevy is least expensive; the more upscale Buick begins at $47,760, and the Acadia falls in between.
Pitched at the likes of Acura’s MDX, the Infiniti QX60, and the Lincoln MKT, my heavily optioned, top-line premium Enclave rang in at $58,010.
While we’ve tent and even car camped at Craigleith, a trailer is the way to go.
Our trailer is a little guy, an eight-foot Viking pop-up tent trailer, small and light enough at approximately 1,300 lbs. dry to be towed by some cars (as we normally do), so it posed little challenge for the brawny Buick and its towing package (a deal at $550). It simply shrugged off the 400’s sizeable hills.
Additional kudos must be given to GM for their tow/haul feature, a button that selects an alternate program for the transmission, holding gears longer while accelerating, delaying upshifts on grades minimizing strain on both driveline and driver, as it did most of what I have to do manually in our normal, somewhat overmatched tow vehicle.
When not shackled to a trailer, shifts are largely unobtrusive and appropriately timed.
One of Craigleith’s shortcomings is noise the soothing sounds of the waves on the bay are frequently overrun by the ruckus of trucks and traffic passing by on Hwy. 26. Beauty and access more than make up for this: walk 20 metres out of your trailer and you can be standing in the clear waters of the bay.
The Enclave is much quieter than Craigleith, and while the truck handily beats out the tree-filled park in minimizing wind noise, both suffer from excessive road noise (the Buick far less so).
Beauty is subjective, I prefer the GMC’s more modern styling to the Buick’s more traditional chrome and plasti-wood interior trim. But access is objective, and climbing into the Enclave’s third-row seat is pretty easy by the standards of this class. The second-row seat’s cushion folds upwards to allow the whole assembly to move quite far forward. I managed to squeeze into the rearmost row, finding adult tolerable, though not adult comfortable, accommodations again, among the best in this segment. The second row is far more hospitable; the heated and cooled first row even more so. There’s actual storage space behind the third row too, a rarity in a three-row crossover.
The additional weight of the trailer and a week’s worth of camping supplies was most noticeable in an exaggeration of the big Buick’s tendency to porpoise (rock front to back) over larger surface irregularities. While the brakes are strong (even arresting our unbraked trailer) and the steering precise and nicely weighted, the Enclave is not a vehicle that inspires driving enthusiasm.
The Buick’s V6 has plenty of power, and is nearly silent while cruising, yet it sounds stressed just motivating it gently away from a stop. Obviously, that’s not the case: fuel economy, during a week filled with towing and traffic, was surprisingly good for a vehicle of this size, averaging 13.5 L/100 km.
Buick calls out the Lexus RX 350 and Audi Q7, in addition to those aforementioned luxury crossovers, as competitors.
On paper, the Enclave has the equipment and specifications to go head-to-head with them, and it prices out favourably, particularly factoring in my tester’s adaptive HID headlights and its lane departure and collision warning systems. There’s also the world’s first centre-mounted, front-seat side impact airbag.
Instead, it’s let down by some spit and polish issues. The dot-matrix information screen looks dated compared to the LCD displays found in those other crossovers, and there’s a strip across the top of the dash part of the Enclave’s cool ambient illumination that reflects on the windshield, looking like a big crack in the glass. The driver gets auto up and down on his window; the front passenger auto down only and nobody else even gets that. You won’t find proximity entry or push-button starting either (the latter no big loss). Light in the glovebox Nope.
These aren’t deal-breakers, but if GM is going to seriously mention Buick in the same breath as Lexus or Audi, it’s going to have to find the finesse. The recent redesign of Chevy’s Impala suggests that the capability to make big strides exists within the company.
For now, regard the Enclave and its Acadia/Traverse twins as roomy, capable alternatives to other, non-premium three row crossovers, such as the Ford Explorer or Hyundai Santa Fe XL.
The vehicle Brian Early tested was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org