THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Smooth, refined V6; three usable rows of seating, creamy ride.
- What’s Bad: The Chevy Traverse exists, interior not as nice as other luxury competitors.
If you want the best vehicle for your growing family and all the stuff that comes with them, buy a minivan. They’ve been designed without compromise to make your life easier. You’ll be a happier family and you’ll eventually thank me for steering you in the right direction.
More than likely, however, you’re having heart palpitations at the thought of driving one of those soul-sucking kinder-wagons for the next 8-10 years. A fashionable purchase, a minivan is not.
Luckily for you then, there’s an abundance of large SUVs that can, sort of, fit the bill. If you’re after space and three real rows of seating some are better than others.
The Buick Enclave is one of the better ones. Based on the bones of the popular Chevrolet Traverse it adds its own mix of style and luxury appointments to distance itself from the plebian Chevy.
Going against the press car grain, Buick loaned me an “entry-level” Essence model with few optional extras to mention. It did have all-wheel drive checked off and a new Sport Touring appearance package, which came with some flashy 20-inch wheels and a black mesh grille.
Lots of usable space and a well-equipped base model
Like the Traverse, the Enclave is about as close as you can get to a minivan. It seats seven, the third row is passable for adults, and there’s a surprising amount of cargo room left over with all rows of seating in place. Start folding them down and you’ll end up with a cavernous 2,764 litres, more than all of its competitors. There are six USB ports and a peppering of cubbies and nooks making this a practical and usable space for the whole family.
Split into three trims, even the bottom-rung Essence model I was in offered heated leather seating, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alerts, a tri-zone climate control system with an air ionizer, and a power liftgate. All-wheel drive remains an option here and it’s a less sophisticated version of GM’s twin-clutch system that comes standard in the next-level up Premium model. Premium trims also add a 10-speaker Bose stereo, ventilated front-row seats, heated second-row seats and a heated steering wheel.
The range-topping Avenir adds things like a fancier leather interior, embroidered headrests, a “3D” grille, new wheels, and, of course, “Avenir” badging to show everyone you’ve made it to the top of the corporate ladder.
Problems arise when you turn over the price tag and realize that for the same money competitors from far snootier marques are offering higher quality furnishings and a better luxury experience for your hard-earned money.
Refined power, smooth ride
There is only one drivetrain option here and thankfully it’s a good one. GM’s ubiquitous 3.6-L V6 makes a healthy 310 hp, is smooth, refined, and provides the right amount of pull for everyday driving needs. If there’s a fly in the ointment here it’s the 9-speed automatic that can exhibit some jerky shifts at low speeds, making this torque-converter box feel like a kid learning how to drive a stick shift for the first time. It didn’t always do this but it wasn’t very dignified for a luxury vehicle when it did.
On the road the ride is smooth and the suspension happily soaks up all the lumps and bumps that scar the streets of Toronto. A laminated windshield and front-row glass, triple door seals, and active noise cancellation make for a whisper-quiet interior. Factor in the ride and you start to get that luxury car experience the cabin doesn’t quite deliver on.
The Enclave, however, could benefit from better body control. That ultra-soft suspension creates more body motion than is desirable making for a bouncy, unsettled ride on some roads.
Good Infotainment, a miss on driving aids.
Buick’s flagship now gets the latest in GM infotainment running through an 8-inch touchscreen display with sharp visuals and quick response times. The system is simple, straightforward and easy to use and even though my tester didn’t have navigation, the presence of Apply CarPlay made that a non-issue for me. I prefer to use Waze whenever I can, anyways. For Android users, yes, you can play too.
While you get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts as standard, the more advanced driver aids like automatic emergency braking, pedestrian braking, and lane-keeping assist are Premium trim-only items and you still don’t get adaptive cruise control as that’s only unlocked as an option on the high-zoot Avenir. A disappointing miss for Buick as much of this is standard fare on vehicles costing thousands less.
The Bottom Line
Buick is playing the luxury hand here to separate the Enclave from its cheaper cousin but it’s not convincing enough. Competitors do luxury much better and the best things about the Enclave happen to be the best things about the Traverse. The Chevy offers the same cargo room, practicality, and 7-passenger seating minus some of the Buick’s luxury trappings that you really won’t miss anyway.
The Enclave is a good vehicle on its own, but save your money and get the Chevy. Or a minivan.