The odds are good that if you were a baby boomer, or a member of Generation X growing up in North America, you knew a well to do family with three kids (or more), and their ride was a Buick Estate wagon. For decades, the big Buick wagons offered a combination of style, size and luxury that elevated the owner (and their families) above the more basic people movers of the day. Meet the Enclave-the spiritual descendant of those grand wagons.
Introduced as a 2008 model, the Enclave closes a confusing chapter in Buick’s recent history of MPVs, where the better part of the past decade trotted out a sporadic series of crossovers, minivans and SUVs, none of which caught on with the public. As if awakened from a spell of amnesia, the brand has wisely chosen to focus on what made Buick a success in the 1950’s and 1960’s-traditional American luxury done right-with style and quality.
One look at the Enclave, and the first impression is the sheer size of her-at 201.8″ long, it is a whisker short of a Chevy Tahoe. Despite its size, the Enclave carries its heft fairly well, with nothing appearing out of proportion or outrageously huge. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a better looking, evenly proportioned vehicle at such a size. The designers had their work cut out for them, and they did a commendable job. Our test car came in White Diamond Tricoat, a $795 option, which looked OK when clean (but not as elegant as Audi’s Pearl White), no easy feat when it is February in Connecticut. The 19″ chrome wheels managed to look a tad small, but 20″ wheels are available. Unfortunately, on our CXL-2, chrome wheels are your only choice-the choice of painted alloys would have been nice.
Inside, the Enclave is all about providing a roomy, comfortable atmosphere, and it excels here. Looking rearward from the driver’s seat, the interior seems to stretch about a quarter mile or so. A standard Enclave will seat seven-two bucket seats in front, two captain’s chairs in the second row, with three in the third row. Buick offers a second row bench seat as a no cost extra, for seating for eight. Settling into the nearly flat driver’s seat, the emphasis is on luxury, not sport. Our Enclave was awash in leather, woodgrain and chrome accents, giving a warm and cozy environment. Special mention goes to the interior lighting-the warmest and softest I have ever witnessed in any car. With the Enclave parked in my driveway, it was tempting to grab my favorite drink, a book, turn on the XM radio to Real Jazz and simply luxuriate in my surroundings.
Back to reality. While Mom and Dad will enjoy the power heated and cooled seat and quality stereo, the kids are treated to their own luxuries-a large DVD screen, remote headphones, and their own climate control. Equipped with power sunroof and second row skylight, everyone can enjoy letting the sun in. A manual mesh shade can shield some, but not all sunlight. As expected, multiple cupholders abound, in case your kids drink at least two 32 ounce sodas whenever you leave the house.
On the downside, with less than 7,000 miles on the odometer, our test car’s Cashmere colored leather was already looking dirty and in need of a good cleaning. For a car that was intended for the harsh use a family can deliver, you might want to steer clear of the Cashmere. Buick also continues the maddening use of too many functions for one stalk off the steering wheel. During my week with the Enclave I accidentally activated the windshield washer three times, when all I meant to do was use the turn signal. The control for the rear window wiper is buried at the bottom of the center stack, along with other buttons whose function I could never figure out.
All Enclaves share the same engine, a 3.6L V-6, rated at 288hp, teamed up to a six-speed automatic that delivers quicker shifts for 2010. Buyers can choose between front or all-wheel drive. Our tester included the trailering package, which gives the Enclave a towing capacity of 4,500lbs. For such a heavy car, I was impressed that the Buick was more than willing off the line, delivering stronger acceleration than I had expected. For a luxury crossover, the Enclave’s steering offers nothing in terms of road feel, but is reasonably quick, with no slop. A touch on the brakes reminds you immediately that you are wheeling a seriously large, heavy vehicle. The brakes are not bad-you just need to be aware of what you are driving.
When the idea came to me that the Enclave carries the tradition of the old Estate Wagons, I wondered if the Buick execs would resent the analogy. They shouldn’t. I drove my friend’s mother’s Buick Electra Estate, and I can tell you the Enclave is light years ahead. Buick took all that was good about the old Estate wagons, and wrapped it in a vehicle that is thoroughly modern and competent. Our fully optioned Enclave has an MSRP of $48,605USD. Inexpensive-no. But again, the Estate wagons I got hauled around in when I was a kid was always owned by the well to do families. Meet the new Buick-which is Buick rediscovering its original recipe for success.