Test Drive: 2018 Buick Enclave Premium AWD

The latest iteration of Buick’s sales-superstar crossover, the Enclave, has now hit the market. Here’s a luxury road-yacht whose recent to-do list included items like “get bigger”, “get sexier”, “be smarter”, and “look ritzy, but not ‘I pay for Starbucks with loose diamonds’ ritzy.”

Here’s an American luxury crossover cabin where leather flows like water.

She’s a hefty looker: gracefully curvy, friendly, and packed with details – but just a little imposing simply because of the size.

A sense of size and space grabs you first. The Enclave dwarfs many a smaller crossover with which it shares the road, there’s a decent stroll between the front and the tailgate, and the giant doors require care to avoid accidental whacking into nearby cars and snowbanks and taller curbs.

Inside, there are mounds of space. Heaps of room. Stacks of volume. Enclave’s interior volume has grown by 10 percent, and comes off as nearly minivan-like. Sure – the Enclave requires a little bit of tippy-toes for some to board, there are no sliding doors, and it rides higher from the road and comes with all-wheel drive. But the long and wide and minivan-like cabin layout is prominent. That’s a good thing, since minivans are comfortable and accommodating when there are folks and things to move around. Heck, Enclave is so long that a half-decent cargo space remains in the rear even with all seats in their upright positions.

Fancy a chill-zone road trip with another couple or two? A jaunt around town with the fam-jam? Taking some clients out to lunch? Yup, there’s room for that. And it’s all taken in from Enclave’s strongest asset: its cabin.

Materials, textures, colours and trimmings are arranged to wow first-time and regular occupants, every time. The dashboard is the show-stopper: a thin central touchscreen and tidy instruments are embedded within, and there’s a strong horizontal element, with a calm swoopiness that calls flowing water to mind. A centre console seems to melt out from beneath it. The dash is the first and most prominent thing you see on board, and its curvaceousness and lack of substantial vertical elements set the stage for a strikingly different, and very wide, atmosphere.

Here’s an American luxury crossover cabin where leather flows like water, and one set off by a dashboard that wouldn’t look out of place in a big-dollar European luxury coupe. And don’t miss the swanky blue-grey hide, which adds a gorgeous colour and a rich, soft and upscale texture. It wraps the seats, parts of the doors, and a great big slab of the dashboard.

There’s also a heated steering wheel, accessed with a simple click. Ditto automatic lights, wipers, three-zone automatic climate control, and high-beams. This is comfort-first, set-it-and-forget-it driving.

Signs of the times are plentiful and persuasive. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are accessible via a tap on the central screen, turning said screen into an upscaled version of the user’s smartphone with full access to native mapping, media and voice-command functionalities. There’s a smartphone app that lets you, say, send a destination to the navigation remotely for use on your next drive, or to start the Enclave in the Park-N-Fly once you clear customs with a suitcase full of cheap rum after a week somewhere warm. There’s also in-car Wi-Fi, which streams high-speed data to all on-board for staying connected and entertained on the move. On a road trip, one passenger plugged a laptop into the included household power outlet, connected to the Wi-Fi, and was able to work a half-day remotely.

There are so many charge-points and USB outlets on board that you’ll nearly be tripping over them. Literally, you’re more likely to be abducted by a flock of time-vampires from space than you are to run out of charging points in a Buick Enclave.

And, with OnStar, drivers have push-button access to any help or assistance required during a setback. Even better? Just tap the OnStar button, tell a real-life person where you want to go, and watch the route appear like magic in your central display – no need to pull over and input data. All for a fee, of course.

It’s all a good bit of clever tech that helps make the Enclave a comfortable and highly connected place from which to lounge and travel and socialize and relax and work, if needed.

The new nine-speed automatic shifts via an electronic joystick, enabling gear selection with little more than a few millimetres of movement. Engaging reverse is dorky: you push forward and hold the lever to the left, but you’ll get used to it.

Elsewhere, just a flick on the rear-view adjustment lever activates the rear-camera mirror system, turning the conventional mirror into a high-resolution display with a blown-up, camera-fed image out the Enclave’s rear, with no obstructions, better low-light visibility, and an ultra-wide viewing angle. It’s a conversation starter and useful safety feature, and includes a washer system for consistent visibility, even on a salty, wet winter drive.

Two captain’s chairs comprise the middle seating row, and a three-person bench with folding seatbacks is mounted in the rear. The Enclave’s length and width enable easy access to any rear seat, with a walkable corridor between the rear seating rows. Most rear-row passengers need only step in, duck, and walk past the second-row seats, easy-peasy. When needed, the seats flip and slide and fold to accommodate various combinations and sizes of passengers and things. As third-row seats go, the Enclave’s are decently comfortable, even for adults. Three occupants of your writer’s size (5'10", 200 lb) can sit behind one another with adequate room or better.

So, whether the Enclave is to provide comfortable seating for six adults, to be used as a bit of a cargo van, or some combination of the two, you’ve got the space to do it.

Power comes from a 3.6-litre, 310 horsepower V6. Driven gently, the engine is silky, largely inaudible, and gets the Enclave gliding along in city traffic without breaking a sweat or making a peep. Throttle programming is numbed to smooth power delivery and save fuel, and full steam ahead requires a hearty smash on the throttle. This results in a lazy downshift from the transmission, followed by a delightful high-rpm zing and plenty of pulling power, when drivers use the full span of the tachometer. The engine likes to spin fast, as evidenced by the arrival of its peak horsepower at the better part of 7,000 rpm. Even pushed while loaded with passengers and gear, the Enclave’s engine never sounds like its struggling, even if it’s a more impressive drivetrain when used gently.

In tighter quarters, there’s a smaller turning circle than you think, and a multitude of cameras adds confidence to manoeuvring in parking lots. Use the back-up camera, not the camera mirror, for reversing: it more accurately represents the Enclave’s position in relation to its surroundings.

This one’s an expert highway cruiser in most conditions. Ride quality targets a comfort-first driver concerned more with tranquility than sportiness. The Enclave undulates softly over bumps and dips, and the suspension effectively filters out the finer details of the texture of the road beneath – with tar strips, cracked pavement and even smoother train crossings allowing little vibration past the shocks and on board. Mostly, Enclave just hovers along gently, and drivers will likely appreciate the careful control over Enclave’s body motions, too. Even when piloted over aggressive road imperfections, there’s scarcely more than a little squiggle-squirm from beneath.

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Noise levels are kept well in check, provided you keep the Enclave’s speed reasonable. To about 100 km/h or slightly beyond, it’s quiet enough to have a conversation without voice-raising. Cruising at a higher clip, wind noise ramps up fairly quickly. Note that the tester’s winter tires may have contributed to increased on-board noise. All said, your writer found the tester to be adequately hushed most of the time, but not at all times. Keep your speed in check, and this is a graceful, comfy, and quiet tourer.

Steering is nicely tuned for highway cruising, with a slight numb-zone on centre, followed by a firm effort when the wheel is turned. Enclave locks nicely into its lane, requires minimal readjustment and correction, and feels responsive, but not hyperactive or twitchy. Brakes are strong and impart confidence when worked hard, but a little numbness at the top of the pedal travel means they’re not too touchy or difficult to work smoothly.

Keeping context and intentions in mind, I had only one major gripe: the fuel mileage. Though the tester had yet to complete break-in, and was wearing winter tires, and was driven during a week of extreme cold, I expected better mileage. Overall, my as-tested 13.5 L/100 km was hefty, even with numerous factors working against it.

All said: this one’s a competent and cavernous cruiser with a healthy dose of high-tech that’s easy to appreciate on the daily.

2018 Buick Enclave Premium AWD
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Peak Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Fuel Economy: 13.8/9.4/11.8 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 688 L; 1,643 / 2,764 L third/second row down
2018 Buick Enclave Premium AWD
Base Price $55,795
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $62,210
Optional Equipment $4,615 – Experience Buick Package $3,170 (after credit); Surround Vision and Rear Camera Mirror $950; Satin Steel Metallic Paint $495
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.2
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
9 Quality
8 Comfort
9 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
9 Features
8 Value