The past decade has put General Motors on a rollercoaster ride. The ups and downs that the General has seen are rather substantial but it seems that recently they have finally gotten back on their feet. They’ve done so by way of consolidation and the 2011 Buick Enclave is rolling proof. Released in 2007 as a 08, the Enclave took the place of three previous Buicks: the Rainier, Rendezvous, and the Terraza. Overall, this decision was absolutely splendid.
The Enclave rides on the Lambda platform that is shared with the Chevrolet Traverse, Saturn Outlook, and GMC Acadia: all of which are classified as full-sized SUVs. It’s a unibody design that is set up as a front wheel drive vehicle with optional all wheel drive. The Enclave was actually the first model to use the Lambda platform, so it has the most experience among the other SUVs.
Our test vehicle was a 2011 Enclave CXL-2 with the standard front wheel drive. The only added options were the Audio and Navigation/DVD package that included a Panasonic rear DVD entertainment system and touch screen navigation with available real-time traffic. A $1,400 power sunroof and $300 20” chrome wheels were also added to bring the total msrp to $47,755. Buick themselves put the Enclave up against other luxury SUVs like the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. Judging by the Enclave’s looks, the Q7 is its ideal target and the German starts at around $47k and can be optioned up to be nearly $70k. Needless to say, the Buick undercuts its competitor.
Of all the Lambda vehicles, the Enclave looks the most unique. Its flowing lines give it a long and low profile that is the epitome of smooth. The front face is even more striking with its tear-drop headlights and wide grille that houses the commanding emblem no one would mistake. Inside the stand-out headlights are gorgeously bright projectors with adaptive articulation. When you turn a corner, so do the lights and the speed at which they do so is impressive. This is one safety feature that goes unnoticed but is extremely welcome. The rear slopes to a point and is very nostalgic: almost retro. That “bob-tail” may look wonderful, but it does put a slight damper on cargo loading. Of course, no Buick would be complete without the signature “portholes” along side the hood.
In order to be historically correct, the Enclave has a total of six portholes meaning that this Buick packs a six cylinder under its lighter-than air hood. Displacing 3.6 liters, the all aluminum LLT DOHC V6 uses sophisticated direct injection and variable valve timing to produce 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. The engine is matched to a 6-speed Hydra-Matic auto, which is a remarkably effortless combination. The engine is smoother than silk and the transmission is almost completely unobtrusive. The shift points have been mapped out to make the best of the V6’s power as the Enclave is a little on the heavy side: our FWD model weighed in at 4780lbs. The weight of the Enclave was never noticeable as it drove like it was 800lbs lighter.
Around town, the Enclave is completely effortless to drive. The steering is as light as a feather which isn’t exactly a negative. A weighted steering wheel is not what you want out of a luxury family hauler and ease is the name of the game with the Enclave’s. Not the most sporting set up, but sideways on highway on ramps is not the objective that Buick set for this SUV. But once you do get on the expressway, it is smooth sailing for miles on end. Our time spent with the Enclave was mostly done traveling 100 miles at a time on the interstate. With other vehicles, a break is needed after just 60 or so miles, but the Enclave urged the driver to keep going. Once in a lane, the steering was laser-guided and the power to pass was always there. Impressive was the transmission which never left this driver wanting a lower gear for passing and gear change downs were dead reliable. This is proof that GM listens to its customers as the gear mapping was recalibrated for 2009.
There is no such thing as a perfect story and the Enclave is no exception. One grip was the large SUV’s blind spots, which were rather bothersome. The A and C pillars are large enough to cause other cars to disappear if they wandered alongside the Buick. Special attention is needed when making lane changes. And even though the Enclave makes a case by only requiring regular grade fuel (most luxury vehicles require expressive premium), its fuel mileage wasn’t exactly stellar. Our tester averaged 17 mpg in real-world mixed driving.
Overall, the Buick Enclave is an exceptionally impressive vehicle. Built in Lansing, Michigan, an owner will undoubtedly feel a sense of pride when they get behind the wheel of the Enclave. The interior is very well made and everything from the trim pieces all the way down the heated and cooled seats embodies quality. The leather is rich and the standard Bose sound system is crystal clear if not addictive. Passengers noted that the rear was very well planned out and the ride was so smooth that Enclave gave the impression of being much lighter. Speaking of the ride quality, if it was to be rated on a scale of 1-10, the Enclave would easily score an 11. This is the most impressive aspect of the Buick as it is not so soft that it wallows in corners. How GM did it is a wonder but so far, no one has complained about any Lambda over ride quality.
The Enclave has to compete with a plethora of other crossovers. The luxury SUV market is one of the most crowded segments in the automotive world so it is impressive to see the Buick actually standout. With a price that undercuts most Germans and a ride and interior that beats almost all of them, the Buick Enclave is a must if shopping for a luxury SUV. It may have flaws, but this all American gives off something that has been missing for some time now: a sense of family adventure. It urges cross-country excursions that include every member of the family. In the Enclave, you can rest assured that there will be no complaints from the back.