Oregon Trip Wrap-up - 2008 Buick Enclave Long-Term Road Test

2008 Buick Enclave Long Term Road Test

2008 Buick Enclave: Oregon Trip Wrap-up

January 04, 2008

Wouldn't you just know it? After a 2,000 mile there-and-back-again trip to Oregon in our 2008 Buick Enclave, I get sick just as I'm getting home. Nice. I'd wanted to wrap-up this a few days ago, but better late than never. Here goes:

The Buick seems optimized for those who are not in a hurry and prefer a somewhat relaxed pace. This doesn't mean the Enclave is a clumsy yacht or a rolling couch, because it isn't. The Enclave is coordinated and balanced up to a certain point. If you push harder, it doesn't "lose it", it simply fails to reward the enthusiast driver - not a serious flaw for a family truckster such as this.

Ride: The Buick rides smooth and quiet, just like you'd expect, and it feels well-balanced with one or two aboard and no cargo. But itgoes a bit soft and underdamped in the rear when four plus presents and luggage are present. This seems about right for the comfort-minded, but it leaves me wondering if my personal preference would havebeen better served by the GMC Acadia or Saturn Outlook. I smell a follow-up.

Steering and handling: The Buick has good coordination and feels more agile than any truck-based SUV, but it doesn't respondin kindwhen pushed - it simply starts toshow its weight. Steering accuracy is there, but feedback is not. I didn't like the slick, cold and spindly feel of the wooden segments of the steering wheel, either. Full-leather wrap for me, please.

Cargo and seating: This is a true 3-row vehicle. When we get to my folkshouse, the six of usmake the 25-mile run into town forpizza in whatever I bring. Unlike the Commander I brought two summers ago, everyone had plenty of space. Last year, the Tahoe couldn't make the pizza run at all because I'd had to leave its suitcase-style third seats in my California garage in order to carry as much as the Enclave can withits bigger third seats merely folded into the floor. Still, my folks' 2005 Honda Odyssey minivan holds a lot more in any seating configuration you care to compare.

Engine and transmission: I never lacked for power or torque, but I found the economy-minded transmission reluctant to kick-down. Sure, I could have used the +/- buttons (and I did), but I would have had to do thatoften on the rolling terrain of US 101. C'mon, this is an automatic - a six-speed automatic - and I want to leave it in "D". The manual overridemodeshould serve those who want to use it. One shouldn't have to use itfor miles and miles at a time. Coming home, however, I drovea slower paceand ran afoul of the transmission calibration less often. And I got significantly better...

Fuel Economy: On the trip up, I drove semi-aggressively, swore at the reluctant kickdown, used manual shifting from time to timeand overrode the cruise control often. I achieved an even 20.0 mpg average over 2 tanks and 821 miles. On the way back I used the cruise control religiously, set it at the posted limit, drove my wife nuts ("I want to get HOME"), watched the traffic sail past, felt more at ease with the transmission and achieved 24.3 mpg, a 20% improvement.Over the same two-tank distance I used 7.0 fewer gallons and spent $26.17 less. And yes, that 25.6 mpg best tank turned out to be legit. I actually beat our 2WD Enclave's 16 city / 24 highway EPA ratings.

Enjoying the Buick, then, is all about getting in synch with its personality. Considering the driving habits of the traditional Buick(or Camry/Highlander)buyer, I'd say they'll have many satisfied customers. I don't think I quite fit the mold this CUV came out of, however, and I see room for improvement.If they ever made a Cadillac version of this, for example,with some of the feel of the SRX webrought to Oregon last summer, I'd be right there.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 8,880 miles

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