September 20, 2008Why We Bought It
Performance and Fuel Economy
We just wrapped up a 12-month, 24,000-mile road test of the most interesting Buick in decades, the new Enclave crossover utility. Did it live up to our high hopes, or did a year with one of the most anticipated vehicles from the 2006 Detroit Auto Show reinforce a sneaking suspicion that Buick's days are numbered?
Why We Bought It
When the 2008 Buick Enclave was released in the waning months of 2007, a downward spiral of the automotive industry had begun. High gas prices and rising demand for green (or greener) vehicles was already stifling the usually strong sales of full-size truck-based SUVs. Car-based crossovers had become the hot ticket for the family on the move. This SUV sucktide surely would have doomed General Motors but as luck would have it, the exodus from body-on-frame trucks played heavily into its favor. That's because the much-anticipated Lambda crossovers were just hitting the road — the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook (soon to be joined by the Chevy Traverse).
In many ways, the Lambda represented GM's most important new vehicle in a decade, a full-size people mover meant to supplant GM's truck-based utilities like the Tahoe and Yukon. At 201 inches long and packing 275 horsepower, the all-new GM-engineered crossover was virtually without competition when it came to combining carrying, hauling and towing into a single package. As the most luxurious and stylish of these new GM vehicles, the 2008 Buick Enclave easily outgunned the Ford Edge crossover in power, size, options, fit and finish, and ride quality. And when we saw the Buick Enclave, we thought of Lexus, not Ford.
This represented not just a dramatic turnaround for Buick but also for General Motors. The Enclave offered excellent quality at a reasonable price just when market demand for vehicles like this was surging. We had to get one (it wasn't easy), and finally acquired a 2008 Buick Enclave CX.
"Solid as a stone, reliable as the sunrise, comfortable as a couch, quiet as a mime." So goes a classic advertising description of Buick. Unfortunately we didn't enjoy the same perfect reliability.
As the logbook entry from Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot reads, "Yesterday, just as I made the left turn off of California's Highway 33 onto Cerro Noroeste road, our Buick Enclave's power steering began to show the first signs of failure. This is not good." Though he was in the Los Padres National Forest and about as far away from civilization as you can get, Jacquot managed to get back home.
The power assist worked with the steering on-center, but trickled away to nothing at full lock. The Buick dealer replaced the power-steering pump, which kept the vehicle out of service for a couple of days. When it was returned, though, the system had not been bled properly — the dealer actually told us that it let the consumer do that — so we had to constantly monitor the level and health of the fluid in the system.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath removed the plastic engine cover and kept it off to help us keep track of this: "After only a few minutes of driving, the cover gets far too hot to touch. Well, that's not a problem, right? I mean, with the oil filler and dipstick available without removing the cover, what's the problem?" The problem is, an ugly plastic cover might seem like a way to shroud engine messiness for a car designer, but it isn't a replacement for a properly laid-out scheme for routing hoses and wiring — something that's perfectly clear when you're trying to do some service.
Yet once the fluid was air-free and at a proper level, the steering assist still didn't return to normal. Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds' past life as an automotive engineer led him to believe that when the first pump failed it had probably contaminated the fluid with pump parts that were now lodged in the rack. Turns out he was correct, as GM diagnosed this and installed yet another new power steering pump, a new steering rack and new hoses. The Enclave was out of service for eight days. This issue was not isolated, as forums for owners of GM's Lambda crossovers report other accounts of similar experiences.
Aside from a catastrophic lack of steering, our 2008 Buick Enclave CX proved to be a paragon of reliability and predictability. Two routine services totaled $166.44 (a $101.03 service that included a charge for just an oil change and a tire rotation seemed a bit steep to us).
After 20,000 miles, the Buick's interior looked the same as it did on Day One. And perhaps surprising to those GM doubters out there, the interior had the same squeaks and rattles as it did on day one. That is to say there were none. Not a busted switch, blown fuse, sticky button or creaky window to speak of. The only minor complaint from some was the lack of support from the cloth seats compared to when they were new.
At the same time, many of us disliked the Enclave interior's traditional-style chrome accents and fake wood. Dan Edmunds noted, "The 'wood' on the dash is particularly shiny and plastic-looking; the 'wood' on the steering wheel rim looks more authentic, but is too hard and slick. And they aren't even the same species of simu-wood! On the steering, we've got Fauxhogany, while the dash is trimmed with Bird's Eye Fakle." Fortunately it was all screwed together well, but it wasn't quite the Lexus presentation we had hoped for.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $166.44
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: 1
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Days Out of Service: 8
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
This 2008 Buick Enclave CX features a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 275 hp and 251 pound-feet of torque. It's the same power plant seen in about 20 other GM vehicles and it's a good one. While this 2008 version didn't feature the direct injection system that the 2009 Buick Enclave will get, it offers an impressive blend of power and fuel economy. The engine is rated at 16 mpg EPA city and 24 mpg EPA highway, and we attained a staggering 29.7 mpg on our best full-tank run. The details of this epic trip have not been recorded, but we imagine they weren't exactly exciting. The worst tank very well could have been exciting, however, as we recorded one single-tank average of 10.5 mpg. Our guess is that the combination of SoCal stop-and-go traffic and the Enclave's prodigious weight of 4,827 pounds is responsible.
While almost capable of 30 mpg (crossover hypermiling?), the Enclave is also pretty darned quick for almost 2.5 tons of Buick. The 60-mph mark comes up in 7.9 seconds, and the quarter-mile passes in 16.2 seconds at 86.2 mph.
It's probably too much to ask for great handling from a massive people mover, but this Enclave's 255/65R18 Goodyear Fortera HL tires have a lot of sidewall squish and don't deliver the traction some other crossovers have. Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh notes, "Our long-term 2008 Buick Enclave is a mechanical twin to the GMC Acadia. They share the same basic chassis, suspension geometry and powertrain. They drive much differently, however. This could be due to myriad factors like damper valving, bushing durometer, stabilizer bar end-links and more, but I suspect it's largely down to the tires.
"The Acadia, which I drove extensively for our recent Crossover vs. Minivan vs. SUV comparison test, sported optional 255/60R19 Goodyear RS-A tires on 19-inch wheels. Our Buick wears the 255/65R18 Goodyear Forteras on 18-inch wheels, a base package shared with entry-level Acadias. The upshot is that the GMC Acadia turns in much more crisply into corners and exhibits less steering imprecision than our Enclave, which has tire sidewalls that wind up like a torsion spring. This results in steering effort in the Buick that doesn't build up as linearly as that of the GMC."
Our only other complaint comes from the programming of the transmission. Because it's dialed in for fuel economy, the gearbox shifts into top gear as soon as conditions allow — sometimes sooner. And it stays there, resisting a downshift in a battle of wills with the driver. During a long drive to Oregon and back, Dan Edmunds reported, "So when the grade changed (and it does just about constantly on California Highway 101), the transmission downshifted late and reluctantly, and only after the driver squeezed the pedal more than a relaxed pace should require. Instead of an early 6-5 downshift, we'd get a late 6-4, with all of the fuss and bother that big of an rpm jump implies. At the slightest let-up in the grade, it tended to upshift immediately, only for the engine to run out of steam and then force a downshift once more seconds later."
Unlike some other manufacturers (Ford) which use this same six-speed automatic transmission, GM gives the Enclave a manual shift mode with buttons on the shift lever to allow you to override the computers. Sure it might hurt fuel economy, but it makes the drive tolerable. It's a welcome and well thought-out feature on GM's part.
Best Fuel Economy: 29.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 10.5 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 17.5 mpg
At the end of its service cycle our 2008 Buick Enclave CX had accumulated 24,061 miles, enough to account for $994 in depreciation. Nevertheless, the Enclave depreciated only a total of 23 percent to $28,841 as rated by our True Market Value (TMV®).
This is a remarkably small amount of depreciation for a car in this category, especially when you consider the overall decline in utility sales. In comparison, the ongoing depreciation of our long-term Hyundai Veracruz stands at 32 percent while our Mazda CX-9 has lost 33 percent of its value.
This suggests to us that the GM crossovers like the Buick Enclave have already firmly established their identity in the marketplace, and the huge pool of Tahoe and Yukon owners provides a huge base of potential buyers.
True Market Value at service end: $28,841
Depreciation: $8,589 or 23 percent of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 24,061
Just imagine, one of the most appreciated and respected vehicles in our long-term test fleet carries a Buick badge. Despite our issues with the 2008 Buick Enclave's steering and our quibbles with its trim and suspension tuning, this Buick was always first chosen when people moving was the task at hand. Two years ago, such an endorsement would have been unthinkable.
As our logbook notes, "The Enclave is the best SUV that GM has ever built. Unless you're planning to tow really, really big stuff, you'd have to be nuts to pass on the Enclave and buy a Tahoe or a Yukon. Now if GM can only build a Buick sedan this good...."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.