The road ahead is hundreds of miles of desert highway in 110-degree heat, so the idea of a family road trip to Las Vegas fills us with fear and loathing. Yet put that family in the 2008 Buick Enclave CXL and suddenly things are looking up.
Buick's crossover utility gives the kids their own captain's chairs with separate climate controls, while the folks in the front seats get a super-quiet ride, XM radio and four-way power lumbar seat support.
After hours in the 2008 Buick Enclave CXL, our backs and behinds are still free of the usual road fatigue. And this simple pleasantness sets the Enclave apart. It's not so much fun to drive as it is easy to live with.
The Enclave comes in two flavors — CX and CXL. We tested a basic Enclave CX back in May, but our top-shelf CXL features a long list of luxury appointments, including 20-inch wheels (dealer installed), leather-appointed seating and (our favorite) power four-way lumbar adjustment for the front seats.
Both trim levels seat seven with second-row captain's chairs as standard equipment, but an optional second-row bench (available at no charge) brings seating capacity to eight. Either choice will fold flat and slide forward with a single lever, leaving an easy pathway rearward to the 60/40-split, fold-flat third row.
The third row accommodates three adults with plenty of legroom, though they might not be so comfortable if they're broad-shouldered. Behind the third row is a very generous 18.9 cubic feet of cargo space. You can drop down the second and third rows for a Tahoe-beating 116.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Let It Ride
Built on the new GM's Lambda platform, the Enclave shares its underpinnings with GM's other crossover SUVs, the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. All feature a 275-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission, and cavernous interior space is shared across all three vehicles as well, so what distinguishes them are largely interior amenities and suspension tuning.
The Enclave is the most luxurious of the three. The softly sprung ride is extremely agreeable, as you'd expect in a vehicle that's almost 202 inches long. It handles rough pavement, and does so without feeling as if it's floating down the road. The brakes are somewhat mushy, though, and it takes 136 feet to stop this 4,780-pound big boy from 60 mph.
Ever aware of the strict new federal fuel-economy standards, Buick has tuned its luxury SUV for fuel economy, and the front-wheel-drive Enclave gets a best-in-class 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway (estimated), while the all-wheel-drive version is rated at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. We managed 16 mpg overall, a combination of driving across the desert at high speed with a full load of luggage, plus crawling through stop-and-go city traffic.
While there is power to be had, a big push on the throttle is required to get the transmission to shift down a gear and take advantage of the 3.6-liter V6's 251 pound-feet of torque. It takes the Enclave some 8.8 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, although this is not a deal killer in this category. If you really need to downshift right away, it's best to use the manual shift buttons on the console-mounted shift lever. (We'd prefer them on the steering wheel.) Through the quarter-mile, the Enclave does the job in 16.8 seconds at 83.4 mph, nearly as quick as a Chevy Tahoe V8.
Showing Off Our Big, Flashy Jewel
When you pull up to valet parking at a five-star Vegas hotel, the family might feel low-rent stepping out of a sport-utility or a minivan. Not so with our Enclave in Red Jewel Tint. Its flowing character lines and chrome trim give this crossover enough style to sit side by side with the luxury makes. The Enclave wants to be something other than a vehicle that screams, "I've got crumbs all over the floor," and we found that it was able to break free of all the sport-utility and minivan stereotypes.
In fact, Buick compares the Enclave to the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Lexus RX 350 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, and claims it's quieter than all of them. Starting at $32,790 for the front-wheel-drive CX and maxing out at $36,990 for the all-wheel-drive CXL, the Enclave is less expensive (and roomier) than these vehicles.
But let's get real for a moment and admit that the Buick is less likely to steal buyers from the BMW or Mercedes than it is from minivans and body-on-frame SUVs. And it will compete against crossovers that aren't nearly as spacious or as plush, like the Mazda CX-9.
Raising the Stakes
And plush the Enclave surely is. From its leather-wrapped and wood-trimmed steering wheel to the soft leather seat upholstery and cool-blue instrumentation, the Enclave has its party hat on. Lovely amber-colored wood inlays abound in the curvaceous dash; even the shift lever gets a royal design treatment.
But there are a few shortcomings. Like a shirt with too many buttons, the climate controls require too much fiddling to change quickly. The front cupholders are also unfriendly; trying to extract a drink from their tight grip can be a wrestling match. (It once resulted in a wet lap for one of us.) The dealer-installed running boards seemed totally unnecessary to us and even hindered entry and exit.
But those complaints pale in light of the overall package. Our test car's entertainment system (one of four that Buick offers) included a 10-speaker Bose sound system with rear-seat audio and a six-CD changer, rating two thumbs-up from our family's resident musician. The Driver Confidence package ($520) includes rear parking assist, a particularly useful device since the Enclave's sloping C-pillars make rear visibility less than stellar.
Our car had been equipped with 20-inch chrome wheels as a dealer-installed accessory, and this represents an additional cost of $3,128.60 for wheels and tires and hardware. Trouble is, you have to order an Enclave with a $1,495 package of 19-inch wheels and tires to start. Maybe the dealer will take the 19s in trade and sell you the 20s at a discount, or maybe you'll have to put the 19s on eBay yourself.
The Safety Factor
Buick has focused on safety and security. Standard equipment includes a full complement of airbags with rollover protection for all three rows, stability and traction control, antilock brakes, plus one year of OnStar's "Directions and Connections" plan (which could practically substitute for an expensive navigation system).
The Enclave also boasts a five-star federal crash test rating for driver and passenger frontal impact plus front- and rear-seat side impact, as well as four stars for rollover. These are scores most cars — let alone large SUVs — aspire to.
Once you add in the five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Buick Enclave makes you feel pretty good about packing your family inside, and a trip into the desert won't lead you to scan the skies for vultures.
But the most important safety factor might be the Enclave's fail-safe handling. It weaves through our slalom without any drama at 60 mph and manages a respectable 0.77g of grip on our skid pad.
Hitting the Jackpot?
It's easy to think enthusiasm for crossovers like the 2008 Buick Enclave CXL is based mostly on style. But the Enclave impressed us most with the way it drove. Just like a car, it felt solid and composed, and it never bounded over bumps like a truck or wobbled like a minivan. Although this is a very long and extremely wide vehicle, we never thought twice about its size, and drove it everywhere. Its size was only really noticeable on the inside, where it seemed bigger than a Chevy Suburban.
With the 2008 Buick Enclave CXL as with all of GM's Lambda-based vehicles, the real question is whether the Enclave will hit the luxury SUV jackpot or become just one of many new crossover vehicles trying to carve out a niche. It's a high-stakes game in which many will play and few will win. But if luxury, safety and pleasant manners are the trifecta of road travel, the 2008 Buick Enclave is a good bet.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Edmunds.com Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
Is it an SUV or a minivan? Neither. That's why it will probably be the best-selling (and certainly most exciting) Buick of the past decade. The Enclave is the most upscale of the Lambda platform crowd, which means it has the quietest cabin and the floppiest handling. It also has the most...uh...creative styling. I prefer the cleaner lines on the Acadia and Outlook, but this vehicle got plenty of double-takes and several comments (all of them positive) over the 48 hours I drove it. Trying to remember the last Buick I could say that about....
Power is well past adequate in the Enclave. You might hear different, and it would feel even quicker if the transmission downshifted without hammering the throttle, but remember, people — this is a Buick. With 251 pound-feet of torque, the 3.6-liter engine feels willing under most situations. If you drive it looking for potential power deficiencies, you can probably convince yourself they exist. The other 99 percent of buyers won't notice. But a V8 will fit under that "portholed" hood, so if power concerns you just wait a year or two.
While acceleration is fine on the Enclave, interior space and overall comfort put it at the head of the class. Contrast this vehicle's utility against its supremely carlike ride and handling and GM has a winner on its hands. The minivan is still more practical and the SUV more capable. But this Buick has that most critical of traits — it's desirable.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2008 Buick Enclave in WA is: