This is one of the most diabolically effective makeovers since Anne Hathaway's eyebrows were shaved down to size in The Princess Diaries. Yeah, that's right, we watch the Disney Channel. Often. So keep your eye out for some upcoming Selena Gomez references.
As we know it, Buick's full-size seven-passenger Enclave has been around for five years now, long enough that it should be moving aside for the all-new second generation of the very popular crossover. But GM's troops have been busy doing other things. Things like the Chevy Volt, the Cadillac ATS and that little old bankruptcy. So an all-new Enclave is still years down the road.
It turns out this is not a problem for America's moms and dads, because the 2013 Buick Enclave has been newly reinvigorated with a new look, some good ol' Buick heritage, a bit of high-tech futzing, and a serious retuning of its ride and handling.
Fantasyland's Finest Chariot
GM hasn't screwed with the Enclave's essential engineering and at a fundamental level it's the same big luxury crossover it's always been. It casts the same large shadow it has for the last six years and it's still sharing GM's Lambda unibody architecture with the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. It's also still big enough to be a real truck.
At 201.9 inches the 2013 Enclave is only a tenth of an inch shorter than the full-frame, truck-based Chevy Tahoe and the Buick's wheelbase is actually 3.9 inches longer than the Chevy's. On the road, Honda Pilots seem to cower in the presence of the Buick's burly bulk.
It's the tweaked decorations and evolved details that make up the substance of the 2013 Buick Enclave. On the outside there are new headlight buckets ringed with jewellike LEDs acting as daytime running lights. The front and rear fascias have been revised so there are bigger exhaust outlets and the taillights get their own LED elements.
On the C-pillar, there's the Buick tri-shield emblem filling a space that had been a black void before. The available 20-inch wheels are still inside 255/55R20 all-season tires, but the new wheel design is tougher, meaner and more dramatic. Yeah, it's kind of flashy. Duct-tape a bouquet to the hood and this thing could be entered as a float in the Rose Parade.
But the most noticeable change is the Enclave's grille. A big, toothy mouth smiling an Eisenhower-era grin, the grille announces the Enclave's arrival better than a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader honor guard. It's not quite the great maw that was the 1950 Buick Roadmaster's — a grille so outrageous that its nine chrome-plated steel teeth overran the front bumper — but the Enclave's plastic grille is unmistakably of the same design species. It's the Great White Shark of grilles.
Just above that grille is a newly reshaped hood. The resculpting is subtle, but the decoration is different: The traditional Buick "ventiports" (first used during the 1949 model year) have migrated from their spot along the sides of the hood to its top.
Overall, the 2013 Buick Enclave's exterior updates are effective. It's an amplification of Buick design themes that sets them up for a long run deep into the 21st century.
The Enclave's big outside pays off with a big inside. The interior of this crossover is huge — like Cow Palace exhibition hall enormous. Our Siberian husky jumped in through the raised power liftgate and was exhausted by the time he made it up and over the third- and second-row seats. He looked like a sled dog that had just run the Iditarod. And most every square inch inside has also been duly updated.
The third-row couch can still take three passengers and it's still split 60/40 and it still folds down flat. But even with that seat completely upright there are still 23.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind it. That's 9.3 cubic feet more than what you can cram into the trunk of Buick's Verano small sedan. Fold over that third row and it feels like you can shove in a rural Wal-Mart's inventory.
Second-row space and comfort are also exceptional. The two captain's chairs are wonderfully sized and shaped and make pass through to the third row very easy. If you need seating for eight, the Enclave does offer a second-row bench, but third-row access is certainly compromised.
At the center of the cabin redesign is, amazingly, the center stack. It's new and atop it is a large, 7-inch LCD touchscreen for controlling all the various communication and entertainment technologies. The screen is standard on all Enclaves, though the navigation system remains an option.
All the screen's menus are both easy to learn and straightforward to use. Hooking up our phone to the Bluetooth was quick and easy and no functions were overly complex.
Wizards of Waverly Place
The Enclave's dash is now covered with what looks like leather and contrasting stitching, the seats get matching cocoa leather upholstery and there's a whole forest of fake wood trim. Buick has embraced the design elements expected of a big American family car and inflated them to meet the Enclave's 11/10ths scale. Then it has offset those cues with the ice blue cool of LED ambient lighting. Turn the ambient lighting control up to maximum and the whole inside glows like the penguin house at Sea World.
The centerpiece is still a traditional analog clock. Just as it should be. Nice touch.
Too bad the designers stopped working on the interior at about the passengers' hip point. The lower door panels are cheesy, roughly grained, haphazardly molded plastic that feels as cheap as the leather upholstery feels expensive. Plastic 2-liter Coke bottles feel better. It's a significant distraction from an otherwise superior redesign.
The 2013 Buick Enclave's interior isn't for everyone, but for those of us who grew up in Electra 225s, it's a comforting return to traditional Buick design. But if you've been buying German the last few decades, it could seem fussy and overdone. Still that appearance is combined with good ergonomics, modern conveniences and current technology and that's a nice mix.
The Mechanical Parts
In contrast to the decoration, the mechanical core of the Enclave has been untouched for 2013. So GM's 3.6-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, variable valve timed, direct-injection V6 is back and once again it's hooked up to a six-speed automatic transaxle. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive a separate $2,000 option.
The Enclave's V6 is rated at 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of peak torque at 3,400 rpm. It's an easygoing engine here just as it is in every other GM product in which it appears. But it has to work harder hauling around the Enclave than it does moving, say, a Camaro. The all-wheel-drive Enclave Premium we tested flattened the scales at 5,050 pounds — that's 17.4 pounds for each of the 288 horses to pull.
Around town the 2013 Buick Enclave has plenty of power, but it doesn't exactly light up the stopwatch at the test track. The Enclave takes 8.6 seconds to run from zero to 60 mph (8.3 with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and it steams through the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at 82.3 mph.
However, the suspension has been retuned for 2013 and that's resulted in a crossover with a much improved ride quality. It's controlled without being stiff, and compliant without being squishy. Even when loaded up with two too-large adults, one preteen girl, a Pee-Wee league football-playing boy and the previously mentioned husky, the suspension's motions never felt compromised. There aren't many crossovers out there with a better ride and handling balance. In fact, right now we can't think of one.
The Buick's rack-and-pinion steering isn't quick, but it returns good feedback thanks to its old-school hydraulic assist. Up against this much mass, the large four-wheel disc brakes have a tough task before them. And yet the Enclave's stops were undramatic if not particularly short (the 60-0 stopping distance was measured at 126 feet).
Considering its size and weight, the Enclave's performance in our handling tests is unsurprising. It stuck to the skid pad at 0.76g and traipsed like an elephant through the slalom at 59.3 mph. Athletic it is not, but the Buick's handling is predictable and it offers the stability and driving ease its buyers desire.
The Bottom Line Parts
Going bold has once again paid off for Buick and the Enclave. It's already Buick's best-seller with more than 58,000 sold in 2011, and this refresh should keep those sales and leases humming for at least another couple of years.
Prices start at $38,235 for a base model Enclave with two-wheel drive. The glitz-rated Premium starts at $46,450 in line with the competition and the loaded test vehicle just barely crossed the $50K barrier at $50,895 (including an $825 destination charge) after adding in the $2,000 all-wheel-drive option, $795 navigation system, a $1,400 oversize sunroof and $250 for the 20-inch wheels.
Presence is something every truck and car should have, and the revised 2013 Buick Enclave has it more than before. If there are going to be better Buicks, boldness is the crucial part of the package — otherwise it would be as dead as Oldsmobile.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.