2018 Buick Enclave First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Buick Enclave First Drive

Bridging the Gap Between Mainstream and Mad Money


Three-row crossovers have become one of the hottest segments in the industry, yet there aren't many that bridge the mainstream and luxury gap successfully. Buick intends to do just that with the fully redesigned 2018 Enclave.

More sophisticated than its blue-collar Chevrolet Traverse counterpart and roomier than the smaller GMC Acadia, the Enclave finds open middle ground for buyers seeking a fancy family SUV without the premium that comes with a luxury badge.

Gone are the sleepy, pedestrian looks of the last model, replaced with a more windswept exterior design. The ridges, kinks and creases in the new Enclave's sheet metal transform it into something futuristic and attractive. There's a more powerful V6 engine under the hood, and the cabin now offers more passenger room, storage space and technology than before.

2018 Buick Enclave

Changes More Than Skin Deep
There's more to the new Enclave than a new design and a more powerful engine. Underneath, the 2018 Buick Enclave starts with an all-new body structure made with a blend of sophisticated steels for a more rigid feel. Increased rigidity minimizes resonance, which makes the cabin a quieter place. Quiet comfort is a pillar of the Buick formula, and the Enclave takes it further with judicious sound-dampening material throughout the structure as well as noise-canceling waves piped through the audio system. At highway speeds, you'll hear some wind rush over the glass, but you won't need to raise your voice to be heard around the cabin.

A more rigid Enclave is also a more responsive Enclave, and this new second-generation model leans into turns with stability and ease. This isn't a sporty SUV like a Mazda CX-9, but it doesn't embarrass itself either. A longer wheelbase contributes to straight-line stability, while an optional adaptive suspension, available on the top-trim Avenir model, further blurs the transition between ride comfort and performance.

2018 Buick Enclave

More Room Than Before
Instead of a typical T-shaped dashboard, the Enclave uses more of a wraparound style with a "floating" center console that bows out slightly toward the driver and passenger. Below the climate controls is an open space for small-item storage and an optional wireless smartphone charging pad. The design minimizes clutter and contributes in a subtle way to a more airy feeling in the cabin.

An 8-inch frameless touchscreen display seamlessly integrates into the dash and forms the centerpiece of the elegant design. It looks great and makes us wonder why some automakers persist with displays that appear tacked onto the dash as an afterthought.

Elsewhere around the cabin are plenty of door pockets and bottle holders, while the switch to an electronic "shifter," one unattached to mechanical linkages connected to the transmission, frees up a well space between the front seats ideal for storage of small items and handbags.

A high caliber of materials and upholstery is used throughout the cabin, with close attention paid to soften the points where hands, elbows and knees land. Although some trim materials are simple plastic, the textures and colors blend nicely with the surrounding materials and impart a more premium feel. Moving up trim levels brings more decadent piano black gloss and wood elements, but even the entry-level grade is impressive.

2018 Buick Enclave

Looks Good, Works Hard
Sharp body sculpting and high-grade leather won't help an SUV that isn't useful, but this isn't an issue with the 2018 Enclave. Buick aimed to beat the competition in third-row space, offering more head- and legroom for the back-row riders than the Acura MDX or Audi Q7, for example.

We can testify to Buick's successful efforts in this area. Seated next to another adult for an extended period in slow, halting traffic, we never needed more space to stretch out our feet, elbows or shoulders, nor did our fellow passenger. Put three adults back there and someone might get impatient. Three children, no problem. Unless they're siblings.

No one riding with you in the Enclave? Folding both the second and third rows yields almost 98 cubic feet of maximum cargo room. That's more room than most competitors have, and not much less than what you'll find in a Chevrolet Suburban. A power liftgate (hands-free and foot-swipe-operated on the Avenir trim) and a relatively low load floor make all of that open space easily accessible.

The sliding, tilting and reclining second-row seats (only available in captain's chair configuration, no three-across bench seating) add further utility. Pull a lever built into the side of the seat, and the seat tilts and slides forward on its track. Even with a child's car seat installed, there's still enough room to clamber into the third row.

Finally, when properly equipped, the Enclave can tow up to 5,000 pounds. That's solid utility, and it's more than most direct competitors such as the Acura MDX, Lincoln MKX and Infiniti QX60 can tow. It's also about the same as the Volvo XC90's towing capacity but less than a V6-equipped Audi Q7's.

2018 Buick Enclave

More Power in the Right Place
Motivating all of that cargo and towing utility is a revamped 3.6-liter V6 engine. It's the same size as the last Enclave's engine, but it now develops 310 horsepower (up 22 hp from 2017) but slightly less torque (266 pound-feet of torque versus 270 lb-ft). A new nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to either the front wheels or all four wheels when you opt for all-wheel drive.

Despite the wealth of gears, the transmission shifts smoothly and intelligently. It's not constantly hunting around for the right gear, although it favors high-gear cruising to maximize fuel economy. We found it easy enough to grab a lower gear with the steering-wheel shift paddles when the mood struck. Buick estimates that front-wheel-drive models will return 21 mpg combined, while optional all-wheel-drive models will get 20 mpg combined.

Everyone Wants to Stay Connected and Safe
Any family SUV worth a spot in the driveway needs to accommodate its passengers' digital addictions, and with a standard subscription-based 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, six USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and optional wireless smartphone charging, the Enclave delivers. But the Enclave's hot tech isn't limited to connectivity. It also offers a host of modern driver aids and conveniences, including a standard rearview camera and rear parking sensors.

Optional assistance features include forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, front parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and a surround-view backup camera. There's even the clever rear camera view that uses a rear-mounted camera to stream a real-time video image displayed in the rearview mirror. Several of these features come standard on the top Avenir trim, and many are optional on the lower trims.

2018 Buick Enclave

Four Trims to Choose From
The Enclave is available in base (Enclave), Essence, Premium and Avenir trim levels. The Avenir trim is new and similar to the Denali premium trim available on most GMC models.

Standard features include keyless entry, push-button ignition, a hands-free liftgate, tri-zone climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, and a six-way power passenger seat. Essence trims add features including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Avenir packs on the premium touches with wood trim, standard heated and ventilated seats, heated second-row seats, navigation, wireless charging, an 8-inch gauge cluster display, rear camera mirror, a surround-view backup camera, adaptive cruise, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams.

Worth the Wait
In a growing, competitive class of three-row crossovers, the details matter. And the 2018 Enclave nails them. Not only do the tilt-and-slide second-row seats ease rear access, but they also feature a "catch" in the seat track that stops the returning seat's rearward travel midway, preventing it from smashing your third-row passenger's legs while he or she gets comfortable.

There's also an ionizer in the climate control system that purports to cleanse the air of odor, dust, dirt and pollen. Though you barely notice small details like this at first, they add to the Enclave's premium feel.

With prices starting at around $42,000 and continuing up to around $60,000, the Enclave spans a wide range of budgets. And while nearly 10 years is a long time to wait for a significant overhaul, the new Enclave offers substantial upgrades over the last-generation model that make it worth considering as an alternative to traditional luxury brands.

2018 Buick Enclave

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