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2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 Buick Enclave
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD

It's large, voluptuous, and heavily-chromed, with a bold, three-dimensional waterfall grille and portholes on the hood. What else could the new Enclave be but a Buick?

It's Buick's new luxury crossover, and melds a new interpretation of the company's considerable styling heritage on the outside with a spacious and well-equipped interior that offers quiet comfort for seven or (optionally, with a second-row bench) eight passengers plus cargo. It's offered in CX and CXL models, with front- or all-wheel drive and power from GM's newest 3.6-liter V6 in 275-horsepower tune, matched to a six-speed automatic.

As the classic station wagon, including the venerable Buick Roadmaster, was to the 1950s and `60s, the minivan was to the `80s, and the SUV was to the Nineties, the crossover is the maximum-capacity vehicle du jour. Recipe? Take a car-like (or minivan-like) unit-construction chassis with a transverse-engine, front- or all-wheel drive layout for lighter weight and better space efficiency than an SUV, make it taller than a wagon, and add style that is somewhere between car and sport-utility.

The Enclave is a fine example of the entry-luxury part of the crossover segment. It has more interior space than most of its competitors and offers the quiet and comfort expected in a Buick. I've just spent a week with a fully-equipped all-wheel drive CXL, and found it to be a spacious and relaxingly comfortable vehicle. It drives and rides like a car, albeit a large one, and has the headroom and interior versatility of an SUV with a much lower step-in height. It offers unique style and plenty of substance.

APPEARANCE: Huge chrome waterfall grille plus portholes on the hood equal classic post-WWII Buick, and the Enclave's identity will never be in doubt. Like a Roadmaster from the Fifties, it celebrates chrome, with, besides that grille, all door handles, the roof rack, and wide bright trim on the front and rear bumpers, and completely around the side widows and taillights. The window trim is noteworthy for being in few pieces, with no ugly gaps. The portholes are really one-piece trim elements on each side of the hood - but in that they are not too different from the Buicks of the late Sixties. In proportion, the Enclave is partway between a minivan and an SUV, with the passenger cabin taking up more of the vehicle than it would in an SUV. It's much higher than a sedan or wagon, but without the extreme ground clearance of an SUV. All styling elements work together harmoniously.

COMFORT: The space promised by the Enclave's size and shape is delivered, and tasteful modern luxury interior styling adds to the experience. With a floor height little greater than a sedan's, and a very reasonable hip point, all but the very shortest passengers will find entry and exit easy. My test example had the standard second-row captain's chairs, which were equivalent to the front buckets in their high comfort level, aided by fore-and-aft and seatback adjustability. Access to the third row can be either from between the second-row seats or by the "Smart Slide" feature of the second-row seats - with a light pull on the handle, the seat cushion flips up and the seat travels forward for painless third-row access. Two adults will be comfortable in the second row; the third is best for smaller adults or children. The second-row captain's chairs fold flat, as does the 60/40 split third row, for flat-floor cargo versatility. A power tailgate is standard in both models. Back up front, in the CXL both the driver and front passenger sit in power-adjustable, heated seats. Leather is standard fare in the CXL, and a flowingly-styled instrument panel with woodgrain trim and chrome-bezeled instruments and air vents looks good and presents information well. The analog clock above the center stack is an interesting feature. Options in my test vehicle included the navigation system, which incorporates an upgraded AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3CD/auliliary input audio system. The "Luxury Package" has power folding mirrors, articulating headlights, power tilt and telescope adjustment for the wood-and-leather steering wheel, and a useful 110-volt inverter with output at the rear of the center console. The power sunroof for the front passengers gets a "companion" skylight over the rear seats, a pleasant feature for rear passengers.

SAFETY: Features to protect occupants before, during, and after an accident are designed into the Enclave. Car-like handling, four-wheel ventilated antilock disc brakes, traction control, and the StabiliTrak stability control system (with rollover sensing) help the driver avoid trouble. High-strength and dual-phase steel makes the unibody structure stronger, and it's designed to deform in a controlled fashion in a crash. Six airbags - two dual-stage front (with front passenger sensing), two seat-mounted front side, and two rollover-capable full-length head curtain - are standard. The OnStar "Directions and Connections" package, standard gratis for the first year, sends information automatically and directly to an OnStar center. The navigation system package includes a back-up camera, very useful for seeing the otherwise hidden area behind the vehicle.

RIDE AND HANDLING: On the road, the Enclave is a Buick. Meaning that it is designed, built, and tuned for a smooth, quiet ride. A long wheelbase and wide track, rigid unibody structure, and "QuietTuning" engineering process and use of sound-deadening materials allied with a fully-independent strut front, multilink rear suspension see to that. Springs and shocks are tuned softly, as expected, but are matched well to eliminate the float that plagued Buicks of the distant past. It works well on all road surfaces, and handles well enough for the scenic route.

PERFORMANCE: GM's 3.6-liter most recent twincam, aluminum alloy V6 has found yet another home under the Enclave's hood. Variable cam phasing on all four cams ensures a broad torque band, good power, low emissions, and reasonable fuel consumption. Without forced induction its 275 horsepower (at 6600 rpm) and 251 lb-ft of torque (at 3200 rpm) bests the supercharged version of the old iron pushrod 3.8 by 35 hp. Only the turbo-motor in the 1987 GNX produced more ponies, and then barely, with 276. Both acceleration and fuel economy are helped by a six-speed automatic transmission. With a curb weight of nearly 5,000 pounds, the Enclave has no pretense to being "high performance" like a GNX, but it has plenty of power for its intended purpose. That weight also explains the 16-mpg average fuel economy I got in mostly city and secondary road driving. EPA estimates are 16 city, 22 highway for the AWD version, so that is not surprising. The AWD system works transparently, apportioning torque fore and aft as needed.

CONCLUSIONS: The Buick Enclave is a Roadmaster Wagon for the 21st Century, but with far more space, headroom, and versatility.

SPECIFICATIONS
2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD


Base Price			$ 36,990
Price As Tested			$ 43,530
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.6 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			275 @ 6600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			251 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		119.0 in. / 201.5 in.
Curb Weight			4985 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.1
Fuel Capacity			22 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P255/60 SR19 Michelin Latitude
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
				 ABS, traction control, and stability
				 control standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent coil-over strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance		7.2 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, part-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 16
0 to 60 mph				8.2  sec
Towing				2,000 lbs. with tow package

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Red Jewel Tint-Coat paint			$  395
Navigation System with upgraded audio		$3,025
Luxury Package - includes:
  power folding outside rear-view mirrors, articulating
  xenon headlamps, power tilt and telescope steering
  wheel, 110V power inverter			$  925
19-inch seven-spoke chromed alloy wheels	$  895
Power sunroof with companion skylight		$1,300
Destination charge included