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2008 Buick Enclave Review

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A Quiet and Classy New CUV
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

GM built a modern, new, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant near Lansing, Michigan to produce an all new line of large crossover SUVs (or CUVs they are usually called), the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and this week’s test vehicle the luxurious Buick Enclave. Enclave is meant to compete with the Acura MDX, Mercedes R-Class, Volvo XC90 and Lexus RX350, and is the most luxurious of the three GM siblings. From my week of living with the Enclave I’d say it is the equal of any and it has a distinctive American ambiance.

In order to enhance the image of luxury the GM designers have paid particular attention to sound deadening and insulation on the Enclave. What a magnificent job they’ve done of that. During my first drive into town I was amazed at the silence beginning with the nearly inaudible starter. I almost hit the starter a second time it was so quiet. On the road that quietness is complimented by the smooth but firm suspension and the tactile quality of steering and other controls providing that feeling of luxury.

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Shown here: Enclave CXL
Exterior styling follows Buick’s design language but is certainly less conservative than its brand siblings. The huge 19-inch 60-profile tires on alloy or chrome wheels add to the drama and contribute to a larger-than-expected look. When parked side-by-side with its competitors Enclave looks considerably larger - particularly next to the RX350.

Our front-wheel-drive Enclave is powered by a sophisticated new 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing making 275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel. GM lists a zero-to-60mph time of 8.2 seconds. EPA rates it at 16 mpg in city driving and 24 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive model is rated at 16 and 22 mpg. We observed a consistent 17.6 in mixed driving - about what we would expect for this 4,780-pound vehicle. Our test car had less than 1,000 miles on the odo when it was delivered so it may be subject to some new-car stiffness affecting the mileage. Also, as many of you know, the EPA rating methods changed for ’08 making the estimates a bit more realistic.

I found the acceleration more than adequate in most circumstances. Mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic with a manual mode it shifts down easily and in plenty of time under normal conditions. Many transmissions are reluctant to downshift on modest acceleration since they’re tuned for fuel mileage. Not so the Enclave. The only time I found it a bit unsophisticated was when entering the freeway on a tight cloverleaf behind a timid old guy in a Ford Escort. He was trying to enter the traffic lane at about 45mph. I saw an opening and just put my foot in it to get around him. In that instance the transmission seemed mighty slow (though not harsh) to shift down and then once beyond about 4,500-rpm the engine sounded a bit strained. I should have had the transmission in manual mode and shifted myself. Additionally, this manual mode is accessed differently than most. Instead of having a separate gate and a bump-up-and-down function we just pull it down into ‘L’ which drops it into 4th then we shift with a rocker button on the side of the shifter. I’m not initially enamored with that system but could probably get used to it.

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Inside, the Enclave is beautifully designed and styled. The dash features a center arch in housing an analog clock giving the Enclave an Art Deco feel. The standard wood and leather steering wheel along with all the wood and leather trim elsewhere presents an ambiance the equal of any of the luxury brands. Styling is not overdone. Fit, finish and materials are first rate. Controls are logical and well arranged. Seats are comfortable. No complaints inside. This is a luxurious cabin easy to live with.

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Second row seats consist of two captains chairs. Third row is bench seating for three. During our test week my son-in-law, Mike, ended up back there in the third-row seat. Our conversations throughout the vehicle were easy at normal volumes. Mike said it is reasonably comfortable back there though not a lot of leg room. That’s mostly for small and flexible folks.
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Behind the third row we find 18.9 cubic-feet of cargo area. Maximum cargo area with seats folded is 115.1 cubic-feet. A power lift gate in the rear is handy and the seats fold easily making for a utilitarian layout.

Our Enclave CXL FWD (front-wheel-drive) shows a base sticker price of $34,255. That includes the standard 3.6-liter VVT V6 with six-speed automatic transmission, dual exhausts with chrome tips, ABS, Stabilitrak stability control, traction control, six airbags, tire pressure monitoring, remote keyless entry, one year of OnStar service, leather seating, heated front seats, 7-passenger seating with second row captain’s chairs, power front seats, tri-zone climate controls, leather and wood steering wheel with tilt and telescope, XM Radio fee included for the first three months, power lift gate in the rear, high-intensity discharge projector headlamps, 19-inch aluminum wheels. The price of entry on this large cross-over seems pretty reasonable for the amount of content included.

Our test vehicle has just a few options: the 19-inch chromed aluminum wheels add $1,495; an Entertainment Package, which includes a 6 disc CD changer/MP3 player, rear seat audio, and Bose speakers cost an extra $980; the Driver Confidence Package, comprised of remote start, ultrasonic rear parking assist and heated windshield washer fluid costs $520; and the red jewel tintcoat adds $395. With the $735 destination charge the bottom line on this one is $38,380. Then, GM subtracts $600 for a “wheel content credit.”

The Enclave earned five-star ratings from NHTSA for both front and side crash and four stars for rollover protection.

Payload is 2,908 pounds and towing capacity is a respectable 4,500 pounds.

There is no question that the Buick Enclave is as good as anything in its class and less pricey than most when comparing equal content. Quality of design and execution appears to be world-class. Only time will tell if overall quality is up to world standards, but my bet would be that it is.

It’s no wonder that the Enclave and its factory mates are selling like hotcakes. We’ll look forward to testing the Outlook and Acadia soon. In the meantime, we’ll just say “Good job!” to GM and the Lansing Delta Township folks who are putting these out.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved