2019 Buick Enclave Essence AWD (USA)

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The Buick Enclave was the first of a series of GM Crossover models based on the Lambda platform, which constituted GM’s offerings in what Americans still think of as mid-size 3-row crossovers, but which to a European’s eyes look decidedly on the large side. First seen in April 2007, the Buick was soon joined by GMC (Acadia), Saturn (Relay) and Chevrolet (Traverse) versions which although having their own distinct body designs shared everything under the skin. The Lambda cars were well received and deservedly sold well. This is an important market sector in America so it was a bit of a surprise that the first generation models persisted for ten years before there was any sign of a replacement. The first version to appear was the new GMC Acadia, at the 2016 New York Show and everyone was surprised that this car was a little smaller than its predecessor. That was not the case when the second generation Enclave made its debut, officially premiered 10 years to the day after the launch of the first, at the Pier 59 Studios at the New York International Auto Show on 11th April 2017. It went on sale late in the year as a 2018 model year vehicle. Buick had launched the Chinese-built Envision a year or so before this Enclave and with the Opel Insignia-based Buick Regal TourX wagon also in the range, the second generation Enclave was moved upmarket, aimed at competing with the Volvo XC90, Infiniti QX60, and Acura MDX in the premium crossover SUV market. Underpinning the second generation Enclave is the long-wheelbase version of GM’s C1XX chassis, sharing the same platform with the second generation Chevrolet Traverse, which followed the Buick a few months later. The design was all-new, with a sleeker aerodynamic appearance, a lower roofline, and the introduction of the Evonik Acrylite exterior forward lighting flanking Buick’s new three-dimensional mesh grille with chrome wings. Although the original Enclave featured in the Hertz US rental fleet from the outset, I never managed to drive one (though I did sample all its stable mates during their 10 year production life), so I was keen not miss out on the second generation car. When I saw some brand new 2019 model year examples had arrived at the LAX facility, some of which were parked up in the Presidents’ Circle area, I decided to take one for the day to see what I thought of it.

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All versions of the second generation Enclave are powered by a 3.6 litre V6 mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission, which produces 310 bhp with 266 lb/ft of torque. Front wheel drive is stand but all bar the entry level car are available with Intelligent AWD with an active twin-clutch rear differential, which complements its first switchable all-wheel-drive system and a small badge on my test car told me that this was fitted to the car I was driving. As you might expect for a car with premium ambitions, there is keyless starting, which is always useful. Less helpful was the fact that the car locked itself every time I got out of it, requiring me to unlock it again to get in, which was a bit of a nuisance when I was in and out taking photos. There may have been a setting somewhere to alter this, but I did not find it. That V6 engine is super smooth and refined and the gearbox is well matched so there is seamless acceleration with almost imperceptible gearchanges. The Enclave is a large and heavy car so 310 bhp is ample to give the car decent but not super rapid performance, but there was always acceleration on tap when it was called for, and more importantly when I had reached cruising speed, the Buick was very quiet indeed with just a touch of road noise. In keeping, perhaps, with the premium ambitions, there is a stubby gearlever which you simply push backwards to engage drive and towards you, ie sideways, to select reverse. It proved easy to use. I took the Enclave a lot further in one day that I usually managed in a test car, with 530 miles added to the odometer when I returned it. During the course of the day I had to put in 20.8 gallons of fuel, which computes to a consumption of 25.48 mpg US or 30.44 mpg Imperial, a very impressive result and no doubt largely a consequence of the fact that many of those miles were driven at a steady speed on the freeway when the Enclave would have been at its most economical.

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The Enclave priorities luxury over sportiness, and viewed in this way, then this is an agreeable machine to drive, though the enthusiast would doubtless prefer a Mazda CX-9 from the cars in this class. The steering is relatively light but does retain some feel, so you do have some sense of what the front wheels are going to do and the upside is that this large vehicle is easy to manoeuvre. There is a certain amount of body roll, but grip is not in short supply and the Buick handles tidily enough when you take it down a twisty road and the car never really feels ponderous or unwieldy. The ride proved to be well-judged, soft enough to absorb some of the more challenging surfaces that constituted the roads of Southern California, but not too soft for the car to feel wallowy. It came on 255/65 R18 wheels. The brakes were good, proving powerful yet light in operation. The electronic parking brake operates with a button on the dash. Visibility was generally good, helped by a blind spot warning system in the door mirrors and the rear-view camera making it easy to judge the back end of the car.

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This generation of the Enclave features a modern nicely finished interior. in a mix of black and oatmeal materials, with some very dark “wood” inlays providing further variety to the trim. There is a leather-wrapped steering wheel which was pleasant to hold. The overall dash design looks very much more car-like than you used to find in big vehicles like this, and it although it makes use of a number of components from the GM corporate parts bin, the design is cohesive. The instrument cluster contains two large dials for speedometer and rev counter and set in the upper area between them are two smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature. Beneath these is a digital display area for trip computer functions, the choice of you can select from touchpads on the steering wheel boss. The dials are clearly marked and easy to read. Latest generation column stalks feature, and these operate the indicators and wipers, with lights on the dash. The stalks seemed set rather too high for comfort. The steering wheel boss has functions for cruise control and audio repeaters using touch sensitive pads. The centre of the dash contains a fully integrated 8″ colour infotainment touch screen and like an increasing number of cars now almost all the functions on this are only accessed by the screen or voice commands, with just a handful of audio buttons left. The setup proved a bit fiddly. I was also surprised to discover that there is not a standard navigation as part of the unit, but that navigation functions are available by linking your smartphone to the unit and using GM OnStar capabilities to get what you want. Not ideal, in my opinion. The infotainment unit had all the other functions you would expect including XM Satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well as a 4G LTE wifi hotspot. Below the display unit there are just the buttons for the tri-zone automated climate control. For sure, the fussiness and mass of buttons that I found for instance in the previous generation Regal has gone, but perhaps the proverbial pendulum has gone a little too far the other way.

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The passenger cabin of the Enclave is airy with a feeling of space, even though the centre console between the front seats is set very high, meaning that driver and passenger are well separated. The optional twin glass moonroofs add lots of light to the cabin, which also helps matters. The Enclave features lots of leather inside and the quality used on the seats was good. Getting comfortable proved straight-forward. The steering wheel telescopes in/out and up/down and there is 10-way electric adjustment of the seats, so finding the ideal driving position was easy. There is also a lumbar adjuster and there is seat heating, though I did not need that on the day when I had the car. I can vouch for seat comfort having spent many hours in the seat during my test.

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There are two “captain’s chairs” fitted in the second row, with the seats some way apart from each other. Although you seem to be sitting quite high up, there is still a feeling of space here. Legroom is generous even if the front seats are set well back and there is plenty of headroom. There is a flat floor across the width of the car. Drop down armrests are fitted on the inner side of each seat. There are separate climate controls for occupants here. and they have map pockets on the back of the front seats and bins on the doors for their odds and ends.

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The second row of seats tip and fold forward to allow access to the third row. Clambering in is not that easy, but that is the case for almost any three-row vehicle I have tried, even the larger ones. There is a bench seat here split one third/two thirds but you could certainly put three people in here. Children would be happier than adults but there is enough space both for legs and indeed the taller torso for adults to sit here as well. The seats have electric assistance if you want to raise or lower them.

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The tailgate is large and heavy but thankfully it has electric assistance, especially useful when trying to close it. With the third row of seats erect there is more boot space than you will find in the Buick’s rivals, but it is still somewhat limited, so if you had a lot of luggage to carry, it would almost certainly not fit. The solution to that, of course, is found by systematically dropping seats down, and with both parts of the third row folded out of the way there is a lot of luggage capacity. The backrests of the second row fold onto the backrests, too, and the resulting floor area is then flat and long from tailgate to the front seats, a space quoted at 98 cubic feet which is among the largest available in the Buick’s class. There is some additional space available in a cubby area under the boot floor. Inside the cabin there is a good-sized glovebox, a two-tier cubby under the central armrest, a shallow area in front of the gearlever and pockets on the doors and there is a useful if rather awkward to access area under the gearlever.

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The 2018 Buick Enclave is available in four trims. They all use the same 3.6-litre V6 engine (310 bhp, 260 lb/ft) and a nine-speed automatic transmission. The standard Enclave is available only in front-wheel drive; the remaining trims are available in front- or all-wheel drive. The Essence features additional safety and comfort tech, while the Premium trim adds more luxury and safety amenities. At the top, the Avenir promises tech, safety and comfort features on par with what’s offered in the best luxury crossovers. All Enclaves have seating for seven. Even in base form, the Enclave comes with features that make it competitive in the three-row SUV segment. It comes standard with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, remote engine start, three-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats with heating, adjustable second-row captain’s chairs and 60/40-split folding third-row seats. Standard in-car technology includes an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, OnStar communications (with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspot), USB ports (two in front and four for rear passengers), and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio. The Essence includes a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, a cabin air ionization system and leather seating surfaces. Optionally, you can add all-wheel drive, a heavy-duty tow package that allows you to pull up to 5,000 pounds, a top-down parking camera system and a sunroof. Premium models add low-speed forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, front parking sensors, driver-seat memory settings, a Bose 10-speaker premium speaker system, lane departure warning and intervention, a heated steering wheel, heated seats for outboard second-row passengers, ventilated seats for the front row, and power-folding third-row seats. Top-trim Avenir models roll on 20-inch wheels and receive a navigation system (optional on the Essence and Premium), a larger driver information display, a rearview mirror with integrated camera display, the sunroof and top-down parking camera system, premium leather upholstery, upgraded interior trim, and a wireless device charging pad. Optionally, you can spec your Avenir with an adaptive suspension and an Avenir Technology package that allows for stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, grille shutters to increase aerodynamic efficiency, and the aforementioned adaptive suspension package. My test car was in Essence trim.

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If you are looking for a car of this type, the Enclave would seem to be a good bet. It is very spacious, nicely finished and drives well, with a focus more on smoothness rather than exuberance and excitement. In Essence trim, the car was decently well-equipped, and indeed the quality of the trim and the list of standard features do make it quite a cut above its most obvious in-house rival, the Chevrolet Traverse as well as slew of others from rival brands. Of those competitors with a premium badge, I’ve not driven that many but did sample the Infiniti QX60 a year or so ago, and I remember being very impressed by the previous Volvo XC90 some time ago. Picking between these and other rivals would require an element of back-to-back testing and the final choice may come down to the deal you can strike or personal preference. As a rental car, the Enclave certainly works, and as it tends to be grouped together with the less-premium badged cars as well, I would say that it is certainly worth taking one if you get the chance.

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