Buick adds 2008 Enclave crossover SUV

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pack up the family in Buick's newest model and head out on a summer road trip.

Up to eight people ride comfortably inside the quiet and roomy interior of the Buick Enclave. No one will miss the passing scenery because seats in this crossover sport utility vehicle sit up nicely from the pavement and provide good views out.

Luggage and cargo space are generous and the driver is unfettered, thanks to the Enclave's confident steering and road manners, decent V-6 engine and smooth shifts through the six-speed transmission.

This early-introduction 2008 Buick looks good, too, since it shares its genetic line with its handsome General Motors Corp. siblings -- GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.

But the Enclave is the priciest of the bunch, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $32,790 for a front-wheel drive CX. An all-wheel drive Enclave starts at $34,790.

The Acadia and Outlook crossovers have starting retail prices of less than $30,000, and even a 2007 Toyota Highlander with three rows of seats and a V-6 starts at far less -- $27,435.

Buick officials said they're positioning the Enclave as a competitor to luxury crossovers, such as the Lexus RX 350 and Acura MDX, which start at more than $38,000 as 2007 models.

The addition of the Enclave, which has standard three rows of seats, comes after Buick stopped production of its short-lived, slow-selling Terraza minivan.

Company officials expect the Enclave will do better at attracting families than the minivan did.

This five-door SUV already has done better than the Terraza in federal government crash tests, racking up across-the-board, five-out-of-five-stars ratings for frontal and side crash protection.

Standard safety equipment on every Enclave includes frontal and side-mounted air bags for the front row, head curtain air bags for all three rows of passengers, antilock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control.

The Enclave also is heavy -- heavier than it might seem for a crossover that's touted as not being based on a truck the way traditional SUVs were. In fact, the underlying platform is new and not tied to any truck. Yet, it weighs between 4,790 and nearly 5,000 pounds, which rivals that of some pickup trucks.

This weight gave the test Enclave CXL with all-wheel drive a feeling of solidity, especially when coupled with the oh-so-serene, "Quiet Tuned" interior that benefits from triple door seals and laminated, noise-reducing windshield, among other things.

Basically, the Enclave traveled like a stable, substantial vehicle.

But the intriguing part is the pleasing, hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering, well-controlled body motions and impressive Michelin tires which made the nearly 17-foot-long Enclave seem like a smaller, nimble vehicle.

I could set the steering wheel in one spot, for example, to travel around long, sweeping curves, and the vehicle was set. No constant steering adjustments were needed.

And the ride kept bumps away from passengers while not isolating the driver from the road.

Impressively, the Enclave rested at idle -- say, at stoplights -- with nary a vibration. Buick officials said the vehicle has engine mounts beneath the 3.6-liter, four-cam V-6 that are switchable to absorb and manage the different kinds of vibrations that occur when the vehicle is moving and when it's sitting still.

The Acadia and Outlook don't have these engine mounts, they said.

But all three crossovers use the same engine and automatic transmission.

In the Buick, it delivers 275 horsepower and 251 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. The Enclave doesn't surge forward with gusto. Rather, the power comes on steadily, though at times a bit lazily.

And at high altitude on mountainous roads, the test Enclave lugged even though it carried just two passengers.

The only other times I noticed the weight was when I filled up at gasoline pumps because even in mostly highway travel, I managed to get just shy of 19 miles per gallon in the test Enclave. This compares with the official window sticker mileage of 18/22 mpg for my all-wheel drive tester using the federal government's new, revised-lower fuel economy numbers.

At least the Enclave doesn't need pricey premium gas, though at today's prices for regular unleaded, it can cost more than $60 to fill the 22-gallon tank.

The Enclave comes with a bit more standard equipment than the Acadia and Outlook.

For example, all Enclaves come with power, rear liftgate. The base Acadia and Outlook have manual rear liftgates.

Still, the base Enclave CX, like the base Acadia and Outlook, has cloth seats. Leather seat trim comes standard on the uplevel Enclave CXL that starts at nearly $35,000.

I'd recommend getting a parking assist system for the back of the Enclave because it can be difficult to see from the driver's seat what's behind this tall SUV.

And be aware that a cargo net and cargo cover are extra-price add-ons.

A nitpicky item is the silver plastic trim that runs across the middle of the Enclave dashboard. Why is this trim in two pieces and why do the pieces have to meet smack in the middle, under the clock?

In the tester, the two pieces didn't line up quite right.

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