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2008 Buick Enclave Road Test

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2008 Buick Enclave Road Test

The best Buick ever?

by Gary Witzenburg (2007-05-29)


Posted Image

courtesy of The Car Connection

Buick has launched a cruise missile into the hot and highly competitive crossover SUV wars. Arriving half a year behind its well-reviewed Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia cousins, this most upscale of GM's new large crossover trio is quieter, more refined, and more attractive, than most anything else in its segment. And, thanks to its tightly tuned suspension, communicative steering, 275-hp 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve VVT V-6, and six-speed automatic transaxle, it loses none of their (for their size) crisp handling and respectable performance.

Most would expect the more expensive Buick to be softened up for its anticipated (read: "older") buyers. That was the original intent, says Vehicle Performance Manager Larry Milhalko. Each division wanted its own chassis tuning, but all agreed that the structure and suspension were so good that a single optimized calibration could satisfy all three.

Full disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for GM not once but twice, starting as a Chevrolet engineer and departing eight years later to pursue an auto writing career. No one knew then that GM was poised on the precipice of a decades-long descent from industry design, engineering, and sales leadership to a sadly mismanaged shadow of its former self.

I returned 14 years later for a stint at Buick Public Relations, arriving just in time to launch the surprisingly decent 1988 Reatta roadster and the reasonably awful Regal coupe. Buick was struggling with mediocre product and a geriatric image, but some good quality ratings and relatively nice new Park Avenue and LeSabre full-size sedans brightened its horizon a bit…even as the parent company was foundering and nearly bankrupt.

I reverted back to engineering with GM's (ill-fated but technically brilliant) electric vehicle program, then five years ago took early retirement to resume auto writing. Quite unlike the first time, however, this second exit came just as GM was undertaking a painfully slow but fully comprehensive renaissance. Scoff if you will (as some colleagues do), but even the toughest industry analysts and critics have grudgingly begun to recognize this transformation.

Shockingly handsome

Which brings us back to this handsome new Enclave, easily the best Buick - and one of the best new GM vehicles of any kind - in modern memory. When design VP Ed Welburn unveiled the Enclave concept at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, most agreed that its exterior was stunning and its interior beautifully crafted with first-class fits and premium materials throughout - quite out of character for GM until very recently.

Welburn said it was inspired by the gorgeous Buick Velite convertible concept of a couple years back and set the "form vocabulary" for production Buicks to come. "I believe Buick can go after Lexus in a very strong way," he asserted. "When I think of Buick design, I don't think of long parallel lines [but] very fluid, romantic shapes. The tire-to-body relationships are spectacular, with wide tracks and their bodies fairly close. The grilles are a contemporary execution of the Buick waterfall. The chrome accents around the taillamps, and similar accents around everything, show great attention to detail. Even the chrome moldings on the Enclave's side lamps taper like brush strokes. The body shape flows, like there's wind blowing over it."

He pointed to the Enclave concept interior as "right at the core of the work we've been doing, a renaissance in interior design for GM. We've put many of our absolute best designers on this mission, and there is a real spirit around it…not just the styling [but] the grains, the textures, the gloss levels, the colors that are chosen, placing chrome accents in just the right places and sectioning the chrome so that it gets that sparkle."

Production model true to the concept

So here comes this production Enclave, which (unlike too often in the past) is amazingly true to the concept. The exterior is dominated by a bold waterfall grille that wraps over the hood's leading edge, projector-beam headlamps under clear wrap-around covers, and large wheels and tires protruding outboard past the gracefully arched, muscular fenders. The effect is at once distinctive, elegant and aggressive.

The cabin boasts a rich mix of real mahogany wood (on the steering wheel), authentic-looking faux burl woodgrain and aluminum accents and chrome rings around the recessed and blue-lighted speedometer, tachometer, fuel, voltage, and temperature gauges. There's a round analog clock atop the center stack, the instrument and door panels are trimmed in soft-touch composites in contrasting colors, and the seats are upholstered in supple perforated leather with French-seam stitching.

We found the seats comfortable and supportive and were pleasantly impressed by accommodating details, including the standard manual adjustable column, which offers both tilt and telescope fine tuning. There's ample adult room in all three rows, plus nearly 19 cu. ft. behind the third row. The second-row seats adjust fore-aft five inches to trade-off legroom, flip forward for easy third-row access, or fold flat to extend the floor for a cavernous 115-cu. ft. cargo capacity. And - thanks to Buick's comprehensive "quiet-tuning" - this is absolutely one of the quietest vehicles of any kind that we have experienced.

While we're not big fans of wood-trimmed interiors, whether real or simulated, this one seems both tasteful and appropriate for the brand. What else was not to like? The full-up, full-down power windows stubbornly resisted our efforts to crack them just slightly for ventilation.

The many positives of this "full-size" CUV include its styling, commodious people and cargo room and surprisingly satisfying performance, braking, and handling. But it is pricey and, like its Saturn and GMC cousins, larger and heavier than the 2007 Rainier truck-based SUV and Rendezvous and just slightly smaller than the Terraza minivan, all three of which it replaces in Buick showrooms. Its EPA-rated economy (using the new 2008 testing and computation system) is respectable at 16 city/24 highway with front-wheel drive, 16/22 mpg with available all-wheel drive, but time will tell how many buyers choose large three-row crossovers over smaller alternatives.

But however many Enclaves are ultimately sold, few will disagree that this is Buick's most significant new vehicle in many, many years. It foretells the future of Buick styling - witness the striking Riviera coupe concept just introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show - and a coming image turnaround of this once-proud brand

2008 Buick Enclave

Base price: $32,790 (front-drive CX) to $36,990 (all-wheel-drive CXL)

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 275 hp/251 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 201.5 x 79.0 x 72.5 in

Wheelbase: 119 in

Curb weight: 4780 lb (fwd); 4985 lb (awd)

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 16/24 mpg (fwd); 16/22 mpg (awd)

Major standard features: Seven-passenger seating, 18-inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, fog lamps, automatic climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors, power driver and passenger seats, power liftgate, heated outside mirrors with turn signals, tilt/telescoping steering column, steering wheel controls, remote keyless entry, MP3/CD six-speaker audio, XM satellite radio (including free, introductory subscription)

Safety features: Dual front, side, and curtain airbags; StabiliTrak, ABS and electronic traction control; five-star NHTSA safety ratings

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles (Five years/100,000 miles powertrain)


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Great... I'm very happy to have read this.

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Oh I'll be glad to be the first to mention the difference here as well:

Motor Trend:

"Steering pays homage to the numb Electra 225s of yore with poor feedback, especially on-center. Precision is decent, though, requiring few steering corrections."

The Car Connection:

"And, thanks to its tightly tuned suspension, communicative steering, 275-hp 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve VVT V-6, and six-speed automatic transaxle, it loses none of their (for their size) crisp handling and respectable performance."

Car and Driver:

"The ride is surprisingly dynamic, with little body roll even on some winding and shoulderless rural asphalt."

I would love to have someone at Motor Trend enlighten us to the very wide perception gap, even coming from the not-always-GM-friendly Car and Driver.

Edited by Cananopie

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I would love to have someone at Motor Trend enlighten us to the very wide perception gap, even coming from the not-always-GM-friendly Car and Driver.

Don't you know.....it's American man!! Fat, Lazy, stupid, arrogant Americans can't build cars that handle well. Buick especially. They're for old people who can't tell a good car from a bad car.

Motor Trend is good at perpetuating lies.

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