Buick may be associated with luxury in the Chinese market, but here in the U.S., the brand has long been associated with dowdy cruisers built for elderly customers. It’s going to take a while for GM’s second-tier luxury division to dig itself out of that hole.
With that uncomfortable reality undoubtedly weighing on their minds, Buick’s engineers must have known they would have to step up their game to compete against premium three-row heavyweights like the Acura MDX and the Infiniti QX60. Their diligence appears to have paid off: the new 2018 Buick Enclave makes a compelling case that it should be considered among other stylish, luxurious midsize crossovers.
At first glance, Buick’s redesigned flagship crossover is impressive to behold. Some of the design cues that appeared on the Avenir concept in 2015 have at last made their way onto the real-life Enclave. The new look retains some of the curves that sets Buick’s design language apart from edgy Cadillac, but introduces better shape definition and more resolute body creases than its puffy predecessor.
Looking like a modern crossover, the new Enclave appears ready to wade into the swift-moving waters of the crossover market.
The good feeling I got when I first set eyes on the Enclave remained when I climbed into the cabin. The interior is everything a Buick should be – attractive, roomy and quiet. The silent detachment I felt as I was driving was appropriately Buick, too, giving the sense that apocalypse unfolding outside the Enclave’s sound-insulated interior would transmit little more than a scarcely perceptible tremor into its occupants’ peaceful inner sanctum.
As with other GM models I’ve seen this year, interior design and execution are spot-on. Materials quality can leave something to be desired, but not enough to make this vehicle a non-starter.
Everything looks clean and the layout is orderly, although I can’t figure out why Buick’s designers placed a non-symmetrical rhombus-shaped infotainment cluster in the midst of an otherwise symmetrical dash. Someone’s personal preference, I guess.
One thing I really disliked was the bottom shelf on the center console in the front seat. Multi-level consoles may look cool in concept cars, but in real life they’re difficult to see into and to reach. In other words, the lower console is a nook in which to lose small personal items. I also found it unfortunate that the 12V power port, which was located down there, was so difficult to reach without bending my arm and wrist into an obscure contortionist pose.
The third-row seat is a little tight, but is probably fine for children, which is most likely why you’d have a car like this. The middle row—which features two captain’s chairs in every version of the Enclave—is limo-comfortable. My test vehicle was outfitted with dual moonroofs, a $1,400 option that added to the openness of the middle seats.
Cargo space is generous. With the rear seats up, the Enclave still has 23.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. A wide floor space, 3.1 cu.-ft. of underfloor storage, and an optional hands-free power liftgate made for a very useable cargo hold. I had no problem fitting a couple of rows of grocery bags there without worrying about losing passenger capacity.
The third-row seats fold flat by pressing easy-to-use buttons – just so long as the middle seats haven’t been moved back too far. So configured, the Enclave holds 58 cu.-ft. of cargo.
With all of the back seats folded down, cargo volume jumps to a cavernous 97.6 cu.-ft. This vehicle would likely prove popular among parents needing to move offspring and their belongings off to college. If the Enclave still doesn’t offer enough interior space, Buick says the Enclave can tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer.
Like the exterior, the Enclave’s interior is all-new. Buick did a fantastic job sprucing it up in a tasteful, modern fashion. The controls are straightforward, which means you don’t have to do a lot of pecking around to find things.
I’m not a huge fan of the weird joystick shifter, which is too much like an old Prius, and is a little confusing at first. But once you’re accustomed to it, it’s not difficult to use. Buick saw fit to place paddle shifters on the steering wheel for driving in “manual” mode. It’s a nice touch, especially considering that so many of the Enclave’s General Motors stablemates make use of an utterly impractical shifter-mounted toggle switch for manual shifting.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard in the Enclave, as do an 8-inch center touchscreen display and a 4.2-inch screen between the gauges in the instrument cluster.
An optional seat vibrator lets you know if you’re about to hit something, a feature I find more useful and less irritating than those systems that warn you about the same hazards by beeping at you. No one wants that.
The Enclave is also available with a low-speed automatic emergency braking system designed to prevent collisions with pedestrians and with other vehicles in slow-moving traffic. In Avenir trim, this system is upgraded to work at higher speeds. Buick also supplies a variety of other driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies for the Enclave.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not yet crash tested the 2018 Enclave, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the 2018 Enclave a 5-star overall safety rating.
The Encore’s 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 has plenty of grunt, and moves the 4,500-pound Enclave with purpose. More powerful than last year’s 3.6, the engine makes peak torque 600 rpm lower, and spins power through a resolute, smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission. Pushed a little bit, the engine emits a satisfying growl.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the handling. As much as I liked sitting in this SUV – particularly on smooth highways – I didn’t like its handling characteristics in town. As I mentioned, the Enclave is heavy, and without the adaptive damping suspension that is available only for Avenir trim, it negotiates road irregularities by way of a series of dives, bucks and lurches.
The Enclave is also big dimensionally. It doesn’t appear to be especially huge when you’re looking at it from outside, but it is 17 feet long (longer than a short box, crew cab F-150), more than 6.5 feet wide and weighs close to 5,000 pounds when equipped with all of the extras. There were times—usually when I was looking for street parking in the city, when I felt like I was driving the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. I wouldn’t recommend this vehicle to people forced to negotiate tight spaces on a regular basis.
Buick has done a great job with the new 2018 Enclave, and in my opinion, it’s certainly a contender in the three-row luxury crossover field. It’s not exciting, but again, it’s a Buick and does Buick things well. It owns mid-level luxury and as long as you keep costly options from racking up, could even be a bargain in that segment.
The Enclave essentially gives you minivan capability in a package that should please the, “Oh, I don’t drive minivans” crowd.
Attractive interior and exterior redesign notwithstanding, there is one caveat. When I was driving the Enclave, there was something about it that reminded me of a late-’90s Dodge Caravan. It certainly doesn’t look like a jellybean the way the old Enclave (and the old Dodge Caravan) did, but there’s a small measure of residual bulbousness that, combined with the spongy ride, makes it feel a little schlubby.
But as the driver is insulated from the outside world’s tumult by the silent cocoon of a Buick, so too is the passerby separated from the Enclave’s failings by the force of its exterior design. The Enclave is like a large man with a huge belly who wears a suit cut just the right way. No one’s going to notice his body because the suit looks too good.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, please share it using the “Join the Conversation” buttons below, and thank you for visiting Daily News Autos.