The confusion of the guy in the tollbooth was understandable. As the seven-passenger SUV rolled into his station, it's clear the sparkly brown paint, gobs of chrome trim and wheels, and touch-screen navigation said that this was some kind of luxury.
"What's that, a Cadillac?" he shouted out the open door as we drove through. It wasn’t, and somewhere, a Buick guy was smiling.
The Enclave starts at $39,340 and shares its underpinnings with Chevy's everyman Traverse and GMC's Acadia. Though none of the three are all-new for 2014, GM gave each a thorough makeover to keep these seven-passenger people-movers current for a few more years of their life cycle.
Our loaded tester mixed Chevy bones with Cadillac goodies (heated and cooled leather seats, dual moon roofs, rear-seat entertainment system) in an effort to continue the success that GM’s light-luxury brand has had with the model.
Buick sold more of these crossovers in the first nine months of 2012 than any other vehicle, and it’s on track to do the same in 2013. Sales of the Enclave this year are up 11.6% over the same nine-month period in 2012.
Yet the large crossover segment has evolved mightily since the Enclave originally debuted in 2008; thus this Buick has its work cut out for it.
Mechanically, the Enclave remains unchanged from before. The only engine choice is a direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.
Front-wheel drive is standard, while the AWD system on our loaded $54,880 tester is an option. Buyers also get a six-speed automatic transmission. The Enclave is rated at 16 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. During our 300 miles of testing over more miles on the highway than in the city, we averaged almost 19 mpg.
During our long weekend with the Enclave, the drivetrain proved one of the many highlights of this Buick. The engine and transmission work in concert to make sure there’s plenty of power whenever you need it. The engine pulls strong and smooth, and does so with more than enough refinement.
The ride quality is another strong suit for the Enclave, and Buick made only minor tweaks to the suspension and ride. Not only does it soak up anything a pothole-marked road can throw at you, it rolls over these irregularities with silent aplomb. Wind and road noise are also banished from the cabin.
Making things even more comfortable inside that cabin are seven (or eight) comfortable seats. Our tester was a seven-passenger version, which gave us a pair of heated, roomy captain’s chairs in the middle row of seats.
The rear seats offer a healthy amount of legroom for adults, which is more than some competitors can say. They’re also a breeze to fold flat when you’re not using them. Cargo room with those last seats up is still useful too; with seven people on board we had several carry-on suitcases and duffel bags stacked in the way-back without trouble.
But as mentioned, these were traits included in the original recipe of the Enclave. For the 2014 version, key changes were made to the interior and exterior to bring the Enclave more up to date.
The best update to this crossover is a much-needed nip and tuck on the outside. The previous version wasn't ugly, but had a round, bulbous look to it that wasn't exactly pleasing. The refresh gives the Enclave a bolder, more crisp look that mimics the handsome face Buick has fitted to a number of its cars recently.
Our only gripe with the outside were the overly chromed wheels that already look dated and cheap. You wouldn't find these within 30 miles of a Lexus. Fortunately, Buick does offer a more subdued option that matches the rest of the exterior much better.
Inside, Buick redesigned the center console for a more refined, contemporary look. The wood is still fake, but there’s more of it in the right places. The optional touch-screen navigation system has been reworked (though we still got lost at one point), and the climate control is redesigned.
Yet all these goodies don't come cheap. The loaded Enclave we tested rang in at robust $52,880. Even if you don’t opt for our model’s dual moon roofs, lane-departure and forward collision warning, heated and cooled front seats, or rear-seat entertainment system, you have to spend at least $45,000 to get a model with in-car navigation. That’s frustrating.
And these changes are certainly well-executed and do a nice job of bringing the Enclave more up to date. But the overall package is still outdone by many newer competitors, especially the Infiniti QX60.
While that crossover doesn’t feel as solid as the Enclave, it’s more polished and sophisticated for nearly the same money (a loaded AWD Infiniti QX60 is about $700 more than our loaded Buick).
So cross-shoppers may find a more thorough dose of luxury in the Infiniti. But that doesn’t mean the 2014 Enclave should be skipped. The thoughtful updates to this version help the Buick do nearly everything well. Including looking like a Cadillac.
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