The best-selling Buick in America, the Enclave, is a roomy, smooth-riding, sizable family SUV with top safety scores and a novel center air bag that deploys between the front seats in certain side crashes.
For 2014, the pleasantly styled Enclave sport utility vehicle with standard, three rows of seats adds enhanced audio and more safety features — front collision alert and lane departure warning.
With a premium feel and a not-too-premium price, and with a record of average reliability, the Enclave is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine.
But government fuel economy ratings — 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway for a V-6-powered, front-wheel drive model — put the Enclave at the lower end of crossover SUVs in gasoline mileage. Crossover SUVs have exterior styling and ride height similar to traditional, truck-based SUVs but use underlying car-based platforms to provide a car-like ride and better fuel economy.
Fortunately, base pricing for the Enclave has increased just $325 from the 2013 model year.
Starting retail price is $39,665 for a base, 2014 Enclave with 288-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2014 Enclave with all-wheel drive is $41,665.
The base Enclaves come with cloth-covered seats, rear park assist, rearview camera, power driver and front-passenger seats, 18-inch wheels and power liftgate among the standard features. Luxury appointments, such as leather seats, Bose sound system and rear entertainment system, come with upper-level trim packages.
The Enclave is one of three corporate siblings, all built by parent company General Motors Co. with the same 288-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. But the Enclave's siblings are lower-priced and come standard with different cloth-trimmed seats and 17-inch or different-design 18-inch wheels, rear camera, manual liftgates and manually adjustable front seats, among other things.
Specifically, the 2014 Chevrolet Traverse has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $31,670 for a front-wheel drive model. The 2014 GMC Acadia has a starting retail price of $35,440 for a front-wheel drive model.
While the Enclave is priced higher than its siblings, it's priced below other large, luxury-branded, crossover SUVs with three rows of seats.
For example, the 2014 Audi Q7 starts at $48,595 with turbocharged, 280-horsepower, gasoline V-6 and Audi's eight-speed, Tiptronic automatic transmission. But leather-trimmed seats, power adjustable and heated front seats, park system with rear sensors, power liftgate, premium audio with 11 speakers and all-wheel drive are among the Q7's standard equipment.
U.S. sales of the Enclave are up nearly 12 percent so far during calendar 2013, to 46,384. This tops all other Buicks, including the cars.
Enclave buyers get an SUV with upscale styling, inside and out, because in contrast to the plainer-looking Traverse and blocky , the Enclave looks nicely dressed up.
Best of all, even adults can sit in the third row in the 16.8-foot-long Enclave, as the flat-cushioned, rearmost seats offer an impressive 37.8 inches of headroom. And the middle person in the third row can extend legs between the two, second-row captain's chairs in seven-passenger models.
True, the third-row seat cushion is short, so there's not complete thigh support, and the middle person doesn't have a head restraint. But there's good access to the third row, and accommodating seat tracks for the first and second rows mean legroom can be arranged fairly for all. There are nicely sized grab handles at the door openings, too.
When cargo, not passengers, is the priority, the Enclave can provide a commodious 115.2 cubic feet of room aft of the front seats. Even keeping the second row for passengers preserves up to 68.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind these seats, and that's as much as some smaller SUVs offer with just front seats saved for passengers.
Weighing more than 4,920 pounds, the test Enclave had a heavy, solid feel.
No wonder the federal government gave the 2014 Enclave top, five-out-of-five stars in passenger protection in both frontal and side crashes.
The new frontal collision alert provides early visual and audible warnings of potential crash situations to help drivers possibly avoid an accident. The new lane departure system keeps a watch on the Enclave driver possibly wandering into another car's lane.
Standard safety features include electronic stability control, traction control and seven air bags — the seventh being the one that deploys in the middle of the front seats and keeps front passengers from being tossed to the side too far in certain side crashes. Thank goodness a rearview camera and rear park assist system, with audible beeps, are standard, too.
The metal pillars at the sides of the rear windows of the Enclave are thick, and the rear glass on the liftgate sits up high, making it difficult to see what's behind.
The smallish turning circle for such a large vehicle was a pleasant surprise.
While there was some weight shift from one side to the other in curves and corners, the Enclave overall rode comfortably, though not firmly. It was noticeably smooth on highways, where the suspension soaked up most all road bumps. The interior was quiet.
But fuel economy, with mostly city driving, was poor at 14.8 mpg. This is less than the government's estimate of 16/22 mpg for an all-wheel drive Enclave like the tester.
The 3.6-liter, dual overhead cam V-6 delivered power steadily, though it could take a bit of time to rev up. Peak torque of 270 foot-pounds comes on at 3,400 rpm. At times, transmission shifts were noticeable.
Some nits: The old-style, clickity blinker sounds, the lack of push-button start on the $50,000 test vehicle, awkward-to-reach clothes hooks and an off-putting, industrial-size rubber button to close the power liftgate.