If Buick isn't the first name that springs to mind when thinking about SUVs, you haven't been following the transformation of one of the oldest car company's in the world. And if you're looking for a big luxury crossover, the 2018 Buick Enclave should be near the top of your list.
Established over 114 years ago, Buick built a reputation for quality and refinement until the late 1960s, when it was homoginized in the General Motors lineup along with Oldsmobile and Pontiac as mid-level models. Although they shared many parts with less expensive Chevys, they were more upscale but not as good as Cadillacs.
When GM's overall quality declined in the late 1970s and 1980s, Buicks went downhill, too. Although they all began to recover in the late mid-1990s, when the Great Recession hit, GM shut down Oldsmobile and Pontiac but kept Buick as its sole transition between its least and most expensive vehicles.
Although that wasn't much of an identify, after GM emerged from bankruptcy, Buick began reinventing itself with unexpectedly innovative models, beginning with the Encore, the first luxury subcompact SUV. It also adopted GMs midsize and fullsize SUVs as the Envision and Enclave, reurning enough of the brand's original refinement to distinguish them from the Chevy and GMC models.
Now, with the completely redesigned 2018 Enclave, Buick is ready to compete against more expensive luxury SUVs. Although conservatively styled both inside and out, the seven-passenger crossover is a well-engineered, quiet and comfortable people hauler for large familes — or small families with a lot of friends.
The Enclave is available with only one engine/transmission combination, a 3.6-liter V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Although that may not sound like much compared to fullsize SUVs with optional turbocharged engines and 10-speed auto, the pairing is a good choice. In a week of mixed driving, the 310 horsepower produced by the V6 proved more than enough in all conditions, while the transmission always seemed to be in the right gear.
Our test model also came with the optional all-wheel-drive system that is activated by a push button on the dash. Although we didn't have a chance to test it in snow, it performed well during early rains that turned the roads slick.
The no-drama level of performance carried over to the spacious interior, where all road and outside noises were kept at bay and replaced with the soothing sounds of a Bose premium stereo system. The front leather bucket seats in our Premium version were supportive without being confining. The same is true of the standard captains chairs that made up the second row of seats, which slid forward enough to allow easy access to the third row, which was best suited for children and occassional teenagers.
Although the dash appeared very simple, the 8-inch touchscreen functioned well enough to control all functions with a minimum of knobs and buttons. All Enclaves also come with six USB ports, 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity, and are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
Even more impressive was the array of safety system that included blind spot monitoring and a driver's seat that vibrated when departing a lane without using the signal or coming up to fast behind a slower vehicle. Spending much time with such warnings will improve anyone's driving skills.
While such sophistication isn't cheap, the approximately $50,000 starting price is not out of line, given the competion. Nor was the $56,555 list price of our test model, given its options and upgrades.
GM's decision to keep Buick was clearly the right one, given the innovative lineup that inlcudes its biggest and most refined vehicle, the 2018 Enclave. Anyone who needs to carry a lot of people in comfort and safety.
2018 Buick Enclave Premium AWD
Base price: $50,315
Price as tested: $56,555
Style: Midsize crossover SUV
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (310 hp, 266 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 17/25
Length: 204.3 inches
Weight: 4,400-4,500 pounds
Final assembly point: Lansing, Michigan