You and I might not agree on everything, everyone has their own opinions about what they like and dislike, and like many people, I also had some pretty strong beliefs and biases towards certain brands and models. While we might have different opinions, I think I’ve shown over the years that I’m always open to new ideas. Each time I go to film a vehicle for TestDrive I try to come at it with a new set of eyes, a fresh perspective. This is how I approached this all-new 2018 Buick Enclave, because before this week I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan of General Motors, let alone enjoying the hell out of this Buick.
But I am, and I have. This is one of the most surprisingly comfortable crossovers I’ve driven to date, and I’m truly blown away with the work that Buick put into this Enclave. Occupying the premium mid-size segment now, the enclave competes directly with the the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60, as all 3 are 3 row vehicles and have more or less the same feature set, but the Buick really feels like it stands out.
The exterior of this crossover looks nothing like it’s siblings, the Cadillac XT5, GMC Acadia, or Chevrolet Traverse, allowing the Buick to stand on it’s own in this segment. More or less fully loaded, our test model has an MSRP of $65,070.00 with the $2,475 Avenir Technology Package, but could also be configured with a rear seat infotainment system, with or without a DVD player, at $2,415 and $2,730 respectively.
Up front we find Buick’s new Evonik Acrylite headlight system that features bi-LED headlamps and running lights, along with LED tail lights out back. The return of the colour tri-shield is something GM enthusiasts have been asking for for years now, and located below it is one of the 4 cameras that make up the 360º bird’s-eye view system. Behind the Avenir 3D mesh grille are active air shutters that open or close depending on the weather environment and driving conditions.
Along the front fenders are the Buick VentiPorts, and all 4 doors feature keyless entry contact points, allowing you to unlock from the rear doors when getting your kids into the vehicle. Out back we find a dual camera system on the powered automatic lift gate. You can open the lift gate from the key fob, the button on the door, or by swiping your foot under the illuminated Buick logo along the ground.
Moving inside, we find a unique interior design which again, isn’t shared with it’s sister crossovers from Chevy, GMC or Cadillac. This test model is finished in chestnut leather, which is the only colour available with the Avenir trim. The door sills, carpets, and headrests all sport the Avenir branding but don’t make it look tacky.
The interior trim is finished in soft leather throughout, and feels really nice no matter where you sit. The leather wrapped steering wheel has flappy paddles located behind with radar cruise control, audio, and computer controls. While it did take me a bit to get used to, those controls eventually make sense and shouldn’t be too much of a learning curve.
The driver’s 4.2” screen is very functional with a touring and sport theme mode, along with the ability to display vehicle information, music or navigation. The centre media screen is a good size though feels like it’s angled a little too high. The Navigation itself isn’t the best, but is consistent with other premium navigation systems. One of the benefits of the Buick Enclave is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so if you prefer to use your phone’s navigation system, you’ll enjoy it more than the stock system. Climate controls can be displayed through the screen including the centre row controls, which is easier for parents to adjust for smaller kids.
The Surround Vision 360º system works very well, showing a birds-eye view of your vehicle when backing up, and will also automatically engage when pulling into tight spaces if the parking sensors detect an object too close. The parking sensors also display the range on the driver’s information display.
I really like the climate controls on this car. In fact, the entire interior is really well laid out. Some might disagree and say it’s too traditional or spartan, but I really like the simplistic approach Buick is going with this model. Rather than loading it up with buttons and controls, the essentials are located where you’d expect them to be and nothing more.
Below the climate system are two USB ports, an aux port, and a Qi compatible wireless charing pad, which works with devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8. Buick has gone with a very BMW-esque gear shifter, and can take some getting used to. This is the only premium midsize crossover we’ve driven so far that has tossed out a conventional shifter.
The biggest party trick of this Buick is the magic rearview mirror. It caught me off guard when I picked up this car, because I wasn’t expecting to find a digital display where the mirror usually is. I have to say this is one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen in a car, and I really like the approach GM has gone with this. The dual camera system on the truck allows for an always-on rear image from the back of the car, and it’s calibrated in a way to mimic the distance and size a traditional mirror would show, but removes all the obstacles between you and the back windshield.
Now at first it will take time to get used to, you wont be able to look at your hair in the mirror quickly like I always do, nor can you see your kids in the back seat if they’re misbehaving, however you can flick the mirror and revert it back to a traditional reflection.
Now here’s why I say this is some of the coolest tech to date. I drove home in a snow storm, and the back of the vehicle was covered in snow. The back windshield was pretty bad too, but there’s a tiny jet nozzle located beside the camera, when you use the back spray button and the rear camera is on, it will clear the camera with washer fluid.
The technology isn’t 100% perfect, and sometimes a drop of water would get stuck on the lens and distort the image, but if GM is able to add the ability to shoot a bit of compressed air after the water to clear anything lingering, we might have a real solid system that works all the time.
Moving to the rear area of the Enclave. It’s configured for 7 passengers, with 2 captains chairs in the centre and a 3 row bench at the back. The back seats are power folding from the trunk area, but do require the centre seats to be moved up about an inch. The captains chairs can fold flat for even more storage, and even with them fully open it’s still pretty easy to get to the rear row for passengers.
The third row climate system is also pretty sophisticated, reminding me a lot of minivan design. The roof sports 4 directional air vents which provide ample circulation for rear passengers. There’s also your typical floor vents located throughout, which really allows for the centre and rear passengers to be comfortable on your journey. We haven’t seen these types of roof vents on any other crossover in this segment so far.
The second row moon roof is a nice feature, allowing you to close the front screen while keeping the rear’s open. The LED interior lighting is also nice, but doesn’t sport any ambient lighting nor are there rear side window sunshades. The second row captains chairs made installing our Birtax Frontier car seat a breeze, and being able to slide the seats forward and back made anchoring the back simple, and allows for additional leg room should you need it. Seating is comfortable in the centre row, and like other 7 passenger crossovers we’ve featured the back bench is ideal of kids or smaller adults.
Overall we were very impressed with the drive and ride of this premium mid-size crossover SUV. Equipped with 20" rims and Goodyear Assurance tires, it had a similar feel with the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature we drove before this (although the episode and review will come out next week). The 302 horsepower engine provides plenty of power when you need it, which allowed us to get up to speed on the highways without issue. Given the V6 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission, the Enclave could be a suitable vehicle for those looking to tow light trailers or campers without issue.
We also had the opportunity to drive the Enclave during 3 distinct weather conditions. In a snow storm, in the pouring rain, and on relatively dry/clear roads. In all three instances the Buick performed admirably without any real issue. We found the AWD system to work as expected and only gave out under right turns on snow-covered roads. In fact I don't think I've seen the traction control light illuminate during our drive, whereas some of the other crossovers we've driven had slight traction issues in fresh snow.
We took the Enclave up to Val-David for a short day trip to see what this crossover was made of. Even in the rain storm we had, we found the Enclave to master the roads and weather the storm. It felt heavy and planted on the roads, much like other crossovers in this segment, but we enjoyed the drive of the Buick much more. We counted only one other Buick on the road during our drive, making this a relatively exclusive marque to see on Québec roads.
This is a really fantastic crossover, and I think families should seriously consider looking at Buick if they’re in the market for a 3 row vehicle and want some luxuries to go along with it. I know most people don’t get excited when they see a crossover, but these are incredibly important vehicles for the majority of the auto market these days, and eventhough I really don’t consider myself a fan of SUVs, I was thoroughly enjoying this Enclave.
We averaged 11.2 litres per 100km on our week with this car, which was far better than the Mazda CX-9 at 12.7litres per 100km, and the Infiniti QX60 around 13. Overall we felt this buick really did provide a luxury driving experience, one that would rival something like the BMW X5 or Audi Q7, but felt more exclusive since Buick has a smaller market share than the germans.
While this is the first year of production for this generation, it means there’s some room for improvement. The navigation could be improved. We’d also like to see a heads up display, and rear window sun shades. Finally some might be annoyed that the heating controls aren’t centred with the media buttons or infotainment screen.
In conclusion, we were truly impressed with this Buick, and has opened our eyes to new possibilities from General Motors. I think they've come up with a working formula for their entire vehicle line up, giving customers more options than the GM of decades past. We're excited to see what the future holds for Buick, and the Enclave. While the competition in the premium mid-size crossover market is relatively limited right now, new entries from Mazda could surprise buyers with quality products that cost less. Other brands like Genesis might want to compete against Acura, Infiniti, and Buick with a crossover of their own.
You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir here: