- Road numbing ride.
- Excellent performance for its size.
- Passenger cabin space.
- Not much storage with third row up.
- Electric steering wheel doesn’t get high enough for tall drivers
- Missing some “standard” luxury car items (power pedals, push button start, fog lights)
This drive was taken with a very specific goal in mind. Our minivan has begun to demonstrate clear signs of retiring and I’m starting to wonder about what’s out there to replace it with. The minivan has always been a “necessary evil” of sorts in the automotive world. Selling minivans is a highly competitive and expensive undertaking for manufacturers. Many have abandoned the segment completely. In doing so, they find themselves forced to offer a comparable vehicle in size and function. There’s still a place for the family road trip hauler that can handle 7 people from toddlers up to pimple faced teens. My testing eye was keenly looking for how the Enclave, and it’s less expensive siblings, fared as a strait up replacement for the daily tasks minivans everywhere face.
GM launched the Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia/Buick Enclave model line in 2008 as their “anti-minivan” vehicle, although they don’t market it as such. My Buick tester is the latest and greatest this unique vehicle on offer. Not quite a full framed SUV, not quite a nippy efficient crossover and yet both of them. The Enclave I tested boasted excellent space in the passenger cabin. Headroom was generous and the body design allowed for good space between the front captains chairs. While a bit hefty, moving middle chairs up to allow access to the third bench was easy enough. Given enough room to swing the passenger doors open wide and the entry was actually a bit better than my current van. Being all things Buick, this Enclave featured a lengthy list of luxury items – with the exception of a few surprises. Everything was wrapped in soft, perforated leather and proved immensely comfortable on short and long hauls. Mysteriously the Enclave is rated to tow just under 1,000 pounds less than its cheaper siblings but still more than a minivan can. Its sub-frame unibody was delightfully stiff on all road types. Combined with large tires and tuned suspension it made for an exceptionally comfortable ride.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty.
I was a fan of the styling this model series features way back when I tested the Traverse and I still am now. Buick has very tastefully added their own brand of bling to the design. Large, vent like grill lines made the vehicle feel bigger than it is. LED styled lights around the Xenon headlamps are stunning and quite epic at night. Buick has really captured the wow factor a lot of European imports have. Build fit and finish on the exterior was also up to European standard. Door and body trim lined up perfectly, rubber seals were soft and high quality. Even added accessories like the Buick vents still felt like durable metal finishes, not cheap plastic. I suppose for a vehicle at this price point this makes sense. Sizable wheels were a bit of a surprise and felt a bit overkill. It was the details in the exterior design that I really liked. Small Buick logos etched into the tail lights rounded out a great looking vehicle, even from the tail end.
Leather, leather everywhere. Stitched leather even lines the doors and dashboard. It feels wonderful and smells even better. Driver and passenger chairs are fully powered, heated and cooled. Each one can be adjusted in many ways and are the most comfortable I’ve had yet. The Enclave’s dashboard is well designed and feels like an upper tier luxury vehicle. If you didn’t look behind you it actually feels like you’re driving a smaller vehicle than you are. A center console divides the front seats and has handy spots for large cups, keys, cell phones and wallet. Powered USBs are available but it’s a bit of a stretch to get to them. Auto climate control for driver and passenger is controlled by neat large knobs which displays temperature. Volume and tuning buttons were small but surprisingly easy to find while driving; their positions right where your hand goes when you reach out. Large, simple and easy to use steering wheel controls supplement dashboard controls. No fat finger issues here. What is missing, or not obvious, is controls for fog lights. I wasn’t sure if the vehicle lacked this option or if they were simply always on or off. I also found the lack of push button start, as I did with the Sierra, a bit interesting. Given how nearly every competing vehicle has gone that route being handed a key and fob as individual items felt a bit…2000.
Comfort lessened as you move from the front to the rear, if only marginally. Second row chairs are still large and comfortable. While they lack the complexity of the front seats they still featured simple manual adjustments, including moving front and back. Despite their thin size the third row was still comfortable and had enough leg room to accommodate average sized adults. Child seats were quick and easy to move in and out between our vehicles, even the large 3 in 1 seats. Sunroof and moonroof featured a wonderful black screen you could pull over them. At first I lamented the lack of a solid cover for them but very quickly realized the genius of the screens. I could have the sunroof open or vented and close the screen, maintaining airflow but preserving my bleach-white Canadian legs from burning in the sun. Yet enough sunlight still filtered through to maintain the “open” feeling a sunroof or moonroof gives.
All around the Buick Enclave lived up to it’s nameplate on the interior. Fit and finish were exceptional and design was top tier. You can feel a deliberate intention on their part to make the cabin comfortable and isolate it from the follies of the wild urban jungle. Solid doors and double paned glass truly isolate you. It also isolates the outside world from you, which is a good thing. Buick partnered with Bose to outfit the Enclave with a stupendous audio system. Even the most stuffy of audiophiles would have to concede to its fidelity reproduction. Sounds across the spectrum are stunningly crisp and the system never buckles under a load. You will be tempted, frequently, to play your favorite tunes via Bluetooth chest thumpingly loud a lot. I was thankful for those double paned windows as I belted out a favourite song of mine. Except they only work when they’re up.
Not going to spend a lot of time here. My review of the GM Intellilink system from the Sierra holds true to my experience with the Buick Enclave. An annoying missing feature was the ability to use the touch screen while driving. In the Sierra it asks if you’re the passenger before allowing you to continue, in the Enclave it simply greys out the buttons until you’re stopped. It was a huge pain for navigation input while driving when voice didn’t quite work (read: kids being kids). Buick’s touchscreen wasn’t very sensitive and required quite the push to register in comparison to the Sierra’s. I understand a refresh is in the works which I hope renders these complaints moot.
Another observation is how the collision avoidance system works. It works very well, Buick (and GM) should be very proud of this system. It features on all GM vehicles and is a great basic alerting system to help prevent collisions. In the Enclave, however, I felt it was under-utilized. It would have been nice if Buick paired the system with their (well designed) cruise control to create an intelligent adaptive cruise control. The foundations already exist, the pieces just need to be put together. Again, as with the push button start thing above, this isn’t a new trend among their competitors. Perhaps the pending redesign will also feature this.
As a minivan replacement
Now we get to the heart of the review. On a whole, do the Buick Enclave and its siblings make a good minivan alternative? It’s a hard question to answer, and it changes depending on the age or size of your family and what you’re looking for. My context was for my current family, five, and the potential for more in the (very distant) future. I considered things like extended road trips to Orlando, Florida or long weekend camping trips. Things like grocery shopping as a solo mom in a crowded parking lot. The Buick Enclave proved during my test that while it certainly had the cabin to handle a family, I might need a trailer for all the luggage for a long haul. There was little doubt that the five of us, and more, could fit into the passenger cabin. I would even argue that it was a bit more spacious and far more comfortable than our current minivan. Sliding doors, however, are a parking lot Godsend. Even on our driveway it was difficult at times to fully open the Enclave’s doors, restricting how much room you had to put a fidgety eleven-month-old into his seat. Rear audio jacks and independent controls were wonderfully Buick but a nice feature, though dated. Teens and tweens in the second row may likely have their own personal music players, but they still lack old fashioned radios. Climate controls are also handy and easy to control from this point. Our tester didn’t have the optional rear DVD entertainment system which, some would argue – I being one of them – is a must for long trips.
A lack of grabbing hooks on the bottom of the second seat when raised is a huge step up from our current minivan. Our three-year-olds were able to enter and exit the Enclave about as easily and safer than they could our van. I found the height of the vehicle put the seats at a nice loading height. From a passenger standpoint it worked really well. Minivans are a wonderfully functional vehicle, equally capable of passenger or cargo. Seats of the Enclave do fold down nicely. Doing so creates a rather spacious and capacitive place to put things. At first I thought the body design made the trunk entry feel a bit small. In practical loading, however, I found that not to be the case. The only real disadvantage to the Enclave’s cargo capacity is height. While physically higher than my van the floor is shallow. Because seats fold flat onto themselves and not into the floor, you loose a foot of space. It also removes the deep well minivans have now in their trunks. Despite the fact the Enclave’s trunk is as lengthy as a typical minivans, it simply isn’t as deep or wide. We couldn’t fit our usual stroller into the trunk, though it would take a good number of groceries and did easily take our gear for a day trip to the Grandparent’s. It also doubles in a pinch as a handy change table: perfect standing height.
So, does the Enclave suit those looking for a minivan? Probably not, maybe yes. I’m still not completely convinced it is, but I’m a lot more than I was before.
I really enjoyed the Buick Enclave. It demonstrated itself a capable family hauler and comfortable long haul cruiser. A group of people, packed lightly, would easily enjoy this vehicle on trips across Canada and into the US. A family of four fits perfectly into this vehicle. Luxury features and comfort abound. Anyone looking for a capable alternative to high end imported SUVs should seriously consider the Enclave. Powerful, smooth, comfortable and capable. It does very well as a vehicle on it’s own right, and sets a very high bar for other 7 passenger unibody SUVs to stand up to. If you aren’t set on a minivan as your next family vehicle the Buick Enclave, or GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, are definitely vehicles to consider.