There’s a plethora of midsize, three-row crossovers on the market today. Options run the full gamut, from boring to stylish, affordable to luxurious, comfy to sporty. For those looking for a crossover that’s safe, inoffensive and above all else, comfortable, Buick has you covered with the 2021 Enclave.
- Handsome styling
- Roomy, comfortable cabin
- Smooth ride
- Ho-hum drive character
- Some driver-assist tech optional
- Avenir trim isn’t a huge step up in luxury.
On the outside, the Enclave’s styling is mildly attractive. By no means is it a showstopper, but it’s not manila-folder bland, either. Subtle character lines in the hood and on the sides give it some flavor, along with front quarter portholes and a fair amount of chrome details. On my range-topping Avenir test car, unique grilles with mesh inserts and 20-inch nickel-finish wheels liven things up a smidge more.
Inside, you’re greeted by simply laid out controls, panels built from quality materials and a general design that’s not half-bad to look at. It’s here where the Avenir extras make the biggest impact, with a nice contrasting chestnut-and-black color scheme. Real wood steering wheel trim and embroidered logos in the head rests and floor mats complete the Avenir treatment, and a dual-pane moonroof provides a light and airy environment.
Everything in the Enclave’s cabin feels solid, from the wrapped and stitched dash topper and door panels to the nicely grained hard plastics used on the lower portions. The cabin is also comfortable, with people riding in front enjoying cushy heated and cooled seats with massage functions, though bigger side bolsters are on my wish list. In the second-row, heated captain’s chairs keep passengers happy for long hauls.
At the push of a button in the trunk, the Enclave’s power third-row seats flip up out of the floor and provide enough space to carry three kids or a couple of shorter adults without too many complaints. Legroom for the outboard seats is tight, but it’s far from a torture chamber and will work for brief commutes.
When it comes to moving cargo, this Buick is ready to swallow 23.6 cubic feet of goods with the third row deployed. Folding the rearmost seats into the floor increases space to 58 cubic feet, and if you need more than that, flipping the second row of seats down opens an impressive 97.6 cubic feet. That should be enough to hold everything from even the biggest shopping bonanzas.
Checking the tech
Housed in the Enclave’s center stack is the simply named Buick Infotainment System, featuring an 8-inch touchscreen that’s very responsive to inputs. Its menu layout is a cinch to work through and controls a great-sounding 10-speaker Bose audio setup, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth. There’s also a standard onboard navigation system that performs lickity-split destination searches and route calculations. And for anyone who’d rather hand infotainment controls over to their phones, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities are packaged in as well.
To juice up any smart devices onboard, there’s a smattering of power sources throughout the Enclave. People in front can choose between a wireless charge pad, USB ports or a 12-volt outlet, while second-row passengers have USB ports and a three-prong outlet on the back of the center console. Anyone in the way-back won’t be left out in the cold with a couple of USBs within arm’s length on the side walls.
On the safety front, the Avenir comes standard with a healthy list of driver aids including forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, rear-cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors and a crystal-clear 360-degree backup camera. Oddly, adaptive cruise control is not a standard-issue feature, requiring customers to equip a $2,095 option package to get the piece of tech, which is disappointing on a range-topping trim level.
Powering the Enclave is a 3.6-liter V6 making 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, routed to all four wheels on my test car through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Together they return an EPA-estimated 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Throughout a week of mostly surface street driving of the Enclave, I observed 17.2 mpg.
The drivetrain provides adequate grunt to get the big Buick away from stoplights and up to speed when entering expressways. Some wide-open-throttle action might be required during rush hour merging, which doesn’t sound particularly elegant, but the engine gets things done with the gearbox whipping off well-timed cog swaps. There are paddle shifters, too, which are a touch slow to respond to upshift commands, but surprisingly quick to shift downward. How many Enclave owners will use them? My guess is not many.
Being a Buick, ride comfort trumps everything else in the dynamics department. With my tester’s optional adaptive damping suspension, the ride is super-smooth, absorbing road imperfections with ease for relaxed driving. Thankfully, the tuning isn’t overly soft, but there’s noticeable body roll rounding corners and the 20-inch Continental CrossContact LX tires on the front quickly begin pushing in protest if you try flogging it a bit harder.
The Enclave’s steering isn’t sharp or immediately responsive to inputs, but it’s direct enough and not overly loosey-goosey. The brakes don’t feature a tenacious initial bite, allowing for smooth braking, yet offer stout stopping power when you dig further into the pedal stroke.
How I’d spec it
When building my ideal Enclave, I’d begin with the Essence trim that starts at $43,495, including $1,195 for destination, with standard front-wheel drive. That would net me leather seats and must-haves like blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert. For four-season traction, I’d spring for all-wheel-drive that tacks on $2,000, a $495 Dark Slate Metallic paint job and $1,555 Sound and Sites Package for navigation and Bose audio system. All in, my ideal Buick rings up at $47,545.
In comparison, the high-zoot Enclave Avenir with all-wheel drive pictured here carries a much steeper $59,590 bottom line. To be fair, it’s got a ton more features like the adaptive suspension, power-folding third-row seats, dual-pane roof, massaging seats and adaptive cruise, but is another example of having to pay the piper handsomely if you want more stuff.
The comfy choice
The 2021 Buick Enclave begins at $41,495 for the base Preferred trim that’s only available with front-wheel drive. If all-wheel drive is a must, then the Enclave Essence is the lowest point of entry at $45,495. From there things can add up quickly with any paint color besides Summit White tallying an extra charge, and certain tech niceties only being available on more-expensive upper trim levels.
For the shopper looking for a three-row crossover with a supremely comfortable ride and a spacious cabin with entry-level luxury finishes, the Enclave may just be the ticket. For anyone valuing traits like bang-for-your-buck, a tighter driving character and styling, but willing to live with something that isn’t quite as cushy inside, choices like the Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Highlander are worth checking out on the lower end of the Buick’s price spectrum. For Avenir money, though, consider the new Acura MDX or Lincoln Aviator, both of which are generally nicer SUVs.