David Dunbar Buick, the former plumbing inventor and businessman, surely never envisaged the Buick Motor Co. he founded 110 years ago would end up the darling of upscale Chinese car buyers and the home of an upscale crossover wagon like the 2013 Enclave.
Yes, the Buick story in China is shocking. General Motors’ Buick brand sells hundreds of thousands of Buicks there every year, enough to fund a product revival in North America. But more surprising still is how the Enclave has nailed quality studies and crash tests with Lexus RX regularity.
The Enclave is a newcomer to the Consumer Reports’ recommended list and is a runner-up (with the Hyundai Santa Fe) among mid-size crossovers in J.D. Power and Associates’ 2013 Initial Quality Study. Other notables that trailed the Enclave: Honda’s Crosstour and Pilot, Jeep’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Nissan Murano and the Toyota Highlander. It doesn’t break often, says the research, and its gizmos and gadgets are reasonably user friendly. By the way, the GMC brand was ranked No. 2 overall in the new IQS, second only to Porsche.
On top of that, the Enclave is a Top Safety Pick of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That’s what good crash scores all around will do.
I’m betting you didn’t know any of that. These sorts of left-brain considerations often take a back seat to notions of status and cachet. Buick may some day return to form as a stable of country club parking lots in Canada, but not yet.
The truth is, Buick was damaged by decades of neglect, indifference and disrespect at the top of GM. Buick’s hope is that a new generation of youngish buyers will embrace the brand anew. That’s why Buick has launched the Encore mini-SUV, the Verano compact and even the Regal sedan. These cars are aimed at twenty- and thirty-somethings, not baby boomers.
The Enclave, however, is an exception at what we’ll call the “new” Buick. It’s a big crossover with three rows of seats and up-market styling and amenities. The all-wheel-drive version starts at $44,525. At the top of the range is the supremely loaded $53,370 Enclave Premium.
Let’s say you’re a fifty-something buyer and you’re ready to deal on a $50,000 crossover. Has the Enclave been on your radar? It should be. This rig is quieter than a Lexus RX, prettier than a Pilot, more versatile than a Murano and at least as well-built as a Highlander, perhaps better. A Grand Cherokee will go deeper into places without pavement and it looks cool, but again, no third row.
This has all been true since GM introduced the Enclave several years ago. The problem was, GM did almost nothing to update this rig until 2013 – when the engineers and stylists were given a small budget to tart up the Enclave. They’ve spent wisely.
This year, the Enclave got a new hood, fenders, LED daytime running lamps, headlamps, 19- and 20-inch wheels and more. It’s now a nice-looking rig. The same can be said for the cabin, which got a new instrument panel, door trim, ambient lighting and desperately needed new climate controls. The cabin is comfortable and inviting. The seat are plush but not mush. The look is conservative, right down the skinny steering wheel that feels like a throwback to the 1950s.
Then there’s the drive. The gearbox remains a six-speed automatic in a world of seven-, eight- and soon nine-speeds, but the shifts are imperceptible and timed properly to get the most out of the 288-horsepower V-6. The Enclave doesn’t feel like a wimp among road warriors.
The engineers also played to keep the ride quality competitive in a segment filled with comfy crossovers. I’d like tighter steering to go with a fatter steering wheel, but not all Enclave buyers are like me. Perhaps. But if Buick wants to pull in the odd Audi or Mercedes buyer, ones who want a crossover wagon for $10,000 or $20,000 less than comparables from the Germans, Buick should take note: these folks are accustomed to great steering.
And, naturally, there is a technology story to be told. Buick says its front centre side airbag is a first, there to protect drivers and front passengers. There is also a standard rear camera system, making for snappy back-ups into tight underground parking spaces. You can pay to get a blind zone warning system.
The sound system pounds out the melodies and has Bluetooth connection, USB port, steering-wheel controls and an easy-to-manage seven-inch colour touch screen. If you order navigation, the controls are in the touch screen, too.
Buick types also want to give a nod to the room in the third row – more than the Infiniti JX, Acura MDX, Lincoln MKT, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90. Just because the Buick has more room doesn’t mean the third row has an abundance of it. But small folk will do okay back there for a while.
All in all, the Enclave should be considered a player among what has become an armada of similar wagons. At the very least, worth a look.
2013 Buick Enclave Premium AWD
Type: Mid-size crossover utility
Price: $53,370 (freight $1,550)
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 288 hp/270 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.0 city/8.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Infiniti JX, Acura MDX, Lincoln MKT, Audi Q7, Volvo XC90
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