First Drive: The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a three-row oasis of a family-sized SUV

Fledgling automotive start-ups lack out-of-the-box instructions for creating a car company, and often suffer rather embarrassing public growing pains as a result. At the same time, long-established vehicle brands are frequently susceptible to identity crises, suggesting that even after demonstrating success, potential failure awaits around every corner.

Buick has been around for 114 years—so long that it’s kind of over the whole mid-life crisis thing. In fact, its longevity is currently ironic in that Buick, the oldest car company in America, will soon have the youngest product lineup in the industry. The eldest member of the Buick family will soon be the Cascada convertible, a rebadged Opel that arrived in the U.S. market two years.

Serving as the latest addition to Buick’s fountain of youth, the redesigned 2018 Enclave crossover SUV is certain to continue the company’s modern renaissance.

First Drive: The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a three-row oasis of a family-sized SUV

The Buick Enclave offers more room and comfort for 2018, with plenty of seats for driving company and space for all your stuff.

(Buick)

Crossovers aren’t going away any time soon, and the new segment on the block is the increasingly popular but ever tiny subcompact SUV (just buy a hatchback, people). Yet on the other end of the spectrum, three-row family haulers remain popular, and every new redesign improves upon the recipe with stronger steel, lighter curb weights, increased power, fancier technology, and more space.

The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is no different, except that it is.

Yes, now with up to 97.6 cubic-feet of cargo room and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity (both year-over-year increases), the Enclave can easily tow and stow all your stuff. And, yes, its new body structure also is stronger, safer, and lighter as this model weighs 360 pounds less than the previous version of the Enclave. Oh, and of course the 3.6-liter V6 engine has been updated, too. Torque does take an inconsequential 1 percent dip to 266 lb.-ft., but horsepower increases almost 8 percent to 310.

But the Enclave (and Buick) isn’t about that, the facts and figures. It’s about the “experience.” This is no doubt marketing Kool-Aid but after spending a few hours in the new Enclave, sitting in every row and traveling on every sort of road, sipping the corporate coffee was unavoidable.

For starters, the Enclave is roomy but not overwhelmingly cavernous. Either on purpose or due to logistics (or both), nearly everyone attending Buick’s recent media event sat in the third row as we were shuttled to and from the airport, hotel, and other venues. And the conversations never stopped. It was just as easy to speak with occupants in the rear of the vehicle as it was in the front. No shouting required.

New sound-deadening materials and noise-cancellation improvements encouraged chatting because the new Enclave is cemetery quiet but without the creepy goosebumps vibe. And the positioning of the seats in a 2/2/3 format further engages occupants (the second-row bench seat has been dropped). But, if you couldn’t care less to chit-chat, then snooze away in comfort or stare out of the vehicle’s massive windows.

The Enclave isn’t equipped with a panoramic sunroof, which has become quite the design darling in recent years. Instead, there is an available sunroof for the front and a separate glass skylight for the rear. Although the rear glass is fixed, the sunshade allows occupants to enjoy the scenery as they please regardless of the opinions of those up front. Where was this thoughtful feature during my many cross-country road trips? Because when my rear-seat riders wanted some shuteye, I could still enjoy much needed sunshine to stay awake behind the wheel.

First Drive: The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a three-row oasis of a family-sized SUV

The Buick Enclave Avenir offers not-only exclusive cosmetic features such as this three-dimensional mesh grille and specific badging, but also is the only trim level to offer adaptive cruise control and premium suspension tuning.

(Buick)

But don’t get Buick wrong. The brand is definitely not a mass-market marque, but they also will be the first to tell you they’re not a luxury automaker either. Corporate General Motors sibling Cadillac battles directly with Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. For Buick, its internal targets are Acura, Infiniti, Lincoln, and Volvo. But the brand won’t complain if its vehicles match up against pricier counterparts either.

Which brings us to the all-new Avenir models.

Like GMC’s Denali nameplate, Avenir is Buick’s new premium sub-brand. Unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show as a concept vehicle, elements from that Avenir concept make their production debut on the 2018 Enclave.

Denali itself has been around since 1999 and continues to do quite well for GMC. Making up 20 percent of sales, Denali surely contributes to GMC’s crown of having the highest average transaction price ($45,000) for non-premium automakers.

Buick is in no hurry to reach Denali-level sales penetration with Avenir. Timing is, indeed, everything, which is why Buick waited until now to introduce the new nameplate. At $54,390 (including the $975 destination fee), the Enclave Avenir adds almost $6,000 to last year’s top-of-the line Premium trim, but exclusivity will always have a price and the Avenir is, as expected, chock full of standard amenities and exclusive features.

If the badging weren’t enough, all Enclave Avenir vehicles feature a distinctive three-dimensional mesh grille as opposed to the vertical slats of other trims. Also exclusive to Avenir models are pearl nickel-finish 20-inch aluminum wheels, select exterior colors, chestnut-ebony interior materials, a mahogany-accented steering wheel, and leather seats with piping and contrast stitching.

An optional Avenir Technology package ($2,095) adds adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, grille shutters, and a premium suspension with continuously variable real-time damping. When equipped with this package, the Avenir offers the closest thing to a Sport mode for the Enclave. All other trim levels are out of luck.

Available on other Enclave models but standard on Avenir are a programmable hands-free liftgate, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, navigation, wireless device charging, a configurable 8-inch instrument display, a dual moonroof, a 360-degree surround view camera, and Buick’s first rear camera mirror technology.

Shared with Cadillac, the rear camera mirror acts as a standard rearview mirror or, with a toggle, as a high-definition, wide-angle display screen. And, like in Cadillac vehicles, its HD view surpasses the surprisingly low-definition display of the standard rearview camera. (GM, please fix this because it seriously doesn’t make any sense.)

First Drive: The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a three-row oasis of a family-sized SUV

With a cleaner and sleeker design than the previous generation, the all-new 2018 Buick Enclave offers a sense of space without feeling unwieldy to drive.

(Buick)

All the good stuff isn’t reserved for Avenir trim, of course. And in the future, some Avenir-specific attributes may trickle down to the other Enclave models. But for now, the Enclave lineup still offers plenty of pampering for everyone.

For 2018, the Enclave sees an adjustment in trim levels. Although Premium trim remains, the previous Convenience and Leather groups are gone. Essence trim now sits between base and Premium levels with Avenir positioned at the top of the food chain. Starting at $40,970, the base Enclave is available only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for all other models.

The interior is at once spacious and cozy thanks to the comfort of an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a 6-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, and second-row captain’s chairs. Storage slots are everywhere. Even the glovebox is large enough to hold a light jacket or two.

Standard equipment includes seating for seven, triple-zone automatic climate control, active noise cancelling, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, smartphone integration, USB ports in every row, a 12-month SiriusXM subscription, a 4.2-inch driver information display, remote engine starting, keyless entry with push-button starting, and OnStar subscription services including a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot with a three-month data trial.

The Enclave sits on 18-inch wheels, features LED daytime running lights, and is outfitted with a substantial amount of chrome on the door handles, bodyside moldings, and front and rear fascias. The dual exhaust and rear spoiler add a sporty touch to the Enclave’s overall clean exterior design.

New for 2018 is an air ionizer, which is available as standard equipment on all but the entry-level model. Requiring no maintenance or filter replacement, the ionizer eliminates odors and cleans the cabin air. Here’s to extending that new-car smell.

First Drive: The all-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a three-row oasis of a family-sized SUV

Not overly flashy or aggressive, what’s on the inside is what counts with the new Buick Enclave, which features a welcoming interior for seven adults, an air ionizer, and enough USB ports so electronic devices never go hungry.

(Buick)

Not necessarily looking to win any drag races, the Enclave still outperforms most other three-row competitors in terms of horsepower and bests many when it comes to fuel economy. Official EPA estimates are 18-mpg city, 26-mpg highway, and 21-mpg combined for front drive models. Versions with AWD lose a digit in each measure (17/25/20).

And the Enclave’s driving manners are indisputably pleasant but not boring. Although the spacious interior can feel yacht-like, there is little sway in the Enclave’s movements. Unless you deep dive expediently into corners, and often, like I did while traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains, your rear passengers, even in the third row, are unlikely to experience any motion sickness.

With its corporate philosophy of sharing luxury and experiences rather than showing off, the new 2018 Buick Enclave makes an appealing case. And the brand’s wisdom is clearly evident, as global sales have increased from 1.1 million units in 2013 to a projected 1.5 million in 2017.

In the U.S., Buick is seeing its best retail sales since 2005, experiencing a 24-percent jump over the last five years. So, if everything old is new again, then the automotive sage that is Buick is not about to let youth be wasted on the young.

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