The 2018 Buick Enclave’s lower roofline, sharper windshield angle and longer wheelbase support a more dramatic stance. Buick photo

Buick makes big improvements to three-row Enclave SUV

The Buick brand has done an admirable job recently of branding itself. Or should that be re-branding itself. It had/has a stodgy reputation. And frankly, that reputation is really unfair, especially considering my tester this week.

The 2018 Buick Enclave is all new – looks, dimensions, powertrain. Buick’s ads continue to tout: “That sure doesn’t look like a Buick”. And that’s certainly applicable to this year’s Enclave.

I was able to really put the Enclave to task, as I drove it to the Detroit auto show. “The D” in January is open to cold and crazy weather and potholes galore. The Enclave provided the most comfortable, controlled and confident ride I’ve ever taken to the auto show.

On whether it doesn’t “look” like a Buick, I’m not sure that’s relevant. I’ve always felt Buick had refined, timeless styling. And this year’s model is no exception. The ’18 Enclave has a longer body and a more athletic appearance. It more puts the SUV in line with other three-row SUVs on the market today.

The new angular grille is especially nice and bold. The styled hood has a modern look. The sharp angle of the C-pillar makes for an attractive roofline and a classy-looking back end. This is what an SUV should look like.

The Enclave is a well-behaved SUV. Overall, the Buick brand doesn’t excited enthusiasts. Perhaps that’s why it (wrongfully) has the stodgy reputation. For this model year, the Enclave offers a new powertrain. It still won’t blaze a trail of dust, but it’s more than adequate in any environment. On a long four-hour drive (mostly highway), it was smooth and refined. But when it needed to get off the line, it had enough oomph to not disappoint.

The 2018 Enclave has a 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 310 horsepower. The 9-speed automatic transmission is a great addition. The shifts are smooth and efficient. This may be my favorite transmission in a couple years.

Inside, Buick does everything well. They focus on quality touch points and comfort, but go an extra step with added noise-deadening technology and even an air ionizer as part of the ventilation. What it means is the Enclave’s cabin is outstanding.

The added dimension to the vehicle this year brings a 10 percent increase in rear seat space. This means better leg room. The seven-passenger Enclave has an outstanding back seat, but the third row is pretty average when it comes to space. Adults will be cramped, but that’s to be expected.

The increase in size is noticed in cargo room. The Enclave has 23.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row, accessed through a hands-free lift gate. Fold the second row flat, and that space increases to 58 cubic feet. With all seats flat, there’s nearly 100 cubic feet of cargo room. As such, the cavernous Enclave excels as a family vehicle.

There are four trims for the Enclave including: Enclave (yes it has a trim named after itself) Essence, Premium and Avenir. My tester was the Premium trim with all-wheel drive. The Premium trim is a great option as it brings the aforementioned ionization system, along with leather surfaces, blind-spot monitoring and collision warning. I’ll add that all trims and all vehicles should have blind-spot monitoring included, and not as an option. This is a must-have safety feature.

My tester had a starting price of $50,315. With extra options like a trailering package (up to 5,000 pounds), and special navigation system, my tester had a final MSRP of $56,555.

The one big knock on Buick is it has luxury-like pricing, but not enough people consider it a luxury brand. That’s where their branding and marketing comes in. But honestly, this Enclave was nicer than many Japanese luxury-brand SUVs.

The EPA rating for the AWD Enclave is 17 mpg/city and 25 mpg/highway. I averaged a little over 20 mpg in my trek to Detroit and back. That was good, but not great, fuel economy. But the comfort and smoothness of the Enclave more than made up for it.

Trying to define the Buick brand is a yeoman’s task. I’m not on the General Motors payroll, so I’ll leave it up to their PR gurus. Rather, I’ll say, whatever you define it as, the Buick Enclave is much improved and pleasant for road trips.

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