If you need a vehicle to shuttle a large family (and all their stuff) around from place to place, the default choice used to be a minivan. Despite their undeniable practicality, versatility, flexibility, and capability, minivans are also about as close to a hate-figure as we get in the auto industry. Thankfully, we now have more desirable alternatives like the 2019 Buick Enclave.
The new Enclave is a full-size crossover SUV, which goes a long way towards fulfilling the role of a minivan, but without actually being a minivan. The question you have to ask yourself is are you prepared to accept a little less practicality to have a much greater level of desirability with your new vehicle? Let’s take a closer look at the Enclave to find some answers.
People generally like the look of an SUV a lot more than the look of a minivan, so the Buick Enclave is onto a winning formula from the start. There’s certainly nothing cutting-edge or revolutionary about the way the Enclave looks, but there doesn’t have to be because it still looks cooler than a minivan. The Enclave is subtly stylish, but that’s probably part of the reason it’s so popular.
It’s not unfair to say the Buick’s design is safe, conservative, and non-threatening. And none of that is meant as a criticism. Automakers rarely sell huge numbers of a vehicle if its styling is polarizing, so producing an inoffensive design, in a style proven to be hugely popular with buyers, makes perfect business sense.
In fact, the Enclave is actually quite a good-looking full-size SUV with just enough modern styling cues to keep everyone happy. The side profile isn’t as mundane and homogeneous as many of its rivals, thanks to some subtle creases to the sheet metal, plus front and rear lights that wrap around a little. The design also manages to hide a bit of the Enclave’s bulk and it doesn’t look excessively long or too tall for the rest of its proportions. It’s actually a bit of a grower, and the more you look at it the more you like it. That can’t be a bad thing, right?
If you’re shopping for a seven-seat vehicle, you’re going to want as much passenger and cargo space as possible inside. The Enclave certainly delivers. Buick claims the Enclave has more space inside than any of its main rivals, and with a 120.9-inch wheelbase, an overall length of 204.3 inches, and 154 cu.-ft. of passenger volume, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
All models come standard with powered front seats, and the seats themselves in the first and second rows are very comfortable without being what you might call opulent. Everywhere you look there are clever storage solutions for all the stuff passengers might bring with them, and the whole design of the interior is purposeful and well thought out.
Unlike a lot of three-row SUVs, the seats at the back of the Enclave are actually very usable and borderline spacious. Access is also aided by a second-row passenger-side bucket that pivots out of the way for easier entry, which is a clever feature allowing the seat to be moved even with a child seat is in place. Two six-foot adults can travel in reasonable comfort in the third-row seats, and that can’t be said of a lot of three-row crossover SUVs.
Like many vehicles of this type, all Buick Enclaves use the same engine. That’s not a problem though, as the 3.6-liter unit powering the Buick is more than up to the task at hand. The engine puts out a very credible 310 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque, which is sent to the front (or all four) wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s much smoother and less jittery than the vast majority of similar transmissions employed by rivals. There are even paddle-shifters for pseudo-manual operation, which isn’t a pointless exercise as the Enclave is actually a decent
Until you get to the mid-range trim levels, the Enclave is exclusively front-wheel-drive. The towing capacity in standard form is a very modest 1,500 pounds, but this can be boosted quite considerably to 5,000 pounds by adding the available tow package.
Unless you live somewhere with seriously inclement weather in the winter you might want to skip the extra expense of going for the all-wheel-drive system. The basic system uses ABS brakes to control wheel spin, so you’re not going to be doing any serious off-roading with it. Premium and Avenir models get a rear differential that can clutch in the rear wheels and deliver power where it’s most needed. It’s a solid feature, but it’s still no Jeep Wrangler.
Power is delivered low in the rev range, which is exactly how you need it for getting away from the line with a big load on board. The ride is smooth and comfortable, there’s just enough power left for a bit of spirited overtaking, and the driver can actually enjoy being behind the wheel of the Enclave. Passengers will barely know the engine is working, as the active noise cancellation and sound deadening employed by Buick makes the cabin almost silent. The Enclave isn’t exactly fast, but it’s no slouch either.
Features and equipment
Enclaves come in four different trim levels of Preferred, Essence, Premium, and Avenir. All trims are well-equipped as standard, but an Avenir with all the options added can weigh-in at more than $60,000.
Most buyers will probably look beyond the base trim as the only standard color is white, and the only optional colors are black and silver. This isn’t a unique situation, but it is likely to make most buyers look at the Essence or higher, even though the Preferred comes standard with features like keyless ignition, LED headlights, heated front seats, remote start, and an infotainments system that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
- Desirable SUV body style
- Spacious third-row seating
- Good ride and handling
- Pretty decent performance
- Behind the curve on fuel economy
- Can get very expensive
- All-wheel drive system only part-time
- Advanced safety tech missing on the base model
The Last Word
There are quite a few quite decent, generously sized family crossovers around right now, but not too many of them offer as much space for those relegated to the third row as the 2019 Buick Enclave. This is an attractive, spacious, comfortable, and desirable alternative to a minivan, and it’s definitely a contender in its segment.
How you see the Buick brand is up to you, but the Enclave edges towards being a luxury model without a full-fat luxury price ticket. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a very good all- around package and a great option for anyone who needs a minivan but really doesn’t want to have one.