- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

When General Motors announced its trio of new, three-seat crossover utility vehicles for the 2007 model years, the official word was that the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia were essentially the same, though trimmed for different groups of customers.

The way different version was to come as the 2008 Buick Enclave, the posh luxury version of the trio. Now it’s here, and the advance notices turn out to be more or less correct.

They are more correct in the sense that the new Enclave is certainly flashier, more stylish and more luxurious than its siblings. It’s also more expensive. They are less correct because, despite such things as different body panels, it has the same innards as the Outlook and Acadia.

The base Saturn Outlook, with front-wheel drive, has a sticker price of $28,340. The GMC Acadia, in similar trim, starts at $29,845. And the Enclave starts at $32,790.

All three also are available with all-wheel drive and plenty of luxury options. The tested Enclave was such a creature. It was the top-of-the-line CXL with all-wheel drive, and it had a base price of $36,990. With options, the test car topped out at $44,950.

That’s a serious nut until you compare it with some of the Enclave’s expected competitors, including the Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Audi QX7, and perhaps even the Lexus RX, which is smaller with two rows of seats.

The Enclave legitimately competes against those, and could even draw some buyers who have heretofore preferred truck-based body-on-frame SUVs like the GMC Yukon Denali, Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade.

As a crossover, the Enclave has a unit body and better fuel economy because it relies on front- or all-wheel drive and six-cylinder power rather than the V8s in the truck-based rear-and all-wheel drive SUVs. In that respect, the Enclave and its siblings more resemble minivans, except that they have conventional side doors instead of sliders.

The Enclave is a big vehicle—nearly 17 feet long, with 150 cubic feet of passenger space with all three rows of seats up. Cargo capacity with the second and third rows folded is 115 cubic feet, but it’s a stingy 19 cubic feet with all the seats up.

That is less than you get in a minivan like the Toyota Sienna (174/44 passenger/cargo cubic feet), Honda Odyssey (168/38) or Chrysler Town and Country (160/32). The Enclave is closer to the Ford Taurus X (146/22), Acura MDX (142/15) and the truck-based Chrysler Aspen (155/19).

Of course, the Enclave, Outlook and Acadia do not bear the disdain that some people have for minivans. In fact, GM is counting on that. Even before introducing the new cross-overs, the company decided to drop all of its minivans.

With the Enclave, Buick dealers have something they have not had for a long time: a vehicle that gets customers excited and brings them into the showrooms. Among other things, the face it presents to the world includes a bold, toothy grille like the Buicks of yore, instead of the wimpy ovals that have dressed Buick sedans in recent years.

The Enclave also has exterior body panels that give it a distinctive look, as well as an interior that is as lavish as any you’ll find on any of its competitors. The tested CXL had a wood and leather steering wheel, along with a dash that blended wood trim with high quality vinyl and plastic trim, nicely fitted.

Instruments, surrounded by chrome bezels, have daytime lighting in turquoise, which lends an elegant air. In addition to the tachometer, speedometer and usual temperature and fuel gauges, the Buick has a battery gauge. The center console has a sliding armrest to accommodate elbows of different-sized drivers.

On the test Enclave, the seats were done up in perforated leather.

They were comfortable, with firm back and thigh padding, though not much lateral support. The driver’s seat had memory settings and a power lumbar support.

Second-row seats are almost as comfortable as those in the front, and they fold and slide forward for access to the third row, which can accommodate three adults as long as they’re not too fat. The third row has no headrest for the center passenger, but it’s just as well because a headrest there would compromise the already restricted view to the rear.

The Enclave is a big vehicle, nearly 17 feet long and weighing 4,500 pounds. Its 275-horsepower V6, linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, provides adequate power for most circumstances, but it goes about its business in a leisurely fashion, sometimes hunting for the right gear in hilly terrain and making the driver wish for a bit more oomph.

Don’t expect to win too many stoplight drag races. The transmission can be shifted manually with a button on the shift lever.

Handling is competent, and the all-wheel drive on the tested CXL provides all-weather road worthiness. Standard equipment includes traction and stability control, antilock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring, and side air bags and side-curtain air bags.

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