Review: 2011 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
By Charles Krome
Sometimes, reviewing two vehicles in a row from the same brand can border on the redundant, but not this time around. A 2011 Buick Enclave CXL with all-wheel-drive ended up in my driveway the day after I said goodbye to a 2011 LaCrosse, and experiencing them back-to-back was an eye-opening affair. Although both are, obviously, current production vehicles, their different positions in their respective life cycles was much in evidence, and much to the newer LaCrosse’s advantage.
The Enclave is probably best thought of as a reboot of the Buick Roadmaster station wagon from the mid 1990’s—that is, as a premium full-size people hauler that’s not a minivan. But speaking of which, the key here is to remember that GM’s big crossovers (including the Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the late Saturn OUTLOOK) were designed to replace the General’s minivan lineup, not necessarily to be SUV alternatives. That helps explain the size of these vehicles, too. The Enclave is listed at 201.8 inches in length, and the only other crossover that big is the Ford Flex, essentially Ford’s minivan replacement. To put this into context, the three-row Honda Pilot is Honda’s largest crossover, but it’s “only” 190.9 inches long; the Honda Odyssey minivan is 202.9 inches. (The punch-line here? The Roadmaster wagon stretched a yacht-like 217.5 inches.)
My point is that the Enclave’s ability to handle passengers and cargo is a key part of its role in the marketplace, and while it does well with the former, it shows some notable disadvantages with regard to the latter. The seating in the CXL was 2-2-3 (2-3-3 is an option), and both of the back rows provide a fair amount of room. In fact, I’m about 5’8″ and I managed to fit in the third row without bumping the seatback ahead of me. Also notable was that the last row features stadium-style seating, which lessens feelings of claustrophobia, and that the second row could be manipulated into allowing for excellent third-row access.
The second-row setup was particularly nice, as the Enclave was kitted out with a second-row console that allows those passengers to adjust the climate and audio/DVD controls on their own, and listen to their choices without interrupting front-seat audio by using wireless, noise-cancelling headphones.
But the floormats needed to cover the Enclave’s various rear seat tracks and what have you, which gives the Enclave its interior cargo flexibility, also leaves the vehicle looking a bit messy. It’s as if someone decorated a house by randomly tossing area rugs on the floor. Further, while the Enclave’s third-row seatbacks fold down to create a flat load floor, be aware that the result is not on the same level as the vehicle’s actual floor. The seats don’t fold up into the floor as in the Chrysler Town & Country. Reconfiguring the interior was no easy task, either; even though it’s just a matter of pulling straps and pressing levers, the seats snap into place so hard that I managed to bloody my knuckle folding one of the second-row chairs.
Push-button start? Nope. Blind-spot alert? Nope. Heated steering wheel? Nope. Head-up display? Nope. Real wood trim? Nope. Leather dash accents? Nope. DVD-based navigation? Yep. I know these are high-level accoutrements, but the LaCrosse had them all—well, not the DVD nav—and that’s despite it also having an MSRP that was some $12,000 below the Enclave’s sticker price. Including its $750 destination charge and $5,000 worth of options (primarily the audio/nav/entertainment system and power sunroof), the Enclave I tested topped out at $49,755.
Now, there’s still plenty to like about the Enclave. It’s 3.6-liter V6 delivers 288 hp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available at a relatively low 3400 rpm. Mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, you get unexpectedly brisk acceleration, even pulling around nearly 5,000 lbs. of all-wheel-drive Buick. The vehicle handles well for its size, too, without a disturbing amount of body roll and with a fair amount of road feel making it through to the driver. Needless to say, it’s planted and confident at highway speeds.
But on the other hand, the ride can be noticeably bumpy on Michigan’s frost-heaved roads, while the Buick’s EPA line is an abysmal 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway, which turned into about 12 mpg around town in my hands. A V6 Odyssey can get up to 19/28 with the EPA. There also was too much pedal travel before the brakes really began biting, and I was reminded once again last night about the benefits of AWD. After hitting 50 degrees late last week, Mother Nature hit back by dumping about six inches of sleety wet snow on the area, starting late yesterday afternoon. Cars and trucks were strewn alongside of the road, but the Enclave remained unfazed.
The bottom line: The Enclave remains perhaps the best-looking large crossover on the road—it’s got much better proportions without the snow on top of it—and showcases curvaceous sheet metal and the kind of “tight,” streamlined skin that makes its daunting dimensions seem a bit less daunting. But it’s simply not as nice of an all-around package as the LaCrosse. The same thing is happening at GM that I noticed in recently comparing the Lincoln MKZ and the Ford Edge. In both cases, the vagaries of new tech and new vehicle introductions mean the fresher vehicles (i.e., the LaCrosse and Edge) set benchmarks the “better,” yet older vehicles can’t reach. And with the Enclave and MKZ not being up to snuff in their own divisions, it leaves them at an even more marked disadvantage against their latest rivals from other companies.