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The 2018 Buick Enclave nails everything customers want from a luxury SUV

Mack Hogan
CNBC gets behind the wheel of the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir for this review of Buick's new luxury SUV.

One of the biggest myths in the automotive sphere is that Buick survived the recession solely because of its success in China, while the less fortunate Pontiac, Saab, Hummer and Saturn were shuttered.

No, that's not the story. Sure, Buick has risen to fourth place in the massively important Chinese auto market, but right here at home it's outselling Acura, Infiniti, Lincoln and even Audi.

The more you look into Buick's lineup, the more you realize that the company's still around because it's quietly pumping out vehicles that absolutely nail everything customers care about in 2017.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the driver's seat of the clean-sheet redesigned 2018 Enclave Avenir.

Exterior: Reigning in the beast

We still haven't seen a truly striking three-row, large crossover. They're all too big and chunky to ever really be gorgeous, just like the minivans to which they owe their existence. That hasn't changed with the Enclave, but cars like it and the Mazda CX-9 are moving us in the right direction.

The 2018 Enclave does a fantastic job of reigning in its heft, appearing less blocky and massive than rivals like the Acura MDX and Audi Q7.


Around back, Buick's done an especially great job of cutting fat and making the car appear sleek and modern. The same can't necessarily be said of the bow of the S.S. Enclave, but it's still a sharp looker in a segment rife with behemoths.

My tester also benefited from the Avenir treatment. Avenir, the new sub-brand from Buick, denotes a top-of-the-line model, and comes with a revised mesh grill that is much more fitting for a $59,425 luxury SUV than the standard chrome grill.


Interior: Family built, through and through

The Avenir treatment also adds more wood trimmings and opens up the option of the lovely saddle brown leather. Dark leather, brown leather, wood and metallic accents all come together to elevate the cabin into the luxury realm. If Buick had realized that they should have left the matte gray plastic in 2012, this would be in serious competition for one of the best interiors in the segment.


Whatever points I would normally take away for cheap gray plastic, I must give back for this machine's stunning practicality. With captain's chairs in the front two rows and a power-folding, three-person bench in the back, it's capable of shuttling six people and squeezing in seven.


There's also a hefty amount of storage in the back even with all seats in place, but for road trips it still likely falls short of the space needed to carry six people and their luggage. Four grown men, their luggage, an air mattress and enough suits to open a Men's Wearhouse will fit with room to spare.


I discovered this on an eight-hour trip to Philadelphia, where we managed to put two people each measuring over 6' 2" behind each other with no legroom problems.

Had we piled in more luggage, it's also comforting to know that with the flip of a switch the central rear-view mirror can become a video screen displaying a crystal-clear rear field of view that's 300-percent wider than a typical mirror.


The days of squeezing in more stuff at the expense of rearward visibility and safety are over.


Driving Experience: A long-haul master

On that same trip is when I really fell in love with the Enclave. We spent over eight hours in the big Buick, including an hour of traffic going into Center City Philadelphia. Four days later, we knocked out another eight hour stint, still loaded to the brim.

Despite my prodding, I couldn't nurse one complaint out of three other guys I had on board. Adaptive dampers kept the ride silky smooth and the monster's weight in check. Active noise cancellation made sure everyone could hear the music they were streaming from the Enclave's Wi-Fi hotspot.


From the command post, I was assisted with one of the smoothest applications of an adaptive cruise control system I've ever used. The 3.6-liter V6 was rarely heard, and the nine-speed automatic did its job seamlessly, easily the best application of a nine-speed gearbox I've sampled.

Of course, the Enclave isn't much fun to drive and it certainly isn't sporty. But in terms of absolutely devouring miles, the Enclave Avenir is a force to be reckoned with.


Value: The more you spend, the better it gets

The Enclave shares its platform with the Chevrolet Traverse. This is important, because if you just need a comfortable and capable family hauler and you're considering a base level Enclave, you're probably missing the obvious candidate.


Really, the Enclave doesn't make sense unless you opt for the upper trims. I'd recommend this Avenir trim, loaded with every option. At $59,435, it isn't cheap. But it comes with everything you'd reasonably expect of a luxury SUV.

At that price, you'll get adaptive cruise control, 360-degree cameras, the video-monitor rear-view mirror, heated seats at all four corners, cooled seats up front, navigation, W-Fi, lane keeping assist, hands-free power lift-gate, dual sunroofs and enough power and USB ports to power a village.


The only notable omissions I noticed were a true lane-centering system like you get higher-end cars and, oddly enough, one touch windows at all four corners. In a $60,000 car, Buick still only gives the driver a one-touch up function on his/her window, which is baffling.

No, you won't get the refinement and vault-like quality of the Audi Q7, nor the hybrid tech of the MDX. But Buick still offers an absurd amount of equipment that, when teamed with an adaptive suspension and a noise cancelling system, do a great job of making the Enclave Avenir feel like a true luxury car at a price that undercuts its rivals.


Final Thoughts: Quiet composure

You probably won't impress anyone when you show up in a Buick. The brand isn't there yet. But if that's not why you buy a car, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more competent package than the Enclave Avenir.

It's a luxury SUV without the full luxury SUV cost, it's a family hauler without the stigma of a minivan. It's fully loaded but without the flash, and it's exactly the kind of cars consumers buy in droves. Simply put, it's the perfect example of why Buick's doors are still open.

Ratings

Exterior: 4
Interior: 4.5
Driving Experience: 4.5
Value: 4.5
Overall: 4.5

Price as configured: $59,435