Review: Buick aims high, falls short with $60,000 Enclave Avenir


“Huh, a $60,000 Buick.”

That was my first thought after scanning the Monroney sticker for the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir after it arrived in my inbox along with electronic copies of the usual fleet loan documents. A price tag of $60,000 is close to European luxury territory, as well, so Buick is really trying to make a statement with its fully redesigned, three-row crossover.

The Enclave sits at the top of Buick’s SUV lineup. New to 2018 models, the Avenir line sits at the top of Buick’s trim options, similar to its GM cousins like the GMC Denali. The Enclave is the first of Buick’s vehicles to offer the Avenir subbrand, which is intended to position the automaker’s top-end models more favorably against the likes of Lexus and Audi.

Moving around the exterior, there are some slight design changes as part of the Enclave’s 2018 makeover. For one, the familiar vertical chrome grille has been replaced with a black mesh grill, which sports the familiar Buick trishield. There’s a bit more chrome trim on the Enclave, including a strip setting off the roofline from the rest of the vehicle. On the back you’ll find sleeker-looking taillights and twin exhaust. And you’ll enjoy a smooth and quiet ride as you roll down the highway on the 20-inch, six-spoke wheels that are standard on the Avenir and are an option on the Essence and Premium models. All in all, it’s a perfectly respectable- and attractive-looking crossover, though it lacks the bold visual statements that might make it stand out from the crowd.

As a three-row crossover, the Enclave is a large vehicle. In fact, the 2018 model is even larger than its predecessor, at just over 204 inches (518.2cm). It has a 3.6L V6 engine that cranks out 310hp (227kW) and 266lb-ft (353Nm) of torque. If you want all-wheel drive, you’ll need to opt for something other than the base package. With the Enclave Avenir, you can flip on the AWD with the touch of a button.

Although the base price of the Enclave is $40,970, getting into the Avenir trim brings the total to $55,715. If you want niceties such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, premium suspension, towing package, and a heavy-duty cooling system—like the model I drove for a week—you’re looking at a cool $59,435. Buick is unfortunately aping other luxury brands: if you want its best driver-assist tech, you have no choice but to opt for the Avenir trim. It’s not available without it.

Luxury, Buick style

Buick describes the Avenir as the “highest expression of Buick luxury, offering unique style cues.” In the case of the Enclave, that means some wood accents on the steering wheel, a chestnut-brown leather covering on the black dashboard, hand-stitching on the seats, and some very nice faux-wood plastic trim on the center console. You can toast or cool your bum in the front seats; the second row also offers heated seats, while the folks in the back row bench seats are out of luck.

The Avenir interior feels a bit overdone, however. The shade for the moonroof feels cheap and flimsy, with the action of a ten-dollar Walmart window shade upon opening. And you’ll need to reach back from the front seat and grab the handle to close it. The three shades of the interior—black dashboard, chestnut dashboard accent and seats, and beige headlining—make for a bit of a visual mishmash.

As one would expect from a seven-seat vehicle, the interior of the Enclave is downright spacious. The front seats, with lumbar support, are very comfortable for long rides, and there’s plenty of room in the second row captain-style seats even with a tall driver. The back row? Save it for the kids, as the sloped roof leads to a cramped ride for an adult. There’s also loads of cargo space—24 cubic feet (680L) with all three rows of seating up. Fold down the back two rows, and you’ve got almost 98 cubic feet to haul that new couch home from Crate and Barrel.

The second row gets its own climate control console, some USB ports for charging your devices, and there’s even a 110v outlet for… a mini fridge? There are cup holders and USB ports for the folks in the third row as well.

The Enclave comes with an 8-inch touchscreen display. Compared with BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system feels a bit dated. The icons are large, which is a good thing from the standpoint of giving your finger a large target. But those icons also take up a lot of screen real estate, limiting the amount of data you can see at any one time. You can customize the top row of icons to contain your favorites; I went with audio, navigation, phone, camera, and climate. Other functions are reachable via the physical home button below the display, and there’s also a physical volume button and tuner. If Android Auto or CarPlay is your thing, the Enclave has you covered. Under the display is a place to park your phone, and the Avenir offers wireless charging for your Qi-equipped phone. Under the console there’s even enough space for your purse—or manbag, as it were.

Buick’s instrument cluster is also customizable. An analog tachometer and temperature gauge are to the left, while the right dial shows battery, temperature, and fuel. The middle bit is a very customizable display. The Sport setting gives you an analog-style speedometer, while the Touring setting offers a digital readout. The rest of the display can be set to show phone, audio, trip, or navigation information. It’s all controlled by a dizzying array of buttons on the steering wheel. And in a nice touch, if one of the rear doors was opened before you set off, you’ll get a reminder to check the back seat before you get out of the car.

Visibility isn’t fantastic. While the Enclave has sensors and cameras to help you park in tight quarters, they’re not as good as those from its European competition. I’ve got a tight turn into my garage from the alley, and pulling in was more nerve-wracking than it could have been due to the lack of granularity on the display as well as the poor visibility over the hood. But I do like Buick’s warning system. You can set it to vibrate your seat instead of beeping obnoxiously, and once I figured out that my right buttock was experiencing a buzzing sensation because I was close to bumping into the side of the garage, I found I preferred it. Not because I like having my tuchus buzzed but because it’s less obnoxious than a series of alarming beeps.

Rear window visibility is also pretty poor when the back seats are upright. Here, Buick’s solution is fantastic: an HD camera display built into the rearview mirror. When it’s on, you won’t be able to see who’s hitting whom in the backseat, but the tradeoff is an excellent view of the jerk tailgating you and a smaller blind spot. I also loved that Buick included a sunglass holder, something sadly missing from every other crossover I’ve reviewed so far.

Like everything else from GM, the Enclave comes standard with OnStar for emergency assistance. And like just about everything else in its class, there’s built-in LTE and an in-car Wi-Fi network.

Listing image by Marlowe Bangeman

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