Family Hauler – 2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD Review
The last in a series of family hauler reviews
By Chris Haak
My quest to find a new family hauler with enough room four our growing family last led me to the local Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealer. Actually, before I had even test driven the Sienna or Odyssey, I stopped at the Saturn dealer to just check out second row legroom in the Outlook, as that was the critical dimension in which our Pathfinder was falling short. On paper, the Outlook’s second row didn’t seem to have much more legroom than the Pathfinder (36.9 inches versus 34.2 inches), but the Outlook’s second row seats could be adjusted forward or backward depending on needs. I wasn’t about to spend $35,000 to $40,000 for a new vehicle only to gain three inches of legroom, but I really wanted to give GM a chance to earn my business. The Saturn salesperson was very helpful and allowed me to try out our infant seat in a new Outlook, and it comfortably fit. Unfortunately for him and Saturn, Saturn doesn’t accept the GM Card and doesn’t generally discount under MSRP. I wasn’t about to consider an Outlook over the better-looking and better-equipped Enclave, which would also be less expensive.
The day after I drove the Sienna and Odyssey – and was disappointed by the Sienna’s steering feel and disappointed by the Odyssey’s lack of all wheel drive – my son and I drove to the Buick dealer to test drive a 2008 Enclave CXL AWD.
The Enclave’s exterior is close to perfect, as long as it has the same 19 inch chrome wheels that are shown in all of the press photos. This particular one was Carbon Black Metallic with the $1,200 optional wheels. To my eyes, the Enclave is the best looking crossover or SUV on the road today. The Enclave is a very large vehicle, but the body’s graceful curves really do a great job of hiding its length. It has very tasteful chrome accents and standard HID headlights with blue lenses. The Enclave really has a great physical presence that puts any minivan’s shape to shame. Also, although the Enclave is almost identical in size and proportions to its platform mates, the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, to my eyes, the Enclave does a better job of disguising its considerable length, likely thanks to its Coke bottle-like curves.
The Enclave’s interior is a nice place to spend time. Although cloth seats are standard in the base Enclave, the CXL that I drove had leather seating surfaces. GM’s Lambda platform vehicles have taken some heat for second row legroom and seat comfort (dimensionally, the Enclave tops its competitors in only third row legroom, cargo capacity, and front shoulder room, but the numbers do bear out that second row legroom is short compared to others, and particular the CX-9, which tops it by nearly three inches.) Although I did not spend more than a few seconds in the second row seats, they are adjustable and can be moved rearward if necessary, which increases second row space, but naturally at the expense of third row space. Access to the third row is pretty convenient for a crossover, but not as easy as a minivan’s; the second row seats more or less fold themselves nearly vertically toward the rear of the first row seats, leaving a large opening for access to the third row. One problem that hasn’t been solved by any family-friendly vehicles, to my knowledge, is how to access the third row with two child seats installed in the second row seats. With captain’s chairs, it’s possible to squeeze between them, but not easy, and with the bench seat (actually an option that gives the buyer money back), one must able to climb over an unfolded seat to access the third row.
Although the interior looked gorgeous, there was some hard plastic on the top of the dash that I was not expecting in a vehicle of this caliber. Other than the hard top of the dash, there were some also a few obvious examples of cost cutting that were pretty noticeable, namely little details like the covers on the 12v power outlets.
On the Road
The first thing that struck me when I started the Enclave and dropped it into gear was the vault-like silence. The Enclave was the quietest car I can ever remember driving (I did drive a V12 S-class Mercedes with dual pane glass in the 1990s once, but that was too long ago). When attempting anything other than leisurely cruising, the engine felt a little overwhelmed by the Enclave’s weight, but it wasn’t awful. A V8 would be the perfect complement to this vehicle, but sadly, GM seems to be going in the opposite direction in terms of powertrain size and capability for this vehicle’s next generation.
GM clearly (and correctly, given the current environment) prioritized fuel economy over performance when calibrating the six speed automatic transmission, because it really seemed to want to upshift quickly and get into higher gears as soon as it could. Perhaps it was just an issue of the transmission being in some sort of learning mode and not yet aware of my driving habits. It did shift smoothly whether lumbering around town or attempting a full throttle merge onto an expressway.
Handling felt confident, especially considering the size and weight of the Enclave (over five thousand pounds when configured as an AWD CXL). It’s not a sports car, or even a midsize sedan, but the steering had good feel, and in a salesman-chaperoned test drive (with my two year old strapped into his car seat in the second row), I didn’t detect any noticeable body lean or handling issues.
The Enclave AWD is rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway according to the newly-revised 2008 EPA ratings. The front wheel drive models enjoy better ratings, at 16 city and 24 highway. The Enclave’s fuel economy is competitive with models such as the smaller Lexus RX 350 (18/23 FWD; 17/22 AWD), Acura MDX (15/20 AWD), and Toyota Highlander (18/24 FWD; 17/23 AWD), and is far better than the 14/19 that a Chevrolet Suburban with the 5.3 liter V8 is rated.
The Enclave CX front wheel drive starts at a very reasonable $32,990 including destination, but adding all wheel drive adds $2,000. Stepping up to the CXL model means a base price of about $35,000 for front wheel drive and $37,000 for all wheel drive. Desirable options include navigation ($2,600 with an upgraded stereo), rear seat DVD entertainment (another $1,100 with navigation and $1,600 without it), and a dual sunroof (the front section opens and the rear section is fixed with a movable sun shade) is about $1,300. Also, the chromed aluminum wheels featured in nearly every photo of the Enclave are nearly a must-have option in my opinion, and add another $1,200 to the MSRP. A fully loaded Enclave CXL AWD will top out around $46,000, and due to the newness and popularity of the model, coupled with GM’s decision to keep tight reins on supply, you can expect to pay close to MSRP for a new Enclave in the near term.
According to TrueDelta.com, the Enclave’s pricing is very close to the similar GMC Acadia’s when adjusting for equipment available on the Buick but not on the GMC, so to me, it’s nearly a no-brainer to choose the Buick over the GMC to get a quieter, more luxurious and better-looking package for around the same price.
GM did a great job with the Enclave. A few small tweaks, such as eliminating the small instances of cost cutting as well as a better integrated center stack (which supposedly is coming in the next two years – think of something more like the 2008 CTS has as far as audio and HVAC controls), and a little more power, and GM will not only have a first year hit on their hands, but a sustained success story as well.