Vernon, B.C.—The Buick Enclave is all-new for 2018 and with it comes the arrival of the Avenir trim (and the loss of the ability to seat eight; now only seven), a new level of luxury for Buick that the manufacturer hopes will increase the scope of the brand, while staying appealing to their current customer base.
Tight as a drum
The switch to Avenir, which is French for “future” and one of four models on offer for 2018 (Essence FWD starting at $47,795, Essence AWD at $50,795, Premium AWD at $55,795 and Avenir at $61,795), adds a rich layer of luxury to the cabin. It doesn’t modify the powertrain at all—all 2018 Buick Enclaves get a 3.6L V6 good for 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque along with a nine-speed ZF automatic transmission—but it does offer optional chassis tweaks in the form of adaptive dampers.
Leather is standard on all models, but the Enclave Avenir gets a higher-quality choice that is smooth to the touch while still being tightly wrapped around the seats and various door and dash surfaces it covers. You won’t find any unsightly stretch marks around the corners of the cushions and so forth, and the Avenir-exclusive Chestnut Black interior colouring is rich and upscale. The way the smoked aluminum dash insert morphs into a knurled wood look as it reaches toward the passenger door is an especially nice touch, though the grey knurled wood treatment in the non-Avenir model you see in these photos deserves mention, as well.
The seat quality matches well with the rest of the cabin finish, which is an exercise in tight panel gaps and well-fastened trim pieces and panels. It’s a mostly vibration-free environment, and we’re big fans.
Other Avenir add-ons include unique 20-inch alloy wheels, an 8-inch digital gauge display, special grille, 360-degree parking camera, navigation, wireless charging and digital rear camera mirror. That’s the first time we’ve seen the rear camera mirror in a Buick and while it’s not the first time I’ve experienced this tech in a GM product, every time I do, I’m reminded of just how good it can be.
First of all, you get a better view out as you don’t have to worry about roof pillars and headrests (or, indeed, heads) blocking your view. It also allows you to stack stuff higher back there without affecting the view out through your mirror, and finally there’s no need to adjust the mirror if there are going to be multiple drivers as rearward visibility is always the same no matter which angle you’re dealing with. Of course, if you prefer the old way, simply flip what looks like the dimmer knob—it’s located right there at the centre-base of the mirror, where it has been for years—to return it to a traditional mirror.
While the Avenir package is a nice addition to the 2018 Buick Enclave lineup, you don’t want to forget that the base models come fairly well-equipped, too. They all feature an 8-inch infotainment display whose new frameless look makes for a much cleaner dash (and provides compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), active noise cancellation with laminated front- and front-side glass, second-row captain’s chairs, third-row seating and 10% more interior space than in the previous generation, part of which can be attributed to the existence of an underfloor storage bin behind the third row—perfect for wet or dirty items.
Comfort conquest… with a catch
The added interior space is a nice feature, especially when you consider the third row which is surprisingly suitable for an adult. It even gets its own cupholders and USB port, bringing the total of the latter to five. It helps that each captain’s chair can slide forward (once you find the release, which falls a little further back from the front of the lower seat cushion than I’d like). The one on the passenger side even slides and tilts so you can leave a baby seat in there and easily access the third row without having to thread your way between the two second-row seats.
Thing is, those captain’s chairs are the only option for 2018; there’s no second-row bench seat available. That may not seem like a big deal… unless you’re planning on hauling a family of five. Since you can’t put three people in the second row, you have to be using the back row which means you’re always going to be infringing on cargo space. Buick says their market research shows this isn’t an issue for most Enclave buyers, so time will tell how all this shakes down considering two of the Enclave’s main competitors according to Buick, the INFINITI QX60 and Honda Pilot, are available with a traditional second-row bench seat.
Regardless of how they’re arranged in their seats, however, we’re fairly certain that occupants are going to like what’s going on around them. The noise-reduction tweaks mentioned earlier are ultra-functional as both my drive partner and I found it to be an incredibly quiet and relaxed environment offering luxury-level reduction in noise, vibration and harshness. Buick isn’t just trying to appeal to the ears, either; a special climate ionization system means your nose and throat are well cared for, too, as the air inside the Buick Enclave is the cleanest it’s ever been.
The 3.6L V6 works well with the nine-speed autobox to deliver nice, smooth progress. The 22-hp jump over last year’s model can be felt both from a stop and at speed, as you don’t have to worry about a turbocharger spooling to get the power to the wheels. It also means you can stick to regular gas, which is a nice bonus with gas prices continuing to climb.
Unlike competitors such as the Volkswagen Atlas, no turbocharged four-cylinder alternative appears in the catalogue. Having said that, you’d likely lose the Enclave’s 5,000lb towing capacity by making the switch. While that may not be priority No. 1 for most Buick Enclave buyers—GM offers other SUVs that are better for towing including the GMC Yukon/Chevrolet Tahoe twins—we had the chance to sample the Enclave’s capability with a 4,600lb boat and trailer and the powertrain was more than capable, especially with a tow mode that modifies the steering and transmission.
If you don’t select the tow package, then your tow mode gets replaced with a sport mode (apparently, the settings for each are similar) and the steering does get noticeably heavier when you activate it. Meanwhile, if you’ve selected the optional adaptive dampers on your Enclave Avenir, you get an added layer of performance thanks to some reduced body roll.
Don’t mistake the 2018 Buick Enclave for a performance SUV, however. We used the sport mode mainly for passing and the like, as well as a quick run through some curvier mountain roads in the Vernon area. I doubt that’s something many Enclave owners are going to be spending too much time doing (especially if they fancy shifting gears on their own with the provided paddles as it’s not the quickest-acting transmission you’ll find), but it’s still a nice feature to have for the circumstances in which we did. The heavier steering also makes for less nervousness and wobbliness on long, straight highway drives. There’s also active lane departure warning to help make those kinds of drives easier, although we found it to be a little late to react on curves. Not a big deal—this is a safety feature that typically comes into play on straights more often than it does on curves, as drivers tend to be more focused in the latter situation—but worth noting.
A complete package
The Encore compact crossover is the brand’s best-selling product right now. According to Buick, if all goes to plan, the Enclave should grab the top spot eventually. In our short time with the 2018 Enclave, it became pretty clear why Buick is so confident. It’s well-styled (new headlights and a lower roof make for a sleek, planted look while the two grille styles are opulent without being extravagant), offers a luxurious in-car experience and uses a mighty-fine, naturally aspirated engine to boot. The new Avenir model provides some nice icing on the cake.
For a by-the-numbers, no-nonsense, luxury-lite SUV, the 2018 Buick Enclave proves to be a very compelling option.