Give GM engineers a decade, and they’ll give you a new Buick Enclave that goes quicker, drives better, and sounds nicer.
The 2018 Enclave does all those things. It earns merit badges for its composed ride and its 9-speed automatic. It’s a 7 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Every Enclave gets GM’s latest 3.6-liter V-6, tuned here to deliver 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. That 22-hp bump contrasts with a 4-lb-ft decrease over last year's model. Peak torque arrives in the 2,000-rpm range, and the V-6 emits a lovely, low-key windup noise that’s admittedly filtered by active noise cancellation and lots of sound deadening.
Still, it can hustle the front-drive Enclave to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, by Buick estimates (7.1 seconds when it’s fitted with the optional twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system).
Buick pairs the engine with a 9-speed automatic. We’ve driven other 9-speeds with fidgety controls and juddery low-speed shifts; the Buick isn’t one of them. On first blush, it shifts imperceptibly, and even has a shift lever and paddle shift controls for semi-manual operation. Buick tried to eliminate the lever and fit the Enclave with pushbutton transmission controls, but ran out of space on the slimly styled dash.
Most versions can tow 1,500 pounds, but with a spend-up tow package, the Enclave’s tow rating sits at 5,000 pounds, enough to pull a 21-foot sport boat.
One of two all-wheel-drive systems comes with some Enclaves; base models are front-drive only. Mid-grade models have a simple open differential system that uses anti-lock brakes to control wheelspin, while Premium and Avenir Enclaves have a rear differential that can clutch in rear wheels and tailor the power it delivers. The system requires drivers to press a button to activate the system.
Usually, the performance section of a crossover-SUV review is brief and brutal. Not here. The Enclave’s front-strut and rear five-link suspension, and its electric power steering, wed to bless the crossover with a taut ride and predictable steering. GM doesn’t program in copious heft off-center into the Enclave’s electric steering system. It’s not notchy, and it doesn’t tramline despite big wheels, but a whiff of torque steer aside in front-drive models, there’s not much sensation on center.
Without the optional adaptive dampers, the firmly sprung Enclave resists body lean well for such a tall, heavy wagon—the 4,300-pound curb weight helps, too. Because they’re wedded to a better body structure, the steering and base suspension give the Enclave a fluid, very well-controlled ride. Through the north Georgia mountains, the Enclave felt like a larger CX-9, even without the adaptive hydraulic dampers offered on the most expensive models, even when riding on optional 255/55R-20 wheels and tires (18s are standard).