In entry-level trim, the 2020 Buick Enclave is competitive in cost relative to some of the top-trim mainstream products in its category of large three-row SUVs. While alternatives like the Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride outperform the Enclave when it comes to safety and convenience content for a similar price, some shoppers may find the big Buick’s usability and sense of style make up for it.
In its default format, the Enclave’s design language is perhaps a little on the rounded side. Tack the $1,495 Sport Touring appearance package onto it, though, and the three-row is suddenly – and surprisingly – handsome, with a subtly attractive gloss black mesh grille and 20-inch wheels. There’s also a visually pleasing combination of contour and colour inside.
Some of the safety features one might expect to get at this price point, such as automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, or adaptive cruise control, are not included. However, blind-spot monitoring with lane-change and rear cross-traffic alert are equipped. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) docked the entry-level Essence points for its headlights, which it rates as marginal. The patented Teen Driver feature from General Motors (GM), which allows parents to set speed limit and curfew alerts, is included, but the rear seat reminder is not.
The Enclave’s 668 L of space behind the third row, 1,642 L behind the second row, and 2,764 L behind the front row make for a sizeable amount of cargo room. Moreover, that space is properly usable thanks to the fact the seats all fold nicely flat to create a level load floor. The only downside is paying more than $50,000 for a three-row SUV and still having to drop the third-row seats with a strap. Some people may prefer manual systems, but by the time I’m spending this much, I expect to be working with buttons.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
Controls are simply laid out and easy to reach, and it’s especially nice to see easy access to side-mounted cupholders and storage trays in the rear rows. Not so easy, however, is parking when it’s raining. Water droplets on the rear camera and the Enclave’s overall size make for a more challenging combination than average.
On the upside, the latest version of GM’s eight-inch infotainment system is excellent, and the touchscreen used here is simple and elegant. A pair of USB ports is installed in both the second and third rows, which is great news if you need to power devices for a pack of teenagers (with an OnStar subscription, the Enclave can also provide them with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot).
For an extra charge, the dual sunroofs are a nice touch, though the shades are a little flimsy. There’s no wireless phone charger – not that it matters if you plan to use the standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality anyway, since phones need to be plugged in to operate the systems – and there are some comfort features missing from this trim, too.
Buick has nailed the seats, which are pleasantly contoured, spacious, and supportive. It should be noted, though, that the Enclave comes only in a seven-seat configuration, so those who truly need to accommodate eight will need to look elsewhere. What’s more surprising is to pay nearly $60,000 for this tester and get no heated steering wheel, no heated second-row outboard seats, and no ventilated front seats. For those, you need to spring for the Premium trim, yet they’re available at lower price points in more affordable competitors.
The Enclave’s 3.6L V6 produces 310 hp and 266 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm, a surprisingly low point for a naturally aspirated engine. On the road, the initial throttle response feels on the slow side, but once the Enclave’s 2,072 kg (4,568 lb) are moving, power delivery is smooth and comfortable.
Driving Feel: 7/10
Some larger SUVs on the market feel smaller than they are when you drive them. The Enclave, however, feels as hefty as it looks. It’s not especially quick to react to feedback, and it exhibits some tendency toward body roll.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
On paper, the Enclave’s 13.6 L/100 km in city driving, 9.6 on the highway, and 11.8 combined, as rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), don’t seem especially remarkable. However, a highway-heavy week where higher-speed driving comprised roughly 60 per cent of my travel, I was very happy with my final result of 11.2 L/100 km considering the Enclave’s size.
To get the most desirable feature content in the Enclave, it’s necessary to upgrade to the Premium trim, which when equipped similarly to this vehicle pushes close to $70,000. However, for a subset of buyers who like the Enclave’s styling and the Buick brand but aren’t particularly fussy about equipment, this could be a good fit.
Buick has a great opportunity to fill a space in the automotive market that few brands are trying to occupy: attainable luxury that makes a statement without being ostentatious. However, to make a convincing case for this in a vehicle like the Enclave, its feature content ought to be at a level higher than the similarly priced top-trim equivalents in mainstream competitors.
|Peak Horsepower||310 hp @ 6,800 rpm|
|Peak Torque||266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.6 / 9.6 / 11.8 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||668 / 1,642 / 2,764 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2020 Buick Enclave Essence|
|Price as Tested||$59,438|
$6,240 – Sport Touring edition, $1,495; Sun and Navigation Package, $2,995; Trailering Package, $750; Ebony Twilight Metallic paint, $495; Interior Protection Package, $410; wheel locks, $95