The 2011 – 2012 Buick Enclave is similar to the 2011-2012 Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.  All three vary in trim levels and features, but share many of the same general characteristics as found in this review.  Crash test results apply to all of them.  There are no major changes for 2012 on these popular models.  I received the very nicely equipped 2WD, 7-passenger CXL-2 version for review (An 8-passenger trim is optional, as is AWD).

This review is mostly going to focus on some safety related and carseat related issues with a few other comments.  Detailed technical specifications and comparisons can be found in mainstream auto reviews.  As for crash safety, it gets top overall results from the IIHS and NHTSA and is one of the safest vehicles as listed by InformedForLife.Org.  We generally concur with InformedForLife in many cases where a full set of crash test results is available, as is the case with the Enclave.

Aside from safety, the Enclave CXL rides very nice and was relatively quiet, too.  There was a minor transmission whine noticeable at low speeds, but otherwise engine, road and wind noise were luxury class, especially on the highway.   On the other hand, my wife and I both found that it drove like a large SUV.  For example, I felt that roomier Honda Odyssey I just drove had better handling and road feel, though the ride was not as smooth or as quiet as the Enclave.  In any case, the Enclave’s handling  seemed secure and it is certainly a big step up from a full size truck-based SUV in this regard.  The Enclave’s power was very good from the engine, both from a stop sign and also while passing.  I found the transmission was not as smooth as some other vehicles I’ve driven recently and often seemed to hesitate to shift up or down as I would expect. 

The CXL-2 trim was loaded with tons of features and options.  Navigation, Bose audio, rear entertainment by Panasonic, power sunroof with rear skylight, 20″ Aluminum wheels, rear camera, parking assist, adaptive headlights, power rear hatch and very nicely appointed interior trim.  It also features comfortable leather seats with driver and front passenger seats that are both heated and air conditioned.  I’m not a big fan of leather seats because they can get very hot in the summer, but the cooled, perforated leather is simply awesome and is one of my favorite features.

The Enclave has some drawbacks if you have more than a couple small kids.  It only provides LATCH in the two second row captain’s chairs.  The center of the third row does have a top tether anchor only, but this spot lacks a head restraint.  The outboard head restraints in the third row are relatively small and non-adjustable.  It will be tough to fit some rear-facing infant and convertible seats in the third row, as there may not be quite enough room even with the second row seats moved all the way forward.  Also, the width is enough to fit only a carefully selected set of narrow carseats/boosters if you need to do 3-across.   The second row head restraints are adequate, but also non-adjustable and non-removable. 

Otherwise, the second row seats are quite comfortable and roomy.  They are wide enough for the biggest models like a Recaro ProSport (video, above) or a Frontier 85 SICT (below, left).  There’s plenty of room for rear-facing seats, leaving legroom for the front seats, too.   The seat cushions are somewhat angled.  That’s a good thing for older kids using a Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL or Diono Radian RXT (below left-center), that installs a little more upright than in other vehicles when rear facing.  There’s also a good location for a rear-facing tether accessory strap to be attached (below, right-center).  The Graco Snugride 30 installed well (below, right) with the recline foot extended all the way, too, but rear-facing seats may require a noodle to get the necessary recline for a newborn or small infant.

Top 10 Pros:

  1. Great Crash Test Results from the NHTSA and IIHS.
  2. Shoulder belt adjusters in the 2nd and 3rd row
  3. Wide access to third row with 2nd row chair folded forward
  4. Above average interior space and cargo space compared to midsize SUVs
  5. 8th seat option available
  6. OnStar.  Crash reporting is a valuable safety feature!
  7. Power tilt/telescope feature helps with comfortable driving position
  8. Perforated and heated/cooled leather seats!
  9. Styling.  It is very distinctive and I like it.
  10. Substantially made and assembled in the USA

 

Top Ten Cons:

  1. LATCH only present in two second row captain’s chairs
  2. Head restraints and seatbelt stalks may be an issue for some child seats
  3. Rear center seats lack a head restraint, others are non-adjustable
  4. Visibility is mediocre, but aided by large rear view camera display
  5. Handling feels heavier and less road feel than some other midsize SUVs
  6. Transmission a little slow to find the right gear sometimes
  7. Third row may not fit 3 large adults or 3-across carseats
  8. Mediocre fuel economy.  I got 17mpg around town with conservative driving.
  9. Apparently no Bluetooth streaming audio, odd for a loaded, luxury model
  10. Quirks?  Spastic power window, tiny analog dash clock, gear shifter moves into low gear too easily

 

Overall, the Buick Enclave is a great choice for safety and is relatively roomy and luxurious compared to many midsize 7-passenger SUVs  (I did not evaluate the 8-passenger option).  The first and second rows are very comfortable and with a family of four, there is a good amount of cargo space available.  Even with all three rows of seating in use, the space behind the last row is bigger than average for its class.  The third row is better than average in terms of legroom, but can be problematic for child safety seats.  Even so, the Enclave simply does not compare to a top minivan in terms of cargo space or seating flexibility and it doesn’t do quite as well on fuel economy, either.  On the plus side, it comes a lot closer to a minivan than most other midsize crossover SUVs!  If you’re looking for a better handling and safe alternative to a full-size monster truck-based SUV and don’t want a minivan, this is a great option for you!

The Enclave starts at $36,675 in CX trim.  The CXL-2 starts at $42,095 and was $47,790 as equipped.  Thank you to General Motors and G. Schmitz & Associates for the Enclave used for this review.