2008 Buick Enclave CXL

Okay, I don?t want to be too harsh here but, sorry GM, I?ve never been a Buick fan. Sure, one could argue Buicks are well built, reliable luxury cars. But there?s always been something just a little off ? something missing. When it came to competing with the imports, Buick just couldn?t deliver the goods. And, lest we forget, only old people buy Buicks, right?

Well, Buick bashers, prepare to have everything you?ve ever thought turned upside down. There?s a new kid on the block ? the Enclave ? and it?s not only turning heads but it may just be the ticket Buick needs to shed its decaying dinosaur image.

The Buick Enclave is a Crossover SUV and arguably the best Buick ever, one that breaks the mold and will get many folks like me rethinking this battered brand. My wife fell in love with the Enclave and, without a doubt, this car will be on our short list when shopping for a new family vehicle.

Crossover SUVs

Crossovers are the latest buzz in automotive jargon. They?re sort of a cross ? or mix if you prefer ? between SUVs, minivans and sedans. If you consider what we?re doing here at Active.com with our annual Active Lifestyle Vehicles (ALV) awards, a Crossover is probably the closest example of an all-around ALV. The Enclave fits our ALV mold like a glove.

The Enclave shares its foundation with GM's latest batch of Crossovers, including the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. But the Buick is positioned as the most luxurious and, in that regard, it doesn?t disappoint.

Inside the spacious cabin, you?ll be dazzled by the array of luxury touches. A mahogany wood steering wheel contrasts well with authentic-looking faux burl woodgrain. I really liked the aluminum accents and chrome rings around the recessed and blue-lighted speedometer, tachometer, voltage, fuel and temperature gauges. A round analog clock, very similar to Infiniti?s signature style, sits above an in-dash AM/FM Stereo/CD/MP3 player.

My vehicle was also outfitted with XM Satellite Radio and, one of the very cool features, mostly because of its simplicity and practicality, was that I could mix my station settings across bands. Simply stated, instead of having to switch bands to listen to Satellite or FM radio, I could mix the memory settings so that some buttons could be Satellite, while others could be my favorite AM or FM stations. A digital display, above each button, also shows what station each button is programmed to.

A tilt and telescoping steering wheel, tri-zone climate control and smart-slide second row seat round out an impressive collection of standard features we?ve come to expect in a luxury vehicle.

A bold Buick front grille, rounded corners and stylish Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps give the Enclave a distinct, handsome appearance. My CXL came with 19? chrome wheels, a $1,495 option, which only accentuated this stunningly good-looking vehicle.

The Enclave comes in CX and CXL trim levels. Leather is included in the upscale CXL trim. Both have a standard seven-passenger seating configuration via second-row captain's chairs and a third-row bench seat. An optional second-row bench seat, available for no extra charge, increases capacity to eight. Second and third row seats are a cinch to fold flat, and moving between the second and third rows is much like a minivan.

The 60/40 split third row seat allowed me to easily place my bike in either the 40 or 60 portion while one of my sons sat in the other seat. I had the captain?s chairs version which makes for a very elegant interior.

With all three rows of seats in place, there was still plenty of storage area behind the third row. The Enclave also boasts a power liftgate for accessing the rear cabin behind the third row of seats. Call me soft, but I?m starting to really like having a power liftgate that can be activated from the remote or button on the liftgate. There?s actually nothing more convenient than having an armful of groceries and simply clicking a button and watching the gate close automatically.

Installing my two year-old?s car seat into one of the captain?s chairs was a breeze. Latches and tether hooks were well placed and easy to get to.

Perfect Minivan Alternative

Essentially, the Enclave is a perfect minivan alternative for those that don?t want to digress to soccer mom or minivan status. Not that there?s anything wrong with it. I?ve been a happy minivan owner for over five years but, I?ll have to admit, these large Crossover SUVs are way cooler looking and just as functional from a cargo and passenger carrying perspective.

But what really impressed me was how whisper quiet the Enclave was inside. Thanks to Buick's focus on reducing noise, the Enclave is one of the quietest vehicles on the road. Tire, wind, and road noise are virtually non-existent thanks to the engineer's focus on damping all the bad sound.

For those ? me included ? who?ve always thought of Buicks as ?soft,? you?ll be shocked and surprised to find the Enclave boasts tight steering and suspension to give you a terrific feel of the road. Interestingly, I had just tested the Saturn Outlook, a formidable cousin of the Enclave, and found its steering to be the typical soft I?ve come to expect from American automakers. While Americans have traditionally loved power steering, today?s driver wants variable power steering that tightens up nicely as you increase speed. The Enclave is outstanding in this regard and nothing like Buicks of the past.

The 3.6 liter 6-speed automatic transmission spits out 275 horsepower and is an adequate accelerator. For stat geeks, 0-60mph is achieved in 8.2 seconds. If there was one negative to the Enclave it was that every once in a while, and this only happened at slow speeds (less than 25 mph), there was a hesitation to downshift. Other than that, the automatic transmission performed flawlessly. Shifting was crisp and smooth.

The Enclave also comes in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive version, which delivers slightly less fuel economy. For a vehicle this size, the 16/24 city/highway driving EPA is pretty impressive. Many SUVs don?t even get over 20mpg on the highway. If you step up to AWD, your Enclave delivers 16/22 mpg.

The Enclave also features traction and stability control systems in addition to a tire pressure monitoring system and all the typical safety features you expect nowadays: antilock brakes plus front, side and curtain side airbags. Enclave also received five star government safety ratings for both frontal and side crash impacts.

As I mentioned up front, if you?re inclined to steer away from Buick because of past impressions or perceptions, the Enclave is sure to change your thinking. In a crowded field of SUVs, Crossovers and Minivans, the Enclave is not only a breath of fresh air, but it may very well restore your faith in American ingenuity and craftsmanship.

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