2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave; photo courtesy General Motors. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Andrew McCredie

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Second opinion: Chris Chase

North Vancouver, British Columbia – It’s been a good news-bad news kind of month for the Buick Enclave. The good news is that the highly anticipated luxury crossover vehicle finally rolled into Canadian dealerships this month, and sales have been brisk. The bad news is that Tiger Woods is a new dad.

The best golfer on the planet has been a worth-every-million spokesperson for Buick since 1999, and at the recent U.S. Open, the word ‘Enclave’ was written in large letters on Woods’ golf bag. A first-year marketing student could tell you the ‘eyeball value’ of that inside-the-ropes product placement, and with Woods in the final pairing on Sunday and in the hunt right up to the 72nd hole, that value was enormous for the new model. And so would it have been at this weekend’s Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Michigan, where two-time winner Woods is defending champ. But along came Sam Alexis Woods, and the first-time dad did the expected and withdrew from the tournament.

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

That move might well qualify Woods for father-of-the-year honours, but it was a tough pill to swallow at GM Headquarters in Detroit, just 75 kilometres northwest of Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, the site of the Buick Open.

And there’s no guarantee the Buick Enclave will appear on Woods’ bag when he returns to the PGA tour, as GM announced, just days after the birth, that Woods’ primary spokesperson role for the automaker will now be on the OnStar marketing campaign and no longer with Buick. “We want the message on Buick to be about Buick,” said a GM senior marketing exec in a press release. (Note to first-year marketing students: there will be an opening for a senior marketing exec at GM within six months).

That’s all too bad as the 2008 Enclave is the ideal vehicle for a growing family that spends more time at the country club than the country store. Surely one of the most luxurious Buicks ever conceived and produced, the Enclave is an immediate threat in the ever-evolving Crossover Vehicle category. Direct domestic competitors are the Chrysler Pacifica and the Cadillac SRX, while formidable import challengers include the Acura MDX Lexus RX350, the Audi Q7, the Subaru Tribeca and the Volvo XC90.

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

Thanks to a bevy of creature comforts, a powerful-yet-refined V6 engine and an overall design befitting a top contender, the Enclave seems up to the challenge.

The success of the Enclave, which is designed to replace the Rendezvous, the Rainier and the Terraza minivan, may be due to the fact that its designers were given a relatively clean slate, and a Cadillac-esque price point, to get the job done.

With a very un-Buick like base price north of $40K, the Enclave looks, feels and performs like a state-of-the-art luxury SUV, yet has a distinct personality all its own.

Powered by a solid 3.6-litre V6 powerplant producing 275 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission – a first for a Buick – the Enclave is available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations and in two model trims, CX and CXL. Official fuel economy numbers for FWD models are City: 14.7 L/100km (19 mpg) and Hwy: 9.8 L/100km (29 mpg).

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

The base front-wheel drive CX model starts at $40,895, while a loaded AWD CXL is a few C-notes over $60,000. My tester was just such a model, and while it took some time to get my brain around a Buick with a $60,750 sticker price, it took mere minutes of seat time to be impressed by this new full-size vehicle.

Too often in the past few years, new models from U.S.-based automakers have fallen short of the mark, not so much for production quality but for ill-conceived design-maybe that’s too harsh: not ill-conceived, but rudimentary design. Rather than borrowing some of the better features from the competition, or perhaps even improving on it, Big Three designers would take the easy (read: cheap) way out.
Not so with the Enclave.

The CXL I drove was loaded with all kinds of technical goodies, including DVD navigation, steerable headlamps, remote start, rear-view camera, power rear liftgate, ultrasonic parking assist, OnStar and a three-month subscription to XM Satellite Radio. Speaking of radios, the 10-speaker advanced Bose surround sound system is nothing short of mind blowing with such desired features as speed-compensated volume, auto-tone control and MP3 compatibility.

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

Aiding the aural pleasure of the first-class Bose stereo is Buick’s “Quiet Tuning” system, a noise-dampening process that includes triple door seals, injected acoustic foam insulation and specially designed steel panels.

Based on GM’s Lambda platform, the three-row seating architecture shared with the GMC Acadia and the Saturn Outlook, the Enclave is available as standard seven-seater or optional eight-seater. In the seven-seat configuration, access to the third row is made much easier by the second-row SmartSlide captains seats, which fold up and slide forward to create a large passage to the back seats.

Those back seats are a welcome addition to the Enclave. Many competitors in this class treat their third-rows as an afterthought, with pretzel-like ingress and egress access and a real sense of detachment from the front two rows. Third row passengers in the Enclave are treated to their own air conditioning controls, their own audio controls and, in the seven-passenger model at least, a sense of being connected to the rest of the cabin. That’s important on longer trips.

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

And with the optional two-panel sunroof ($1,685), those back seats are a pretty pleasant place to sit. Thanks to computerized stability control, traction control, four-wheel independent suspension and 19-inch wheels, the ride back there is also enjoyable, with little of those third-row, motion sickness blues.

Safety features are numerous and include four-wheel anti-lock brakes, driver and front dual stage airbags and side impact air bags, first, second and third row curtain air backs, child security rear door locks and height adjustable front row seat belts.

The exterior of the Enclave, at least in profile, is reminiscent of a few vehicles in the luxury crossover category – check out that third side window – but Buick designers must be complemented for making a somewhat distinct looking CUV from the front and back (who doesn’t like the look of two chrome tailpipes?).

2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD
2008 Buick Enclave. Click image to enlarge

The big HID projector headlamps with blue tint lenses flow nicely into the front-end design, and the Buick grille is integrated nicely into the nose. I could do without the fake, and plastic, hood vents, though.
Likewise, the fuel consumption and sheer girth of the Enclave are turn offs.

Considering the ever-increasing number of new models charging into the luxury crossover vehicle, though, many Canadian consumers are trading in their big SUVs for CUVs.

Fortunately for Buick and parent GM, it won’t need Tiger Woods to sell the merits of the 2008 Enclave.

It should sell itself.

Pricing: 2008 Buick Enclave CXL AWD


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