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2018 Buick Enclave Avenir first drive: Silence please

The Buick Avenir is finally here, but it’s not the slick, Columbia-blue concept sedan we saw at the Detroit auto show a few years back. Instead, it’s the top trim/sub-brand in the second-generation seven-passenger Buick Enclave crossover SUV. Think of Avenir as Buick’s version of GMC’s Denali trim level.

Changes to Buick’s biggest SUV start with looks. Designers snagged most of the cues from the Detroit concept for the new Avenir including the scoopy, five-sided grille and multilens headlights. The Avenir SUV ditches the chrome vertical bars for a black crosshatch mesh. New fog lamps sit underneath with a character line in between. The previous Enclave was already a handsome machine; this new front end keeps that handsomeness but adds a little edge.

In back, it’s the same thing: sleeker, more modern, sharper cuts and a chrome piece running the width between the super complicated taillights. Everything about this car looks upscale and current, even if there’s one thing I personally cannot get behind: the floating roof. Designers would probably say it makes the car look longer or lower or something, but it just dirties up the side and rear three-quarter look. Everyone is doing it now, from Aston Martin to Nissan and Chevy; still, it just doesn’t look right to me. I can’t be alone in this. Am I?

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir interior

The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir comes with a chestnut and ebony interior.

Thankfully the styling trick doesn’t ruin the profile, which is a little bit lower than the outgoing model. The new Enclave has a longer wheelbase, too, plus more space for cargo and people’s heads, especially in the third row. Buick claims 90 percent of previous Enclave buyers opted for seven-passenger seating, so that’s the only way the new model comes. The second row has a step through in the middle, as well as a right seat that flips forward for better access, even with a car seat installed. Buick made sure we spent a little bit of time in the way back, and there’s enough headroom for a helmet on an average man. Not sure why you’d need one, but there’s room. If you don’t need that third row, the second-row captain’s chairs slide fore and aft.

The only engine choice is a 310-hp, 266-lb-ft 3.6-liter V6 with GM’s much-maligned (by me) nine-speed automatic transmission. Buick uses a different shifting program than Chevy’s Traverse, and it feels much better, but we’ll get back to that. Towing is up to 5,000 pounds, from 4,500.

The Enclave is also offered with the company’s first switchable all-wheel-drive system. It uses a twin-clutch rear differential for distributing power and a button on the dash to activate. That’s good for a city mileage rating of 17 mpg and a highway rating of 25, in a three-row V6 crossover. Front-wheel drive is the only option on the base model; the rest can go either way, with AWD setting you back an additional $2,300 on the Avenir, $2,000 on the Essence model.

The Execution

Buick is the second best-selling brand worldwide in GM’s portfolio and the fourth most sold brand in China, says Buick marketing director Sam Russell. That gives the company a little more freedom to move and design — and a decent amount of cash flow, to boot. It points at Acura, Lincoln and Infiniti as its main, mid-luxe competitors.

All Avenirs get a library-like chestnut and ebony interior with seats that are probably second to Lexus in terms of comfort. Among the cool touches are accent pieces in the dash that begin in piano black in the center and fade to woodgrain at the outside. Otherwise, the center stack is simple, with Buick even admitting that its drivers are maybe not as technologically savvy as some younger folks might be — hence there are three big buttons on each side of the central screen. That’s where Buick keeps the AWD, traction control, parking sensor and lane departure and hazard buttons. It’s also where the trailer/tow mode button is located, which will eventually become a sport or drive mode button in the coming years. The Enclave does have charge ports and USBs at seating positions all the way back. Take that, you whippersnappers!

The Enclave is quiet — like noise-canceling quiet — which makes sense because it has just such a system. But even before the V6 fires up — and with it the electrical and noise-canceling system — the SUV is an oversize cocoon wrapped with wool blankets and that sound-deadening eggcrate stuff. It makes you feel like your ears are clogged.


2018 Chevrolet Traverse first drive

The V6 is muffled, muted even, on startup. Buick says it’s using new sound-deadening material in the firewall and other places that is thinner, lighter and works better than the last stuff. Even at full tilt, 7,000 rpm or so, it makes more of a deep, quiet growl than a raucous wail. But it’s no sleeper.

The Enclave now does the 0-60 sprint in 6.4 seconds as opposed to 7.4, and it really never felt strained during my drive through the North Carolina mountains and hills. Throttle tip-in, and along with it, the stop/start system restart, is smooth. Where some cars jump forward when the engine kicks back on, the Buick will stay still, even if you’re not planted hard on the sturdy left pedal.

The company shaved 350 pounds off the three-row for 2018, mostly using high-strength steel and alloys. That combined with the tip-in, brake feel and quicker than expected steering ratio make this SUV feel lighter than its final curb weight of 4,358 pounds.

Unlike the Chevy Traverse, the Enclave’s nine-speed automatic seems tuned right for the 3.6-liter. It doesn’t do any extra shifting, and it’s not set for efficiency above all else. When you need a few downshifts, you can get them, and when you just add a little throttle input, the car just speeds up.

MacPherson struts with hydraulic bushings keep the front wheels planted, with a five-link independent suspension in back. Avenirs get Buick’s fancy continuously variable real-time damping setup, which automatically adjusts stiffness based on road conditions. Sport mode tightens everything down a bit and keeps body roll to a surprising minimum on twisty switchbacks. The steering tightens up as well, but even in normal mode, it’s not super-luxe, featherweight like some of the body-on-frame full-size SUVs on the market.

When equipped with the tech package, the lower-trim Enclaves, and all Avenirs, get adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, a very unobtrusive lane keeping system, 360-degree camera and 17 sensors to keep it all working together. Upper-level cars also get GM’s rearview camera mirror, which gives a wider angle and clearer view of what’s behind than a traditional mirror.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir gear selector

The new gearshift in the Enclave looks tech forward, but feels a little chintzy.

The Takeaway

There’s not a ton of excitement in the mid-luxe, three-row crossover market at the moment, and Buick can capitalize on that. Infiniti is working its way through some growing pains and Acura’s MDX, as good as it is, isn’t very captivating. As far as curb appeal goes, the Enclave outclasses them all.

The volume trim — Essence as Buick calls it — starts at $45,585, including destination. The Avenir’s base price is $54,390 and that’s before all-wheel drive. Our test model was just under $60K. Pricey, yes, but it’s one of, if not the, quietest three-row utilities on the market, and it has to be the best looking in its class. The third row is also one of the roomiest we’ve ever been in, including full-size competitors like the Navigator and Suburban. If you’re looking to spend between $40K and $60K to haul the family, it’s a must test-drive.


Jake Lingeman


Jake Lingeman

– Jake Lingeman is Road Test Editor at Autoweek, reviewing cars, reporting on car news, car tech and the world at large.

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On Sale: Now

Base Price: $55,715

Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V6, AWD, nine-speed automatic

Output: 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm; 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 4,358

Fuel Economy: 17/25/20(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Great looks, utterly silent; third row usable by adults

Cons: Plasticky shifter, slow infotainment; expensive

Article source: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/2018-buick-enclave-avenir-first-drive-quiet-kept

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