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Buick Enclave introduces four-way three-row test

Thousands of miles, four long trips, four long crossover/SUVs. The 2019 Buick Enclave had easy duty around typical Pennsylvania stomping grounds, but will compete with the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia, and finally the 2020 Kia Telluride for best in class.

The 2019 Buick Enclave holds over from 2018, with its rather egg-shaped exterior.
The 2019 Buick Enclave holds over from 2018, with its rather egg-shaped exterior.Read moreBuick

2019 Buick Enclave Premium vs. 2019 Ford Expedition vs. 2019 Toyota Sequoia vs. 2020 Kia Telluride: When you need some space.

This week: 2019 Buick Enclave Premium AWD 1SN.

Price: $55,735 as tested. The Experience Buick Package added 20-inch wheels, dual moon roof and trailering package for $3,250; the Havana metallic paint added $395; one more below.

Marketer’s pitch: “Tomorrow’s SUV for today’s family.”

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds likes the “generous room for passengers in all three rows, quiet and smooth ride quality, and plenty of standard features,” but not that “some advanced safety features only available on the top trim level.”

Reality: Smooth yet unsatisfying.

The test: Sometimes you just need space and towing ability. I had the chance to test large three-row SUVs over a few different long trips, and here’s the report back from the land of roominess and height.

What’s new: The model is pretty much a carryover from 2018, but now with a Preferred front-wheel-drive model.

Up to speed: The 3.6-liter V-6 engine creates 310 horsepower, which sounds generous, but only 266 pound-feet of torque. Buyers of an Enclave may not be looking for hard acceleration, and they shouldn’t be. Not only was the 0-60 a rather slow 7 seconds, according to Edmunds, but passing could be a sluggish prospect, as well.

Shifty: The culprit in the passing could very well be the nine-speed automatic transmission. I don’t think it hunted hard enough for lower gears.

The lever follows BMW’s fancy stalk — tap it forward and to the left for reverse and pull back for drive or lower gears. It toggles through the two settings and small paddles on the steering wheel allow for shifting up and down. Sounds complicated, right? It is.

On the road: Handling could best be described as lackluster, even among three-row crossovers. It just kind of rolls from bend to bend. Try not to expect fun, and you won’t be disappointed.

Many large crossovers feel the same way, but a sport mode irons out the sway; no sport mode in the Enclave allows the handling to avoid fun at all costs, but engaging all-wheel drive does improve steering response a bit.

Bumps are smoothed out, though, which Buick buyers may appreciate even more.

Driver’s Seat: The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat dubbed her accommodations quite nice, but I found them a little wanting. A bump in the lumbar area seemed to protrude unevenly, and I found myself feeling a little stiff after a two-hour ride to visit Sturgis Grandma 1.0.

Gauges are fairly indifferent, with tiny type that can be hard to read on the speedometer, tachometer and fuel level. The trip information in the center was clear and easy to scroll through.

Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers will be treated to heated second-row seats.

Captain’s chairs in the middle row make accessing the back much easier. The rear row is not bad. It’s snug and the seat is on the small side, but foot room, knee room and legroom are pretty solid for a third row in a crossover. Headroom is a little snug.

Long, tall Sturgis Kid 4.0 found the middle row roomy and comfortable.

Cargo space is 23.6 cubic feet behind the third row and 97.6 with second and third rows folded.

The Enclave tows up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped.

Play some tunes: The Buick Infotainment system ($495) provided nice ease of use through an 8-inch touchscreen. A volume knob in the center rests between arrows to flip up or down the dial.

The screen feels a long distance from the driver and actually is tilted toward the passenger side a tad.

Sound quality is OK, about a B. No goose bumps from any of my favorite songs, and adjustments don’t offer much help.

Keeping warm and cool: Heated and ventilated front seats made the ride nice as temperatures heated up, although I’m not feeling much ventilation from the Enclave seat. The HVAC seemed to run hot and cold until I switched it to auto mode. The blowers are a little overdesigned and hard to direct and control.

Hesitation: I could sense some low-speed putt-putting when the Enclave was cold. More distressing, though, were a few sudden lurches in stop-and-go driving after the vehicle was well-warmed. This came and went, but as a buyer I’d still be peeved.

Fuel economy: I averaged 21 mpg in highway-heavy ride around eastern Pennsylvania, tied for tops among our group. Feed the Enclave whatever.

Where it’s built: Lansing, Mich.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Enclave a predicted reliability of 1 out of 5, which it also got in 2018, after a couple better years.

Next week: 2019 Ford Expedition.