Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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Nothing says three-row crossover like a long drive you don't really want to make. Which is why it seems appropriate that I'm about to embark on a 600 km drive that will take all day. It's raining, it's 8 am, and visibility is probably less than 500 m. I might not be driving to an early-morning tournament, recital, or practice; but I'm still not exactly thrilled by what will be a very long day behind the wheel. With some cranky passengers who will not be sharing driving duties, but will have to stop to drink, stretch, and fetch. In short, it's the perfect test for the 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir.

This Enclave is as quiet as the silence that follows a bad pun.

An enclave is a territory that is completely surrounded by someone else's territory. An Enclave is a three-row crossover that Buick must want you to think is a beacon in a field of other crossovers. Which is no easy task when it's in one of the most populated segments in the industry. Even under the General Motors umbrella, there are now three other three-row mid-sizers. So it needs to stand out in that crowd as well.

When it comes to long trips, quiet is king. Even if your passengers aren't quiet, the cabin should be. Buick doesn't say what exactly makes up QuietTuning, other than the addition of active noise cancellation to the Avenir, but this Enclave is as quiet as the silence that follows a bad pun. The gentle roar of the winter tires on this 10-degree day is the most prominent sound as I cruise. Hit some sharp bumps and there's a definite thunk from the rear, but that seems to disappear with passengers on board.

Part of that quiet is the nine-speed gearbox. It has some long gears inside, and it's not afraid to use them. It heads for ninth gear like a sprinter for a finish line and once it's there not even the paddle shifters can coax it out. Though that's because the paddles only work after you move the main shifter to L.

On the highway, the Enclave is barely above a cold idle on the tachometer. 1,700 rpm in ninth is enough speed to get you a ticket on any highway in the country. At those low revs, the engine doesn't make much more than a whisper. If you start going up a hill it will grab eighth. Which raises revs only slightly but is enough to power you up most grades.

That low rpm helps with more than just noise. It's a big part of why the Enclave averaged an indicated 9.5 L/100 km during my time with it. And that includes a lot of time spent idling and repositioning for photos. That's a very impressive figure for something this size.

The V6 offers up 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. With all the gears, that's enough to move this big crossover along quite briskly. And while the gearbox longs for ninth, when you get on the gas it has no problem letting the Enclave rev well past 7,000 rpm. Even if you're not in the Sport mode – which changes up the settings on the available variable dampers, and lights up a delightfully ironic checkered flag icon on the instrument cluster.

The engine has auto-stop/start for when you're not moving, and sounds refined with a pleasant snarl when it gets to the top of the rev range. But my tester had a noticeable shudder when accelerating from around 25 km/h through to about 40, regardless of the gear selection.

With Avenir comes a trick dual-clutch all-wheel drive system that can vector torque front-to-rear and side-to-side at the back to improve grip and cornering. You can turn it off to save fuel and drive just the front axle, or leave it on to let the computer decide where power is going.

Add that to the Avenir's available variable dampers and you get a crossover that handles surprisingly well. It's maybe not as sharp as the Mazda CX-9, the driver's choice in the segment, but it's not far off. Combine that with steering that's just the right amount of firm and you get something that's more fun to drive than I had expected. It certainly is miles ahead of its Chevrolet Traverse sibling when the road is windy. Those dampers make sure that it's still a Buick-plush ride on the highway or any other flat road and does an impressive job of soaking up the massive road craters of mid-March.

Up front, the Enclave offers massive space for drivers of just about any size. It's one of very few vehicles in any class where I can move the seat up instead of having it flat on the floor, and that's even with a sunroof. The dashboard is well laid out with the 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment offering two easy-access USB ports. My ride had all of the usual suspect active safety features like lane change alerts rear cross traffic alerts, park assist, and low-speed automatic emergency braking. Plus the tech pack that added radar cruise to go with the variable dampers.

Chestnut-coloured leather on the seats and dashboard add a warm and inviting look to the inside of the Avenir. It's like settling down into an old and well-worn chair. Though no easy chair ever offered heat and ventilation. Everything around you is soft-touch, except for the wood trim, and I enjoy the simplicity of the layout and design. The heated steering wheel turns on automatically, which is new this year, but it's a little enthusiastic. I don't need my fingers warmed when it's 10 degrees above zero. Especially since the sun-drenched cabin is already warmer than that. The turn signal and wiper stalks, though, are let downs. They feel straight out of a model 10 years older in operation and appearance. If you're looking for storage, don't be deceived by the flat-looking console. There's a massive stowage space underneath, a large one under the armrest, and even more space in large door pockets.

The middle seats in the Enclave are captain's chairs only. Which means that if you need to fit seven people, three of them had better be slim, because they're sharing the third-row bench. The second row offers plenty of leg and headroom, and while the third row is going to be cramped for anyone over six feet, the middle seats can slide fore and aft to help balance out knee space. At least getting back there is easy, with a passenger side seat that can fold forward (even with a child seat in place) and well out of the way.

Separate middle-row seats are more comfortable, but they do have an impact. With a crossover this big, you're probably planning to use the space not just for passengers, but for cargo too. The big hole in the flat floor that's left with all the seats down could be a problem depending on what you're hauling. To tell you where to open up the hands-free tailgate, Buick projects a tri-shield logo on the ground. It lights up when you approach the Enclave like some sort of cargo-space Bat Signal. By letting you know exactly where to kick, it makes a feature that's often frustrating far more usable.

With a maximum of 2,764 L of cargo space, you can haul a whole lot of stuff, too. But despite the power-folding rear seats, stowing that row is a bit of a pain. With the second row all the way back, the third-row headrests hit the back of the second-row seats. So to fold them flat, first you need to move row two forward. With the captain's chairs, that means walking around to both sides. Then you can fold the third row. Once that's done, the middle two seats will slide most of the way back. This seems like a big oversight, but I couldn't find a workaround to simplify the process.

Buick has done a good job setting this Avenir apart from lesser Enclaves. The chestnut leather and contrast piping give it a suitably upscale look inside. On the outside, the pearl nickel finishes and mesh grille upgrade what's already a handsome shape. But I probably wouldn't pick this particular white paint that, along with the crossover's curves, just begs for comparisons with a certain large water-dwelling mammal.

So about that 600 km, 10-hour road trip. The fog and rain let up at the perfect time to give me a great photo opportunity. And they stayed away for the rest of the day. For the first half of the drive, the Enclave Avenir helped make a miserable drive a little more pleasant by being quiet, staying comfortable, and sipping fuel. On the way home, it wasn't exactly a corner-carver, but it was happy enough with my slightly more enthusiastic backroad driving.

And in a big family hauler like this, that's a pretty great combination. Making drives you don't want to make surprisingly pleasant. In a sea of midsize crossovers, that stands out.

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Peak Torque 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.8/9.5/11.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 688 / 1,643 / 2,764 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
Model Tested 2019 Buick Enclave Avenir
Base Price $62,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $67,320
Optional Equipment
$3,325 – Avenir Technology Package $2,475; White Frost Tricoat $700; Block Heater $150