Expert Reviews

2022 Buick Enclave Essence Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

Despite all the unpleasantries associated with aging – chiropractor visits, reading glasses, and hearing aids, for example – there are some pluses, too.

For instance, maturity can make us more practical, eschewing the trivialities of fashion for a greater appreciation of sensible attire. Cargo shorts and white New Balance sneakers are useful and comfortable, oozing the same sort of sensibility that helps one appreciate the 2022 Buick Enclave. It’s a machine that’s not going to earn a coveted spot beside the valet stand, but it’s practical, and does exactly what’s expected of it. Finished in entry-level Essence trim, it also manages to remain simple yet stuffed with features.

Styling: 7/10

Refreshed for 2022, the Enclave has updated front and rear bumpers, plus a new headlight design, giving the big Buick a slightly fresher facade. Interestingly, those bright, swept-back parts that look like headlights are just decorative plastic with thin strips of LED lighting; the real headlights are lower down at bumper level, mistaken by most for fog lights.

The rear end features a similar treatment, with a thick chrome strip connecting the two taillights. This Essence tester was equipped with the Sport Touring package that features partly-painted wheels and a black mesh grille to replace the usual brightwork, but there’s still an awful lot of chrome trim here. Still, when most competitors have monotone black-out style packages, a little extra chrome can go a long way. Not unlike the formality of tucking in one’s golf shirt with a pair of khakis, Buick likes to show a little class.

Overall, the Enclave is a handsome offering in a category that’s full of either bland or blocky-looking machines, and with its black paint, there’s a cool elegance to it. However, the orange peel in the finish of this particular Enclave was surprising – especially since the metallic hue is an extra-cost option.

The Enclave’s interior doesn’t appear flashy or contemporary, but that’s also likely to appeal to those who appreciate its classic design. Buttons are where you’d expect them and the gauges are a traditional analogue style. There are some interior materials and trim pieces that look and feel cheap, and the very dark charcoal grey plastic is so close in shade to the black plastic that there’s no contrast, looking more like a mistake than a deliberate design choice.

Features: 7.5/10

The Essence trim is the entry point to the Enclave lineup, but it feels far from entry-level in its equipment offerings. Standard heated front seats and steering wheel and leather trim throughout are nice touches, and there’s also onboard navigation, an upgraded audio system, and a dual panel power sunroof, though costs were clearly cut by making only the back portion’s sunshade power actuated. Second-row captain’s chairs, plus three-zone climate control and six different USB charge ports, ensure passengers beyond the front row are well-treated, too.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Even though the Enclave has received some updates for 2022, the layout of its controls still feel like they’re aging, albeit gracefully. Too many automotive designers strive for slick cockpit designs at the expense of functionality. The Enclave’s eight-inch touchscreen is small compared to those spanning 10- or even 12 inches or more these days. The trouble is, those large screens often supplant physical buttons for many controls, requiring frustratingly complex, multi-step operation of what should be simple tasks.

By comparison, Buick’s system is refreshingly simple. Navigating through the menus is straightforward, and an owner won’t need to study the manual to figure out how to warm up the interior or switch on the seat heaters. For 2022, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity has been added, as well as wireless charging; and while oftentimes the lack of hard-wiring into the system can result in slow responses or glitching, the Enclave’s system operated smoothly.

Buick has also updated the gear selector, but in a backwards step, has replaced the lever from last year’s Enclave with a series of fiddly push-or-pull switches for P-N-R-D. The rearview mirror also doubles as a screen that portrays an unobstructed view of what’s behind the car that, in theory, makes good sense, but in reality is difficult to focus on at a glance.

Comfort: 7.5/10

Sensibly, the Enclave has been designed more for comfort than outright performance, and as a result, the suspension has been tuned to soak up road imperfections with good success. The cabin is spacious and airy, and the second-row seats can not only recline, but slide fore and aft, giving sufficient legroom to those in the third row when needed.

The Enclave has a smooth ride and significant sound deadening, making it a particularly smart choice for long highway trips for the whole family, with separate rear climate controls enabling all passengers to find a comfortable temperature, too.

Practicality: 9/10

Front- and second-row occupants are afforded abundant head-, shoulder-, and legroom, and while the third row offers seatbelts for three across and more space than is found in the Kia Telluride or Toyota Highlander, it’d be snug for a trio of grown-ups to sit back there for anything other than a quick trip.

Instead, it’s better to keep the third row folded flat and take advantage of the Enclave’s colossal cargo space that’ll allow a family of four (and their dog) to over-pack and still find room for everything. Even with the third-row seats up, there’s an impressive 668 L of volume available, and with both middle and rear rows folded flat that total grows to a whopping 2,758 L. The Enclave loses some practicality points for the weight and awkwardness of collapsing or raising those rear seats, though.

Fitted with the optional tow package, the Enclave is rated to haul up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) and includes heavy-duty engine cooling and a clever hitch-view feature for the back-up camera.

Safety: 8/10

The Enclave comes with a generous list of standard safety features that starts with seven airbags, as well as blind spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist, plus rear traffic detection and automated braking. When optioned with adaptive cruise control, the Enclave also receives an enhanced automated braking system, plus a 3D camera view around the vehicle when parking.

Buick has added a standard rear seat monitoring system, and a Teen Driver mode that lets parents set various parameters (like speed or volume limits) associated with one of the key fobs, and track the driving habits of those using that key.

Power: 7.5/10

With 310 hp, the Buick’s 3.6L V6 rates among the most powerful in its class. It’s a class that overwhelmingly favours V6s of a similar size, with most of them putting out between 270 and 290 hp, and torque figures around the 260–270 lb-ft range, like the Enclave’s 266.

It’s enough power to get the big Buick up and cruising quickly, but many motorists have grown to enjoy the immediacy and low-end responsiveness of smaller turbocharged engines these days, against which the normally aspirated Buick V6 feels somewhat sluggish pulling away from a standstill.

Once up to speed, it’s a smooth engine that cruises beautifully on the highway, and offers ample passing power, and, for the most part, the nine-speed automatic transmission does its thing seamlessly, too.

Fuel Economy: 6.5/10

At 2,072 kg (4,568 lb), the Enclave is among the heavier cruisers in its class, which contributes to a fuel consumption level that’s thirstier than most of its rivals. Its city rating of 13.6 L/100 km is particularly high in the class, but it’s competitive with most on the highway at 9.6 L/100 km. The Buick’s overall combined rate of 11.8 L/100 km is 1.5 L more than a V6-powered Toyota Highlander or the Ford Explorer and its turbocharged four-cylinder. Fortunately, the Enclave only requests regular unleaded fuel, and with a class-leading 83-L fuel tank, it has good range between fills.

Driving Feel: 7/10

The Enclave drives much like most of the other three-row SUVs in the class. It’s a big and tall vehicle that isn’t meant for tearing up the race track. But for hauling the family around or cruising the highways, the Buick is well-suited to the task, offering decent road manners and a supple (yet controlled) ride.

All Canadian Enclaves come with all-wheel drive, and while the upper trim models previously had a more advanced dual-clutch system that could apportion power on the fly, the 2022 models default to front-wheel drive but can activate the rear drive wheels at the push of a button on the dash. It’s a system that seems archaic compared to other systems that do these switches automatically and as needed.

Value: 7/10

Starting at just over $50,000, the Enclave Essence is highly competitive in the mainstream three-row SUV class, but then all the major players are priced within a thousand or two of this, depending on the trim specified. Still, a similarly equipped Highlander Limited or award-winning Kia Telluride undercut the Buick by a couple of grand, and arguably offer as much practicality, refinement, and features, plus more contemporary designs.

The Verdict

With a brand that still tends to appeal to an older demographic, many younger buyers shopping the three-row SUV segment may not have Buick on their radar. The 2022 Enclave Essence offers solid value and decent usability, making it at least worthy of a look. And for buyers simply wanting an SUV with classic styling and controls that don’t require a computer engineering degree, Buick’s Enclave may just be the top choice.

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Peak Torque 266 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.6 / 9.6 / 11.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 668 / 1,634 / 2,758 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
Model Tested 2022 Buick Enclave Essence
Base Price $50,098
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,900
Price as Tested $58,588
Optional Equipment
$6,490 – Ebony Twilight metallic paint, $495; Sport Touring Edition, $1,495; Experience Buick Package, $2,905; Adaptive Cruise / Surround Vision Package, $1,595