The Buick Enclave, the best-selling, seven-seat, premium- or luxury-branded sport utility vehicle in the United States, is refreshed for 2013 with updated front, rear and interior styling and a more controlled, smooth ride.
The 2013 Enclave also features the auto industry's first front-seat center air bag. With it, the Enclave received the top overall rating of five-out-of-five stars from the federal government for passenger protection in frontal and side crashes.
Another highlight: The Enclave's 115.2 cubic feet of cargo space is huge compared with competitors such as the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.
The Enclave also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, which notes the Enclave's reliability has improved to average.
Still, keeping the same V-6 that was in last year's Enclave, the 2013 Enclave remains at the lower end in fuel economy among crossover SUVs, which are those built on car-based, rather than truck, platforms.
The highest federal government fuel economy rating for a 2013 Enclave is 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway.
So, the expected city/highway average range on a tank of gasoline, per the federal government, is not quite 400 miles.
Starting retail price is $39,340 for a base, front-wheel drive, 2013 Enclave with cloth-covered seats and no sunroof. The lowest starting retail price for a 2013 Enclave with all-wheel drive is $45,355, and leather-trimmed seats are included with every all-wheel drive Enclave.
All Enclaves come with a rearview camera to help drivers see what's behind them as they back up and a power liftgate, among other things.
There is one engine in the Enclave — a naturally aspirated, 288-horsepower, double overhead cam, direct-injection V-6 — and it's mated to a six-speed automatic.
Some competitors offer more power.
The 2013 Acura MDX, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $44,175, has a 300-horsepower V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. All MDX models come standard with all-wheel drive, leather seat trim, rearview camera, power liftgate, heated front seats and moonroof, anong other things.
Another competitor, the 2013 Volvo XC90, has a starting retail price of $40,595 as a front-wheel drive model with 240-horsepower, inline six cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic. Standard on every XC90 are leather-trimmed seats and a moonroof, among other things.
Sales of 56,703 Enclaves in calendar 2012 were down from 58,392 the year-earlier. But the sales still topped the 50,584 sales in 2012 of the MDX.
The 2013 Enclave is just the second generation model, coming after the original Enclave debuted in 2007. The 2013 Enclave retains plenty of familiarity with the first generation.
As an example, while the new lights in front and back are light-emitting diodes that add interest and flair, the Enclave has the same basic shape it always had. The hood looks higher, and the grille is bigger and more showy, but there's no mistaking the Enclave for something else.
Inside, the Enclave feels updated but not foreign. The blinkers still click with an old-fashioned, metallic sound, and the gear shifter in the center console has a retro look.
But new materials and stitching that extends across the top of the dashboard and onto the top ledges of the inside doors impart a rich interior, and soft-touch plastics are evident. Even the different dark brown interior leather trim called cocoa was unexpectedly pretty in the test Enclave. This color is new for 2013.
Adding an upscale and modern feel was the attractive, new, blue ambient lighting that outlined the interior doors in a classy way.
Two windows in the ceiling — one a working moonroof above the front seats and the other a skylight above the second row — gave an airy, open feel. They were a $1,400 option even on the test Enclave, which was a top-of-the-line, all-wheel drive model with the Premium Group of added equipment.
The Enclave looked substantial and rode with heft. Stretching nearly 17 feet long from bumper to bumper, the Enclave tucked closely into a residential garage.
Riding on shiny, 19-inch wheels, the new Enclave retained the smooth and mostly quiet ride that Enclaves are known for.
But the handling seemed a bit tightened from the first generation. It's not enough of a change to say the Enclave has a performance feel, but there's not as much of a pillowy, cushioned ride, either.
Buick officials say the independent, MacPherson strut front suspension now has a direct-acting stabilizer bar. There also are new dampers and springs in front to reduce the heavy feel that can come from large wheels at the corners.
The Enclave is truly functional. Opening the liftgate and putting down the back two rows of seats gave enormous cargo room and a flat floor that came in handy for trips to the home improvement stores.
Seats went down and up easily, with accessible levers and straps to control the up and down motions.
Speaking of levers, the Enclave has nearly invisible levers at the outer side of each of the second-row captain's chairs that allow these seats to move fore and aft on their tracks to adjust legroom between second- and third rows.
Another mechanism moves the second-row seats up and out of the way to provide decent access to the third row.
The 33.2 inches of third-row legroom is generous, given the 29.1 inches in the back of the MDX.
The test Enclave's engine and transmission were OK, but gear shifts were noticeable and there was engine whine at times.
Torque peaks at 270 foot-pounds at 3,400 rpm, and acceleration was not instantaneous.
The test Enclave averaged just 14.5 mpg.