Even with smaller vehicles popping up like ants at a picnic, the full-size Enclave wagon remains Buick's best-selling North American model. And it's likely to stay that way with the arrival of the improved 2013 edition.
The Enclave was introduced for the 2008 model year and has proven a key pillar supporting Buick's rebirth. It shares basic ingredients with the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, but a superior level of luxury content places it at the upper end of the affordability scale where it competes with the Acura MDX, Infiniti JX and even the Chevrolet Tahoe. That old-school body-on-frame sport utility vehicle closely approximates the Enclave in size, if not in attitude, but can't touch it for fuel economy and roominess, or for the way it coddles and protects its passengers.
The 2013 Enclave retains all of its inherent strengths, but refines the experience for new and returning customers (four out of 10, says Buick).
The "waterfall" grille is bigger and its vertical slats are displayed more prominently. Buick's designers reshaped the hood and fenders, added chrome body side trim and installed new high-intensity xenon headlights and LED (Light Emitting Diode) tail lamps. The result is a bolder and more recognizable appearance that's more in keeping with the rest of Buick's steadily expanding lineup.
The Enclave's well-appointed cabin also receives a spruce-up, including a revised control panel and a new 6.5-inch (diagonal) touch-screen display for operating the infotainment, rearview camera and optional navigation systems.
As before, second-row seating can be ordered as a bench seat or in twin-chair configuration. Buick also brags that its three-abreast third row offers more legroom and greater cargo space than any of its major competitors and access to both by way of a sliding second-row seat is among the easiest.
Getting under way involves the usual 3.6-liter V6 that puts out 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission has had its electronic shift mapping updated for smoother operation.
The engine's output is decent, but it needs all of its horses to propel the Enclave's nearly 5,000-pound curb weight with any authority and to tow up to 4,500 pounds of trailer weight.
Also altered is the Enclave's suspension that gets new shocks and springs designed for improved ride and better control over bumps.
Along with its Chevrolet and GMC relations, the Enclave arrives standard with a unique front-center airbag. This inflatable safety device, which deploys from the right-hand side of the driver's seatback, protects the upper body (head and thorax) regions of both front-seat passengers in the event of a side-impact collision. It will remain extended for a longer period of time, compared to the front and side airbags, in the event of a secondary impact or rollover.
For all-weather driving conditions, the Enclave can be equipped with all-wheel-drive (AWD) that constantly monitors road conditions and seamlessly directs torque to the tires with the most traction when slippage is detected. AWD isn't too expensive an option and only slightly increases fuel consumption (16-mpg city and 22 highway versus 17/24 for front-wheel-drive models).
Being luxury-focused, the base $39,350 Enclave Convenience model arrives loaded up with tri-zone climate control, backup camera, eight-way-powered driver's seat and two-way-powered passenger seat and a power liftgate.
Stepping up to the Leather model adds, of course, perforated leather seats, eight-way power-adjustable and heated front chairs and backup/cross-traffic warning, while the top-level Premium has heated and cooled front seats, 10-speaker Bose sound package and articulating headlights. About the only things to tack on to the Premium are 20-inch wheels (19-inchers are standard) and a navigation system.
Clearly the Enclave has withstood the test of time to become a world-class wagon that has assisted in positioning Buick firmly in the upscale driver's seat. Even in a world that's getting noticeably smaller.
What you should know: 2013 Buick Enclave
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive full-size wagon
Engine (hp): 3.6-liter DOHC V6 (288)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Since its inception, the Enclave became the backbone of GM's Buick division. It's one of the more popular luxury tall wagons around and one of the most advanced in terms of comfort, safety and fuel economy.
Points: Styling makeover keeps Enclave looking good; Given its heft, a bit more horsepower would have been a good thing; Interior styling updated, but the thin, flat steering wheel is still there; Suspension updates are subtle; Look for the center airbag to proliferate to other models; Great value in the world of luxury tall wagons.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-center airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 17/24 (FWD)
Base price (incl. destination) $39,350
Base price: $44,200
Popular AWD wagon due for 2014 model-year replacement.
Base price: $41,400
New-for-2013 car-based wagon combines luxury with solid fuel economy.