The automobile industry is in the midst of a seismic shuffle, a realignment of the vehicle choices available to consumers.
A prominent example is sport utility vehicles. At the genesis of the SUV revelation in the 1990s, they were basically trucks, with body on frame construction and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. In recent years some have shifted into what now are called crossovers, with unit bodies like cars and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Others, like the 2013 Buick Enclave, never were trucks. Yet the five-year-old Enclave and its ilk are gradually taking over the territory as many buyers find that they don't need the towing and off-road capabilities of heavy and thirsty truck-based SUVs.
Among luxury SUVs with three rows of seats, where the Enclave competes, there are only a few truck-based SUVs left: Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX and Lexus LX as the most noteworthy. They're not likely to go away entirely because some buyers need the towing capability and likely are not as sensitive to high fuel prices.
But there are plenty of others for whom a crossover like the Enclave makes sense. It's more stylish than a minivan (though less accommodating), offers the security of optional all-wheel drive, delivers the ambiance of a luxury car, and can carry up to seven passengers, although the three in the grim third-row seat better be small children or munchkin-sized.
The 2013 Enclave, though useful as any three-row crossover, ignores the practical side of the equation in favor of style. There are new front and rear treatments, including light-emitting diode accent lights in front, a redesigned tail, fresh grille and optional 20-inch alloy wheels.
But the emphasis has gone into the interior, which is where the owner/driver lives. The surroundings include sweeping sculpted forms, rich hand-stitched leather and wood grain accents -- all oriented toward what designer Michael Burton calls "a distinctive dwelling place."
The only jarring note in the interior is the cheesecloth-like shades for the dual glass sunroof, which allow sunlight and heat into the interior. Sunroof shades should be opaque.
In keeping with its posh personality, the Enclave delivers solid comfort for four --up front in bucket seats and in the second row in so-called captain's chairs, even though the flat floor would accommodate a third second-row passenger comfortably.
It's probably just as well because the space between the seats provides a pathway to the third row. However, it's not a place where anybody other than exuberant children would want to nest. In that respect, the Enclave is inferior to any minivan.
On the road, the Enclave is competent and comfortable. It is a silent runner, with not many exterior sounds tolerated inside. The 288-horsepower V6 engine, connected to the front or all four wheels through a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, provides adequate power for any traffic circumstance, and the Enclave can tow up to 4,500 pounds.
With an empty weight of nearly two and one-half tons, the all-wheel-drive Enclave is no economy conveyance. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is 16/22/18 miles to the gallon.
Handling is capable, even on curves, although the power steering effort is so effortless, with minimal feedback, that it requires constant driver attention to maintain straight-line tracking on freeways.
As might be expected with a luxury crossover, the Enclave comes with a load of comfort, safety and convenience features. The tested 1SN version had a base price of $46,450, which included such items as leather upholstery, automatic climate control, XM satellite radio and blind-spot warning. It also had cross traffic alert, which warns of an approaching vehicle as you back out of a parking lot space.
With the optional all-wheel drive, navigation, the motorized glass sunroof and the 20-inch wheels, the tested Enclave had a sticker price of $50,895.
Buick Verano: For 2013, the Verano gets an optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine that nearly converts the compact luxury four-door into a sport sedan.
The 2.0-liter turbo delivers 250 horsepower to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission --
a choice that gives it street credibility with enthusiasts. The Buick folks say it can knock off a zero-to-60 miles an hour run in a little more than six seconds.
However, the chassis doesn't quite match the power. The steering is light and the suspension system, as with the non-turbo Verano, tilts toward a quiet luxury car ride. Prices start at $29,990 and the manual gearbox test car had a sticker of $31,085.
Model: 2013 Buick Enclave 1SN AWD four-door crossover utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 288 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Overall length: 16 feet 10 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 151/23 cubic feet. (115, 69)
Weight: 4,922 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/22/18 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $46,450.
Price as tested: $50,895.
(Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6(at)gmail.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. For more columns, go to shns.com.)
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