Road Test: It's clear why Buick Enclave's so popular

The 2010 Buick Enclave CXL

The 2010 Buick Enclave CXL (Credit: Wieck Media Services)

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Buick dealers had something to celebrate in January besides the arrival of a new year: The division's sales rose by 44 percent that month from a year earlier - seven times the rate of improvement for the new-vehicle market as a whole.

One reason: a near tripling of sales of the LaCrosse sedan since its redesign. Another reason: a 50 percent increase in sales of this week's subject, the Enclave, a mid-size crossover sport utility vehicle on which Buick is offering up to $2,000 cash back.

For more than 4,000 American consumers in January, the seven-passenger, three-row Enclave apparently offered the right combination of price and features to win a place in their driveways. After a week with one - my second since the Enclave debuted in '08 - there was no mystery to its popularity.

While enthusiast drivers will hate the way the Enclave leans in hard cornering, that's not unexpected in a 4,700- to 4,900-pound vehicle with a 7-inch ground clearance. They won't like the way the steering wheel tugs on hard acceleration - a phenomenon called torque steer. And they won't like the suspension; it's designed for comfort over handling stability.

But this nicely appointed, user-friendly, supremely quiet and very roomy family vehicle was designed for comfortable cruising, not rally driving.

Closely related to the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, the Enclave begins at $36,240 with freight for a front-drive version like the tester, and $38,240 for an all-wheel drive. Enclaves come with a peppy, 288 hp. V-6 that was new for '08 and impresses with its smoothness. Towing capacity is 4,500 pounds.

My average fuel economy of 18.6 miles per gallon over seven days wasn't impressive considering the 24 mpg government highway estimate and that 90 percent of my driving was on the highway. Yet, in a trait shared with its GM siblings, the six-speed automatic transmission insists on upshifting too soon - for better mileage.

The 2010 Enclave is largely a carry-over from '09, with changes including the addition of a USB port in the center console.

The Enclave has a top five-star safety rating from the federal government for frontal and side-impact protection. Buick was the top scoring brand in J.D. Power and Associates' last survey of vehicle dependability over three years. Buick dealers came in well above average in Power's survey measuring satisfaction with the service shop. But the division came in below average in a Power survey measuring overall satisfaction in the first three months of ownership. Buick notes that its score in that survey has steadily improved.

And the Enclave is "recommended" by Consumer Reports, for its features and what is deemed "average" reliability.

 

2010 Buick Enclave CXL-2 FWD

Vehicle tested:

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 288 hp.

Fuel: Regular

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Safety: Six air bags; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and stability control, rearview camera, fog lamps, swiveling headlamps, tire pressure monitoring, OnStar automatic crash response.

Place of assembly: Lansing, Mich.

Cargo room, minimum and maximum: 23.2 cubic feet, 115.3 cubic feet.

EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg, city; 24 highway

Price as driven: $45,955 with freight

Bottom line: First-rate seven-passenger family hauler

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