Two years ago General Motors ushered a handful of media into its design studios outside Detroit for a peek at what was coming in two to three years.
Such events are prompted by consumers looking at current offerings and asking “Where’s the beef?” The wraps are taken off a sampling of future products to assure the media — and thus the public — that better days are coming.
Lee Iacocca mastered this when he ran Chrysler and unveiled countless renditions of the K-car to show the company was on the way back.
On this June day in 2005, GM previewed the 2007 Aura replacement for the Saturn L-Series sedan, the 2008 remake of the Chevy Malibu and Cadillac CTS sedans coming this fall and what looked to be a cross between minivan and sport-utility vehicles dubbed crossover that carried Saturn, GMC and Buick labels.
With Aura, CTS and Malibu on display, the crossovers were paid little mind until GM personnel said they were alternatives to rough-riding, poor-handling, cumbersome, gas-slurping SUVs — midsize and larger. Crossovers offered three rows of seats, spacious cargo holds and all-wheel-drive like the SUVs, along with less-thirsty 6-cylinder engines.
The billing is proving accurate.
“Early sales reports are that buyers are coming out of mid- and full-size SUVs, plus minivans,” said Katherine Benoit, executive director of Buick-Pontiac-GMC.
Early sales of Enclave also show that 40 percent of all buyers are conquests, folks who don’t own a Buick.
Enclave has just joined the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, which have been on sale since the beginning of the 2007 model year.
The midsize 2008 Enclave comes in CX and CXL trim with front- or all-wheel-drive. We tested the CXL with AWD. Sedan-like ride and handling and an ability to scoot into and out of parking stalls a lot more nimbly than an SUV.
The suspension, however, doesn’t erase tar marks in the road. You feel each one in the steering wheel.
Enclave stands high for excellent down-the-road sight lines and ample clearance so the on-demand AWD can carve a path through snow. It’s not top heavy or prone to wander because of a high center of gravity, but there’s some minor body lean in corners like in a midsize SUV or minivan. If the seats had larger side bolsters to hold you in place, you might not even notice it.
Still, no cause for concern because stability control with traction control is standard to get you going and keep you moving in the direction pointed regardless of whether the path is covered with snow, rain, dirt or even gravel.
Seats are adequately sized and cushioned to prevent the jiggles on long-distance trips. Good response to steering input without lingering, and braking is firm and true.
Like Outlook and Acadia, Enclave offers a new 3.6-liter, 275-horsepower V-6 with a 6-speed automatic. Good get up and go. No need to gulp for breath on steep inclines or get a running start to pass an 18-wheeler on the interstate. But the 16 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway mileage rating with AWD is disappointing, especially when one of its chief rivals, the Lexus RX350, offers a hybrid version boasting 31/27 miles with AWD.
“There are no plans at this time to offer a hybrid,” said Benoit. “Enclave has the best [non-hybrid] mileage among vehicles in its class, and we’ll focus on that.”
Enclave has three rows of seats to hold seven or eight, with lots of arm, leg and head room, even in the third row. Second-row seats slide fore or aft to distribute legroom where needed. Second-row seat backs and bottoms also tip and slide forward to open an aisle to the third row.
The cargo hold behind the third seat is fairly generous for luggage or gear. A large compartment under the floor hides small items or wet swimsuits or muddy boots.
Second- and third-row seat backs fold flat for maximum cargo space. To get third-row seat backs flat, you have to reach in and push. There’s no power control. When second- and third-row seats are flattened, there’s a gap between them that will allow things to fall through onto the floor.
Noteworthy touches include a host of power plugs — in the cargo hold, dash and back of the center console, where there’s also a 110-volt outlet for a laptop. There’s a small, covered storage container in the top of the dash. And the center console comes with a pair of trays for coins, cell phones or iPods. The trays lift out to expose a large compartment to hide a purse.
But it’s not without some gripes, one being the floor mats behind the first- and second-row seats tend to wander around rather than stay in place. And it would have been nice to have a small storage bin under the passenger seat.
The test vehicle came with optional remote start. Though gas is an expensive commodity, it’s nice to press the key fob to get the engine and the air conditioning going before sliding onto leather seats when the thermometer reads 90 degrees. And if the seats can be heated, why not cooled in a luxury vehicle?
Another option was a power sunroof over the front seats and a fixed glass skylight over the second row. Both come with shades, manual upfront, power for the back. Nice touch. The cabin is well insulated from noise, though every 17 years you have to make an allowance when cicadas come calling.
Base price of the Enclave CXL with AWD tested is $36,255 and includes such goodies as anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags, remote keyless entry, tire-pressure monitor, one-year free OnStar satellite communications, power liftgate, fog lamps, power windows/door locks/mirrors/seats (also heated), climate control, AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player and XM satellite radio.
The test car added an optional entertainment package, which included navigation system with backup camera to see what’s behind when you engage reverse, plus rear-seat DVD system at $4,320; power sunroof and skylight at $1,300; and a luxury package with heated and power folding outside mirrors, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 110-volt power outlet in the center console at $925.
Remote start is in a convenience package that runs $520 and adds rear park assist plus heated windshield washers.
A viable, though pricey, alternative to SUVs and minivans. Little wonder the Terraza minivan was dropped, but big wonder a hybrid Enclave isn’t offered.
2008 BUICK ENCLAVE CXL AWD
Price as tested: $44,815*
16 M.P.G. CITY
22 M.P.G. HIGHWAY
Wheelbase . . . . . . . . . . . 119 inches
Length . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201.5 inches
Engine . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.6-liter, 275-h.p. V-6
Transmission . . . . . . . . . . 6-speed automatic
$4,320 Entertainment package with touch-screen navgation system, DVD rearseat entertaiment system, rear-seat audio controls and Bose sound system
$1,495 19-inch chromed aluminum wheels
$1,300 Power sunroof with second-row skylight
$925 Luxury package with heated and folding power mirrors, steering synchronized headlights, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 110-volt power outlet under center armrest
$520 Driver convenience pacage with remote start, ultrasonic rear park assist and heated windshield fluid dispenser
* Add $735 for freight
– Lots of room for people and their stuff.
– Rides, handles and parks like a sedan though it?s a much-larger multipurpose vehicle.
– AWD for all-season security.
– Ample pep from V-6.
– Loaded with safety systems and amenities.
– Option packages bloat price.
– Hybrid would help.