Crossover utility vehicles are essentially the minivans of the new millennium. If you need to haul seven or eight people, a crossover is certainly more stylish than most minivans.

From a fuel economy perspective, a crossover is way more economical than a truck-based SUV.

GM’s new family of crossovers includes the Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, and they all share the same basic platform. The Enclave has the boldest styling.

The Enclave combines luxury, handling and performance in a way that puts it on even footing with the best-selling vehicles in the segment. The handsome exterior bulges in all the right places, and the wheels sit out nearly flush with the body sides. The cabin’s greenhouse, or window area, is slightly narrower than the rest of the body, adding to a muscular, well-planted stance. Inside, there is room for seven or eight, depending on the configuration.

The Enclave comes in front-wheel or all-wheel drive in two trim levels. Base prices start at $32,790 for a front-wheel-drive CX and range to $36,990 for an all-wheel-drive CXL.

The test vehicle, a front-wheel-drive CX, had a sticker price of $37,045.

The Enclave is firm and confident on twisting two-lane roads. The body stays admirably flat in turns, and the ride is both comfortable and responsive. A compact independent rear suspension plays a big role in the vehicle’s overall handling prowess, but some credit also goes to the Michelin tires that were designed specifically for the Enclave to provide good grip without sacrificing ride quality or noise. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard and 19s are optional.

Quiet vehicles intrinsically feel luxurious, and Buick engineers have paid a great deal of attention to noise reduction throughout the Enclave. The windshield utilizes glass with a sound-deadening laminate, and portions of the body have laminated steel panels. Expandable foam fills many body cavities to absorb noise. It’s easy to talk inside the vehicle at 70 miles per hour, even from the third row.

The Enclave’s interior is both warm and welcoming. The level of materials and surfaces is on par with other vehicles in this price segment. The wood-grain trim on the test vehicle was an obvious imitation.

The front seats have excellent lateral and lumbar support. The optional second-row captain’s seats are not only pleasant to sit in, but they also tip and slide forward to ease access to the third seat. The third seat is not just a penalty box for children, but a seat that is actually usable by adults.

The Enclave’s 3.6-liter V-6 is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This transversely mounted powerplant, also used in the Outlook and Acadia, has dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. Horsepower is 275. Fuel economy, rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway, is a bit of an issue given the current price of gasoline.

For 2009, Buick will offer a direct-injection version of this engine for slightly more power and better efficiency.

Out on the road, this engine is smooth and relatively quiet. Mash the throttle and it responds with good power. I found that cruising through hilly terrain with three persons aboard caused the engine to shift up and down frequently to maintain a consistent speed. More midrange torque would give the Enclave even stronger performance in these situations.

Price The base price of the test vehicle was $32,790. Options included a Bose stereo and a rear-seat DVD player, machined wheels and special paint. The sticker price was $37,045.

Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles, with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.