Viewed from afar, the updated 2013 Buick Enclave you see here doesn't appear much different than its predecessors. But the difference is in the details – and what a difference those details do make.
Open one of this big three-row crossover's doors and you'll be treated to the sight of an all new interior that is more than just leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. A dramatic new dashboard and careful selection of interior colors reveals a sense of design worthy of a genuine luxury badge.
That said, the Enclave's changes are mostly skin deep, since its powertrain and suspension carry over essentially unchanged. We hit the scenic roads around Louisville, Kentucky, to see just what the Enclave has to offer for 2013.
When this platform – known as Lambda in General Motors-speak and shared with the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse – was launched a few years ago, it was the first full-size three-row crossover of its kind. Since then, it has spawned imitators that have clawed away at market share but haven't quite duplicated its appeal. Sized about like a Chevrolet Tahoe but considerably better packaged inside because of its unibody architecture, the Lambda platform has been an undeniable hit for the revitalized Buick brand.
Why mess with success? GM considers the updated 2013s to be new models, but they're really more of a substantial refresh than a full redesign. The 3.6-liter V6 engine that puts out 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft. of torque in this application is carried over, as is a six-speed automatic with some minor updates designed to improve shift quality. Fuel economy remains at 17/24 mpg for the front-drive model and 16/22 mpg for the all-wheel-drive variant. Those figures are decent for a big'un, and although they pale compared to the slightly smaller Ford Explorer EcoBoost, at least the Enclave can get out of its own way.
Underneath, the Enclave's fully independent suspension remains, though it is now augmented with dual-flow front struts with a rebound spring that quell vibrations.
In practice, the 2013 Enclave drives about like its predecessor, although the upgraded shocks do give it a bit better steering. For such a large vehicle, the Enclave is remarkably agile, although it is a far cry from the decidedly sporty Mazda CX-9. Power remains adequate but not overly impressive. Passing requires a good stomp at the throttle, but the six-speed quickly downshifts and the smooth 3.6-liter likes to rev.
We didn't get a chance to test fuel economy, but we've found the EPA figures to be about right in previous Enclave test vehicles.
Stylistically, the Enclave gets a new front end, a monotone appearance and a few modifications to the tailgate. Compared side-by-side with its predecessor, the refreshed Enclave is cleaner but still clearly a Buick. The goofy faux portholes have been repositioned on the hood. Unfortunately, removing them would leave indentations on the hood. Out back, the Enclave's tail lamps now feature outline lamps that look vaguely like a neon sign when illuminated.
As we alluded to before, the biggest differences are found inside. Buick interior chief Michael Burton is to be commended for his efforts – this is one of the nicest interiors you'll find at any price.
The changes start with a new single-piece dashboard made of a synthetic that gives off the feel off well-oiled leather but doesn't require maintenance. Contrasting stitching covers the dashboard, door panels and center console. Unlike the outgoing Enclave, the faux wood trim has been moved primarily from the dashboard to the doors to, in Burton's words, put the focus on the hand selected-appearing materials. Other than a slightly less-than-convincing faux wood, the lack of a now de rigueur LCD in the instrument cluster and a too shiny hard plastic adorning the bottom half of the dashboard, there is nothing remotely low-rent about this interior. We'd love to see a premium trim level with real wood, although slabs the size the Enclave needs would cost a fortune.
A new center airbag integrated into the driver's bolster is standard across the line to prevent front seat heads from bopping into one another in the event of an accident. Speaking of airbags, the Enclave's four-spoke steering wheel is a carryover. It's not the prettiest wheel, but its audio controls are particularly functional.
All Enclaves now include the automaker's IntelliLink infotainment system with its touch-screen head unit. Aside from the lack of separate radio preset buttons and an occasionally tiny font on the navigation map, the icon-based system is user-friendly and generally lag-free. The capacitive touch buttons are easy to use and we're glad Buick resisted replacing the traditional volume knob with a sliding touch-sensitive panel like Cadillac and Ford.
Special attention was paid to the Enclave's interior choices. In addition to a boring all-black and a bland light grey, two contrasting shades are also on offer. We're big fans of the rich Choccochino, which is an almost butterscotch shade (the photo gallery has images of both of the more interesting trims).
Enclave's sticker is way up – about $2,000 - from last year, but the price of entry now includes items like HID headlamps, a power liftgate, a rear parking camera and IntelliLink. The line's sweet spot is probably the $43,825 mid-level Leather trim, but the range-topping model brings with it air conditioned seats, 19-inch wheels and a power steering column.
Leftlane's bottom line
Though its basic bones are beginning to show their age in a few places, namely in terms of performance and fuel economy, this heavy refresh has given us one more reason to like the Buick Enclave: Its stunning interior.
If you're in the market for a big crossover, Enclave should be on the top of your shopping list.
2013 Buick Enclave base price range, $39,270 to $46,450.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.