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Video review: 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD

by Drew Johnson
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir review - image 1

We sample Buikc's new flagship Avenir line.

This review is about a new Buick, but I'm going to start it off talking about an old GMC. Specifically, the 1999 Yukon, which was the first GMC model to don the Denali luxury nameplate.

Since that fateful introduction nearly 20 years ago, GMC has grown the Denali sub-brand into a cash cow. The luxury sub-brand is now available on every model GMC produces, and transaction prices for Denali models can be up to 50 percent higher than those of their base model counterparts. Not surprisingly, Buick took notice of GMC's success with Denali.

Taking a cue from its corporate cousin, Buick recently introduced a luxury sub-brand of its own known as Avenir. The Avenir package is currently available on just two models — the LaCrosse sedan and Enclave SUV — but you can bet your bottom dollar that it will soon spread to other models.

In order to get a better understanding of the Avenir brand, we decided to spend a week with the flagship Enclave Avenir, which can stretch your purse strings to well over $60,000. But is the Avenir package really worth that extra money? Come with us as we find out.

What is it?
The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir is a new luxury model based on Buick's redesigned Enclave family SUV. The Enclave is already the most expensive SUV in Buick's lineup, and the Avenir trim only pads that stat — prices start at $55,000 and can grow to nearly $65,000 if you load on every single option.

For that money you get seating for up to seven with second-row captain's chairs, leather upholstery, wood trim accents, power-folding third-row seats and a 360 degree camera. Features exclusive to the Avenir trim include a partially digital gauge cluster, a leather and wood-wrapped steering wheel, wireless phone charging and embroidered floor mats. You also get a unique grille, 20-inch wheels and Avenir badging with the package.

Like all Enclave models, the Avenir uses a 3.6L V6, rated at 310 horsepower, hooked to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Despite its high cost of entry, the Enclave Avenir comes standard with front-wheel drive; you'll have to pay extra to get all-wheel drive.

What's it up against?
In Avenir trim, the Enclave has to go up against some pretty stiff competition that includes vehicles like the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7.

How does it look?
The Enclave Avenir isn't wildly styled, but it's also not as conservative as you might expect from Buick.

The front of the Enclave Avenir is sleek and powerful, with a forward-set grille, muscular hood and swept-back headlights, giving the SUV the appearance that it's trying to rip out of its own body work — think muscle builder in a tight shirt. The Avenir receives a unique grille that sits nicely on the Enclave's nose.

The Enclave Avenir's design softens up in profile, with its muscular front end transitioning into flowing lines along the side of the vehicle. In side view you'll also notice Avenir badging just behind the front wheels and a unique take on Buick's portholes on the front fenders.

The rear three-quarters view is the Enclave Avenir's most interesting angle. From there you can see the SUV's floating D-pillar, rounded rear window and wide taillights connected by a chrome accent bar. The lower bumper houses the Enclave Avenir's dual exhaust outlets.

And the inside?
The Enclave Avenir's interior is awash with curvaceous, organic shapes. In fact, it's nearly impossible to find a straight line anywhere in the Enclave's cabin.

Nowhere is that flowing design ethos on display more than the Enclave Avenir's dashboard; there's a curved metal accent framing the bottom of the dash and a rounded vinyl accent capping the top of the dash. And right in the middle is a pair of angled air vents and a touchscreen display that flares out toward the top.

One of the exclusive features of the Enclave's Avenir trim is a partially digital gauge cluster with an eight-inch LCD screen centered between a couple analog dials. Although a nice thought, the display comes across as incoherent — some of the gauges are this strange half-analog, half-digital combination. A fully digital display would have gone a long way in improving the Enclave Avenir's luxury car credentials.

Another unique feature of the Avenir trim is a wood and leather steering wheel. That kind of mixing of materials is fine, but Buick's overall execution of the wheel simply isn't up to the Enclave Avenir's price point. In our test car the wood accents didn't butt up flush with the leather parts, and some of the wood had already begun chipping around the edges. And the overall design of the wheel doesn't scream $60,000 luxury SUV — the four-spoke design is a little homely and the plastic buttons don't feel premium.

The Enclave Avenir's sunroof situation is also perplexing. Instead of the kind of panoramic sunroof you'd expect to find on a luxury SUV, Buick went with a normal sunroof up front and then a fixed glass piece over the second row, with a thick bar separating them. And the sunshades for both are manual rather than power-operated.

But on the upside, the Enclave Avenir's interior offers plenty of comfort and space. The front two rows of bucket seats provide all-day comfort and enough room to really stretch out on a long road trip. The third-row isn't as spacious, but you could fit a couple of normal-sized adults back there for around town trips. One strange thing about the Enclave Avenir is only the passenger's side second row slides forward for third-row access.

The Enclave Avenir's cargo area is generous, and it's a snap to make it even larger thanks to a pair of power-folding third-row seats.

But does it go?
The Buick Enclave Avenir isn't a small vehicle — it's actually about the same length as a Chevy Tahoe — but the standard 3.6L V6 does a good job of moving things along. There's plenty of power throughout the rev band, so taking off from a stop or merging onto the highway is no sweat in the Enclave. The engine is quiet under steady-state driving, but can get a little noisy under acceleration. The Enclave's nine-speed auto shifts smoothly in the background, but can be a bit lazy when called upon to downshift for more power. We suspect that's due to tuning that's geared more for comfort and economy. That being said, the nine-speed is a good match for the Enclave's powertrain.

The Enclave Avenir has the kind of smooth and comfortable ride you'd expect from a big Buick. The Enclave Avenir isn't floaty, but it has no problems ironing out bumps like a proper Buick should.

Steering and handling is about what you'd expect. Steering is heavily boosted, but direct enough to provide confident handling. Naturally the Enclave isn't a canyon carver, but it feels planted at all speeds and doesn't wallow like you might expect from a vehicle of this size.

The Enclave Avenir has a full compliment of safety and tech features you'd expect from a vehicle at this price point. To aid in parking, the Enclave Avenir has parking sensors and a 360-degree camera. Out on the road drivers will enjoy adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. However, we found the latter to be a bit finicky — sometimes it would "bounce” from lane line to lane line instead of just keeping centered.

The Enclave's touchscreen infotainment screen is simple to operate, and we really appreciated the wireless phone charger after forgetting a power cord at home.

Leftlane's bottom line
It's clear what Buick is trying to do with the Avenir line, but it's also clear they have gotten a bit out over their skis. The Enclave Avenir is a nice SUV — there's no denying that — but it just doesn't feel $60,000 nice.

But history does provide some silver lining. That original 1999 GMC Yukon Denali wasn't exactly a home run, and GMC still managed to turn the sub-brand into the success it has become today. Hopefully Buick uses the Enclave Avenir as a similar stepping stone.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD base price, $55,715. As tested, $59,435.
Avenir technology package, $2,095; Premium suspension package with trailering equipment, $650; Destination, $975.

Photos by Drew Johnson