On Autos: Big Buick crossover offers quiet comfort for big families

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The 2019 Buick Enclave is a spacious, quiet full-size premium crossover that’s priced from $41,195. Photo by Brady Holt

When many D.C. families pick out a new car, they’re looking for maximum space efficiency: how much room a vehicle can pack into the smallest possible footprint. But if your parking situation permits, the easiest way to get an extra-roomy interior is with plus-sized dimensions.

In the premium crossover class, the 2019 Buick Enclave is the leading choice to suit such priorities. It measures more than 204 inches from nose to tail, which is longer than a Cadillac Escalade.

The result is class-leading interior volume. The Enclave is one of the few three-row crossovers or SUVs that has either a decently roomy third-row seat or a useful amount of cargo space behind that third row. In fact, this big Buick provides both — making it the rare crossover whose third-row seat doesn’t have to be reserved for small children or occasional use.

For context, its 24 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row is nearly twice what you’d find in an Audi Q7 and three times the volume of a Lexus RX 350L or Land Rover Discovery. Total cargo volume with both rows of rear seats folded down is 98 cubic feet, about as good as you can get from any passenger vehicle but a minivan.

It’s a seven-passenger vehicle with captain’s chairs in the second row and a three-passenger third-row bench seat. Most competitors cap out at six passengers unless you opt for a second-row bench seat. So equipped, the Enclave would seat eight — as do some similarly sized mainstream-brand crossovers — but it doesn’t offer the bench.

The Enclave, last redesigned for 2018, wears its bulk gracefully. Far from being a big boxy SUV, it features a rounded body whose curves and arches tie the whole thing together. It’s a gentler touch than the hard-edged luxury crossovers that are striving to look sporty or high-tech. The Enclave is about quiet comfort, and it shows.

The interior similarly features curves rather than sharp edges; the entire dashboard is basically one swoop. It’s an elegant simplicity that’s quite unlike most competitors’ approaches. A high center console increases cabin storage while also helping the driver feel cozy despite the Enclave’s bulk.

The 2019 Buick Enclave has an elegant dashboard design, but fewer dazzling luxury touches than some competitors. Photo by Brady Holt

On the road, the Enclave prioritizes a smooth and quiet ride. It also accelerates and handles capably, but this isn’t one of the luxury cars that’s built for thrills.

However, some discerning luxury buyers may yet find fault with the Enclave, finding it less like a Mercedes-Benz than a prettier version of the Chevrolet Traverse — which, in fairness, is exactly what the Enclave is.

And while plenty of successful luxury vehicles are created similarly (including several leading Enclave rivals: the Acura MDX, Lexus RX L, and Infiniti QX60), the Enclave could have been a more radical departure from its mainstream-brand cousin. While the interior design is elegant, most luxury cars sweat the details more — fewer areas of plain plastic, exceptional precision when you push a button or knob, and gorgeous infotainment graphics. The Enclave is decidedly Chevy-like in those regards, though it’s a big update over the previous-generation model.

Meanwhile, while the Enclave is pleasant to drive, it lacks the mechanical precision that helps the European luxury brands stand apart. You won’t feel that the Buick is built to cruise steadily at 120 miles per hour like an Audi Q7 or BMW X5. The same, though, applies to the Enclave’s Japanese competitors.

The 2019 Buick Enclave is bigger than most of its competitors but wears its bulk with graceful curves. Photo by Brady Holt

Enclave prices start at $41,195, which is relatively affordable for a seven-passenger luxury crossover — particularly given the Buick’s extra spaciousness. But prices rise fast because it has less standard equipment than other luxury crossovers. The base model has cloth seats instead of leather, no sunroof, and no advanced crash-avoidance technology.

In fact, to get all the latter, you must step all the way up to the tested Avenir model for well north of $50,000 — features like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping steering assistance are standard equipment on a growing number of crossovers even from mainstream brands. The good news is that the Enclave is available with some valuable safety features that most competitors don’t: a rearview camera mirror (which reduces rear blind spots), a vibrating safety-alert driver’s seat, and a reminder that chimes when you’ve left a child or belongings in the back seat.

If you like the Enclave, also consider several very nice mainstream-brand crossovers, which are often roomier than their luxury counterparts. In particular, the Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas deliver a pleasantly premium feel plus competitive interior volume, while the Mazda CX-9 trades a bit of room for a sportier look and feel. And the Chevrolet Traverse offers many of the Enclave’s strengths with a little less elegance and finesse.

But if you’re still looking for more luxury than those models can provide, and you prioritize maximum interior space, the Enclave is probably your winner.

To see more photos of the tested 2019 Buick Enclave, you can visit tinyurl.com/enclave-current.