It may be hard to believe, but Buick sold more sport utility vehicles last year than it did Regal, LaCross or Lucerne sedans.
All the SUVs were Enclaves -- a high-riding, upscale family vehicle with seating for at least seven, a quiet interior, pleasant ride and decent power.
Notably, even third-row seats in the roomy Enclave can be used by adults, and there's relatively easy access to the third row, thanks to a quick-lever release that gets second-row seats out of the way.
The Enclave also earned a top, five-star overall crash test rating from the federal government after posting a five-star rating in side crash protection and four out of five stars in frontal crash protection.
Pricing is up there, even for a base Enclave. But prices can still be less than those of some competitors. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is $37,175 for a base, 2012 Enclave with front-wheel drive. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2012 Enclave with all-wheel drive is $39,175.
All Enclaves have the same 288-horsepower, direct injection V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy ratings, which top out at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway in a front-wheel drive model, are comparable with other crossover SUVs. But other SUVs can have more power than the Enclave.
For example, the 2012 Acura MDX, which has a starting retail price of $43,925, comes with a
At nearly 17 feet long, the Enclave is among the larger crossover SUVs. Bumper to bumper, it's just an inch shy of a Cadillac Escalade with regular wheelbase.
Unlike the Escalade, though, the Enclave rides on a car-based platform. While riding higher above the pavement than a regular car does, passengers ride a bit lower than in the Escalade. So, while passengers and driver have good views out the front and sides of the Escalade, they don't have a huge climb up to get inside.
The Enclave's exterior styling makes it seem smaller than it is, and proportions are good.
Adding to the appealing looks are 19- and 20-inch wheels and tires from the factory, some with chrome cladding. But the Enclave grille and headlights seems a bit dated these days, when light-emitting diode accent lights and fewer round-nosed grilles are becoming the norm.
Frankly, the biggest complaint about the styling is how little the driver can see of what's behind the Enclave while backing up. Pillars at the sides of the rear window are sizable, and and liftgate metal comes up to meet the rear-window glass. This made reliance on the test vehicle's rearview camera imperative.
The Enclave's 3.6-liter, dual overhead cam V-6 benefits from direct fuel injection, and the Enclave feels lively in city traffic and on flat two-lane roads.
Power can come on strongly and torque peaks at 270 foot-pounds at 3,400 rpm, which provides acceptable mid-range performance and gets the 2-ton Enclave up and moving well. But with several passengers riding in higher altitudes and up-and-down hills, this engine can feel tapped.
By comparison, the MDX V-6 delivers 270 foot-pounds at a 4,500 rpm. But the MDX, with standard all-wheel drive, weighs 230 pounds less than the hefty, 4,780-pound, base Enclave with front-wheel drive. And Lincoln's MKT has an uplevel engine that's a turbo, providing 350 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.
The Enclave's strong, confident engine sounds were a nice surprise for a Buick.
Fuel economy, though, barely made it to 18 mpg in combined city/highway travel. The 18 mpg is equal to the combined mileage reported by the federal government for an all-wheel drive Enclave, and translated into 395 miles on an $85-plus fillup of the 22-gallon gas tank.
The ride in the test Enclave was impressively quiet.
There was a lightness to the steering but it was responsive, too. The weighty Enclave rode with some obvious heft, and passengers felt the vehicle weight transfer from side to side during curves.
Front seats were wide and comfortable. Second-row seats were adjustable captain chairs that could move forward on tracks to help adjust legroom between second- and third-row passengers. Third-row passengers sit across a cushioned bench that rests closer to the floor than the first two rows, but there's still good headroom back there of 37.8 inches, down a bit from the 40.4 inches in the front seat.
Cargo capacity is a whopping 115.9 cubic feet when second and third rows are folded down. With all the seats holding passengers, the back of the Enclave still offers 24.1 cubic feet of cargo room, more than most sedans. Towing capacity is 4,500 pounds.
Consumer Reports puts Enclave reliability at below average.
Last month, some 2012 Enclaves were recalled so dealers could tighten windshield wipers to prevent blades from coming loose.