Buick is in a very interesting state of flux. Once known for having a vibrant car lineup, the brand is in the middle of a rapid transformation into a CUV and SUV focused brand. While new entries like the Encore GX and the refreshed Envision are helping Buick explore new niches in the utility segment, ultimately, the weight of the brand’s sales success rests with the Buick Enclave. This full-size hauler has the size and the luxury needed to be the perfect family truckster, with the model being a sales force for Buick since it first made its appearance back in 2008. The all new Avenir trim aims to give even more luxury and style to family buyers, but does it have what it takes to stand out against traditional luxury rivals like Volvo and Acura?
One Is The Loneliest Number:
While the Avenir nameplate originally debuted on the seductively styled show car of the same name, its transition from concept to reality has been anything but smooth. The Avenir designation (“future” in French) was originally planned for three models, with the Lacrosse and the Regal sedans also receiving the range topping trim. But with those models being axed as part of Buick’s recent shift towards utility offerings, the Enclave currently serves as the lone graduate of the Avenir school of refinement (that will change with the recent announcement of the 2021 Envision.) But that’s not bad news, with the Enclave making good use of what the Avenir badge has to offer. Exterior styling here is not over the top, but it’s still distinct enough to make it stand out from mainstream Enclave models. The core aspects of the Enclave’s design remain intact, with our tester having an elegantly understated canvas.
Avenir models like our tester comes equipped with a mesh design front grille, while large 20-inch aluminium wheels help enhance the side profile somewhat. A 2020 update added a body color matching lower panel which allows the Avenir to have a more unified look, and it really allowed our tester to better flaunt its metallic paint work. The LED headlights make a great presentation in night time driving, but that aside, the Enclave still looks largely the same, and as a result, it does not stand out that well when compared to the rest of its peers. The styling can be best described as middle of the road, with the canvas projecting a look that is smooth and modern, but lacking some of the flashier design themes that have made rivals from Lexus, Lincoln, and Volvo jump out more to the eye. In a hotly competitive segment where design, luxury, and flair are rapidly becoming key building blocks for luxury SUVs, “pretty good” might not be enough to stand out among some good segment benchmarks.
Luxurious Undertones Blend With Technology Enhancements:
The subtle changes that define the exterior, also make their way into the Enclave’s interior. The space is nicely designed and put together with high quality materials. Range topping Avenir models like our tester feature trim exclusive leather seats that are buttery smooth, and even come with Avenir logos that are embroidered into the headrests. The seats themselves are very comfortable on long jaunts, but like other Enclaves we have experienced, side support is awful, with occupants still sliding around when the Enclave is asked to engage in more spirited driving. The front seats also feature an optional massage feature, but the button itself is an unmarked grey square, and we really wish that Buick designers either added a graphic or a textured piece to help make finding it a bit easier. Rearward visibility is hampered by the large rear pillars and the small rear window, but Avenir models feature GM’s rear camera mirror which is a welcome solution to this problem.
But when viewed by its abilities to haul people, our tester manages to excel in this category with second row captains chairs that help create plenty of leg and shoulder room for occupants. The individual adjustments allow passengers to maintain their preferred comfort settings, while the ability to move the second row thrones up a bit can help improve the state of affairs for the third row. On that note, the third row can be a good place for small adults to spend time in, but like others of its type, the space is either best reserved for small children, or can be folded down to help improve cargo capability. But while the captain’s chairs offer improved comfort, they do reduce the total amount of passengers to six (versus seven for the standard bench,) and the easy slide mechanism to access the third row is located on the passenger side only versus being mirrored on the driver side. While we suspect that Buick designers did this to help encourage safe entry and exit on the curbside, it does reduce flexibility somewhat especially for passengers that want to enter and exit on both sides.
Thankfully, technology did not get pushed to the wayside for 2020, with all Enclaves getting an all new 8-inch screen for the infotainment system. The unit runs the latest generation of GM’s Infotainment 3 system which is supposed to be a big step up in terms of usability and architecture. The software is vastly improved, and we noticed less lag time than what we have seen in some older systems once used by Buick. The screen is crisp and logically laid out, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The system also boasts cloud based sync technology that allows the system to store multiple profiles which is handy for apps like Spotify and iHeartradio.
Performance Still Bucks The Trend:
Unlike other luxury three row SUVs that have embraced smaller turbocharged four cylinder engines, the Enclave is still a one size fits all affair, with all models being powered by a naturally aspirated 3.6 liter V6 that is good for 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. A nine speed automatic is the sole transmission available, with buyers being able to choose from either front wheel drive, or optional all-wheel drive like our tester. While the new nine speed does help the engine deliver better off the line acceleration, it is still not enough to combat some of the side effects of the Enclave’s 4,685 lb curb weight. Having to deal with all of this weight, the engine often feels like it is consistently working hard with the engine straining when tasked with climbing hills as well as acceleration. The audible noises that the engine produces also contrasts with the ‘Quiet Tuning” technology that does a good job silencing other sounds like wind and road noise.
Handling in our tester was smooth and composed, and while the Enclave will never be known for being a canyon carver, the amount of comfort and handling here is competent for round town driving. Avenir models can be equipped with a separate $2,095 Avenir Technology Package that equips the Enclave with numerous technologies such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Enhanced Automatic Emergency Braking, and a Premium Suspension package that comes equipped with continuously variable dampening that actually adjusts to road conditions in real time. This package does make a difference in cornering, with our tester doing a good job of cornering with a strong sense of poise and not overly tipping on its self or feeling too mushy.
As expected, fuel economy for the 2020 Enclave is roughly middle of the road, with front wheel drive Enclaves returning a combined 21 mpg which translates to 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. All-wheel drive variants like our tester step down slightly to 20 mpg in combined driving, while traditional figures also go down 1 mpg respectively to 17 and 25 mpg in city and freeway driving. That’s not too bad of a drop, and the Buick is still slightly better than the Volkswagen Atlas AWD though it also lies just below the figures wielded by the hot selling Kia Telluride, the Mazda CX-9, and the Honda Pilot. The lone elephant in the room though is the 2020 Toyota Highlander which outclasses the Enclave with a 35 mpg rating in combined driving. But the lone catch is that the Highlander is only available with four cylinder power, and that might put off some buyers that need a more powerful engine to handle towing duties.
Pricing for the 2020 Buick Enclave still remains very competitive, with the base Enclave starting at a lean and trim $40,000. Certain colors and trim levels do help raise the price, with Premium models starting at $49,595 before any optional goodies. As for the Avenir, it plays the flagship role very seriously, with the model wielding a base sticker of $54,995 for a front-wheel drive example. Adding all-wheel drive to variants like our tester helps boost the figure up to $57,295, with our lightly optioned Enclave arriving with the $2,095 Avenir Technology Package. When combined with the $1,195 destination fee, this helped balloon the price to a grand total of $59,930 which is just shy of breaching the $60,000 barrier.
That’s alot of coin to pay for a Buick, especially when considering that for roughly the same amount of money, one can get into a Mercedes, Lexus or even an Acura model. All three offer superior interior quality, and while the Enclave does have an advantage when it comes to sheer size, there are other offerings out there that do a better job of being a three row SUV. The Lincoln Aviator for example, can be had in a few of its lower trim levels for roughly the same pricing scale as the Avenir, and while it lacks some of the Enclave’s space, it makes up for it by being more dynamic out on the road, and trumps it in interior quality too. The Mazda CX-9 is also another compelling alternative. It does a better job of matching the Enclave’s gigantic proportions, and while it is technically not meant to be a formal luxury entry, it certainly does a good impression of one. This is thanks to Mazda’s recent focus on compelling interior design, as well as a balanced chassis that works hand in hand with the engine.
While the 2020 Buick Enclave Avenir certainly serves as a very potent flagship for Buick, it also serves as a very potent reminder of missed opportunities for GM. It competes in a segment that demands perfection, and has a pricing ladder that inadvertently puts it in the firing line of far more upscale premium utility offerings. The Avenir badge itself has also appeared to regress (for the moment) within the Buick hierarchy which is not good for a relatively new trim level that needs to have the opportunity to expand its charms to other models in a bid to build relevance. Hopefully when Buick formally completes its quest to update all of its utility models, we could perhaps see the Avenir family truly blossom, but for now its untapped potential remains a persistent reminder of what Buick needs to do to step up its luxury game.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.