2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD Review – Peeling Back a Veneer of Luxury

I could have told the guy “71 extra pounds.” Then again, maybe “$5,400 more” would have been a better response. Both of these figures are correct, but it’s the latter that best answers the question, “What’s an Avenir?”

The passer-by who accosted me — in a friendly manner, thankfully — outside my residence hadn’t seen the word “Enclave” on the back of the big, white Buick I had parked outside, but I assume he knew the model and wondered what the hell an Avenir nameplate was doing on both front doors.

“Okay, you know Denali…?” I answered. The rest isn’t hard to imagine.

Basically, like GMC’s luxury sub-brand, “Avenir” is a great way to squeeze extra cash out of an existing model, I told the guy. Had I consulted Buick’s website before tailoring my response, I could have said it’s “the highest expression of Buick luxury.” I like my answer better.

In Canada, where the two of us stood chatting next to this blinding, three-row crossover, it’s a $6,000 walk up from the formerly top-end Premium trim to Avenir, which stickers for $61,900 before delivery. Americans get theirs for $54,495 before a $995 destination and freight charge. (Tack on an extra $2,300 if all-wheel drive — standard on Canadian Enclave Avenirs — helps you sleep at night.)

I should add that White Frost Tricoat, which elicits a Clint Eastwood-like squint from all who venture near the Avenir’s gleaming bulk, is an extra $600 (USD).

Random human interactions aren’t all that common with the fairly pedestrian vehicles I test, but what made this convo odd is that it wasn’t the first that week. After parking on a side street few days earlier, a guy jumped off his porch to enthusiastically inquire about the largest vehicle in Avenirdom. He also tried to sell me on a detailing job, the crafty bugger.

So, what does this “expression of luxury” actually bring to the table, besides strange men? In raising the price and content ceiling on the redesigned-for-2018 Enclave, Buick saw fit to visually differentiate the Avenir from lesser trims, adding a black honeycomb mesh to the grille and lower opening, glueing the aforementioned script to the front doors, and shodding it with chrome 20-inch wheels. These are subtle differences, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a five-bucks-under-$40k base Enclave across the parking lot.

Inside, rich, “Chestnut” leather abounds, perforated on the front seats, with Avenir stitching found on the headrests and floor mats. The word also migrates to the sill plates. To instill that drawing room feel, little bit of what once used to be a tree appears on the steering wheel.

One flaw I noticed right away was three loose threads on the leather-wrapped wheel, all located between the 2 and 4 o’clock position. Let’s hope a previous driver had long nails and a nervous habit, as it’s not an encouraging sight in a top-end vehicle with less than 5,000 miles on the odometer.

Above the Avenir’s occupants, two moonroofs admit light into the seven-passenger cabin (only one admits air, sorry), and second row passengers have full access to climate functions and seat heaters. Credit where it’s due: I squeezed my 6’4″ frame into every seat in the vehicle I nicknamed Moby Dick — even the rearmost row is surprisingly liveable. A friend and I consumed an entire large, three topping pizza in various seats while chatting about politics one night.

Tech content gets an upgrade, too. Ticking the box next to Avenir brings navigation to the 8-inch touchscreen, an 8 inch driver information center for the gauge cluster, rearview mirror with video display, bird’s eye surround view, and wireless phone charging. Oh, and there’s a foot-operated power liftgate I forgot to waggle my size 12 under.

On the safety front, this tester’s available Avenir Technology Package added full-speed adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, plus forward automatic braking. That’s in addition to the usual driver’s aid suspects (lane keeping assist, forward collision alert, pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring).

While the cabin pleases with its uncluttered dash, comfy seats, and generous legroom, there’s no mechanical upgrades to differentiate this ride from its Chevrolet Traverse platform mate. Under the hood lies the same 3.6-liter V6, good for 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft. A nine-speed automatic comes standard. Mercifully smooth and less prone to gear hunting than other multi-cog autoboxes, the transmission nonetheless loses points for its monostable-type shifter.

I found that the raised console edges made grasping the shifter an awkward affair, as a side-mounted button must be pressed to affect certain gear changes. A minor gripe, sure. Still, this doesn’t happen in the LaCrosse, where the shifter stands free and clear on a clean-sided, upward-sweeping console.

There’s steering wheel-mounted paddles on hand if boredom sets in, though you’ll need to select Low first, and pressing the Sport button is highly recommended. Actually, Sport mode was my preferred setting for day-to-day driving. It firms up the precise, but almost too effortless steering and ever so slightly reduces the sensation of wallow in tight turns. (Not that the Enclave rolls like a corvette in the North Atlantic — it doesn’t.)

I certainly didn’t need a backwoods trip to a friend’s cottage to discover that piss-poor pavement disrupts the cabin’s tranquility. Try as it might, the adaptive suspension (an option on Avenir) can only do so much to dampen those jolts. On the highway, though, it’s a pretty placid cruiser. As always, when the going gets rough (which seems to be the default setting on every road around here), I find myself wishing I could pray away those 20-inch donuts.

Too bad I couldn’t pray away rising oil prices and taxation. Near-record high gas prices meant the all-wheel drive button remained largely ignored, and only when sand sullied the twisty blacktop on the cottage route did I engage the rear wheels, thus ending the reign of the Plow King. The blacktop soon disappeared altogether. We (the Buick and I) powered through soft sand with aplomb.

Yes, the cottage. That’s about as far afield as you’re likely to find any Avenir-badged vehicle, even an AWD model like this. More likely than not, you’ll see this particular Avenir on city streets, in the Whole Foods parking lot, or perhaps hauling a light camper out of town.

The folks at Buick would love the Avenir sub-brand to become a sought-after status symbol, much in the way Denali tempts 25 percent of GMC buyers. Time will tell if customers feel the price premium is worth it. For a three-row, 4,600 pound crossover, the basic Enclave is pretty competent. You won’t want for safety aids on high-end trims (Buick’s lane-holding feature is among the most aggressive I’ve encountered), and there’s a smooth, if not overly powerful powertrain on tap (fuel economy averaged 20.8 mpg over the week, 1 mpg better than the EPA’s combined figure), but the distance between an Enclave Premium AWD and an Avenir AWD amounts to a not unsubstantial $5,400.

On the Premium model, you’ll still find a USB port for every outboard passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, a generous suite of driver assist features, Active Noise Control, an excellent 10-speaker Bose audio system, heated front and second-row seats, rear A/C, 8-inch touchscreen, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, 4.2-inch driver information center, keyless open, and leather-wrapped everything. Of course, you’ll “suffer” with 18-inch wheels. Or will you?

You’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth it to shell out more than the retail price of a late ’90s Lada Samara to gain those minor interior and exterior differences, plus a scoop of added tech. You’ll also need to ask whether the Avenir name makes you feel special. Usually, these things depend — at least partially — on just how well versed the general population is in the automotive language. Avenir is not, at this early point, Denali, nor is it AMG or M, which at least promises the presence of added power.

It’s not an unattractive vehicle, both inside and out. Flowing fender bulges, an appealing grille, floating roof, and LEDs all around could easily draw more to the Enclave fold. However, a new rival exists in the form of the long-wheelbase Lexus RX 350L, which stickers for $47,670 before delivery. The crossover market remains all-you-can-eat buffet, and it’s only growing in selection.

There’s another question to ask. Is the Enclave even capable of raising its status with the addition of a higher trim? That’s a tough one. We’ve discussed Buick fairly frequently on these pages over the past few months, and while some feel the brand is too disorganized, too far from its past to resonate with the 2018 buyer, and too incapable of raising eyebrows or pulse rates, it really comes down to the individual.

In my experience, at least a couple of people looked on with something approaching envy. Maybe they were just blinded by the light.

this review first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com

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