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2013 Buick Enclave. / GM

The Buick Enclave, a full-size crossover SUV, gets a striking array of updates for 2013.

Not just the new grille and rump typical of a midlife "freshening," changes to the 2013 Enclave go deep into the chassis and drivetrain. Good for Buick for spending the time and money in unseen places that are hard to show in ads but can make significant improvements to the vehicle.

Enclave is selling well, and Buick says 46% of Enclave buyers are new to parent company General Motors - a huge "conquest" rate. Almost as many, 40% lately, are returning Enclave owners.

Buick says buyers say they like how Enclave feels behind the wheel, so improving that strong point got much of the update budget.

Highlights among the changes:

? A new center, front air bag - first in the industry - to keep the driver and front passenger from banging heads together in a side crash. The bag pops out of the inboard edge of the driver's seat to separate the occupants. Test Drive happily admits to having no clue whether it works.

? New springs and shocks (though shocks are called "dampers" nowadays) improve the ride and make the big guy agile. The Enclave doesn't wallow or fight in tight corners taken a bit too fast, or in abrupt swerves (to avoid the idiot texting). Very nice.

? Updates make the six-speed automatic transmission shift about as well as it ever has. Still just OK in crispness and quickness. But it is not hobbled by the litany of misbehaviors shown when first on the market by the related Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.

The redone interior continues to be an extraordinary example of American upmarket: lavish but not garish. Leather is sumptuous, illumination is appealing, and the thin, aqua light bar that's a Buick hallmark outlines the top of the dashboard and door panels. It has no function, of course, but is a treat to the eye.

Not new, but laudable: Eight seating slots are available, eschewing the silly six-seat layout that some brands consider part of the luxury imprimatur. A seven-slot configuration also is offered. The layout for eight is two-three-three. And seven is two-two-three.

Visibility is better than average out the rear and sides, meaning the handsome looks don't extract a penalty in daily use.

And basics continue to be executed well. For instance, Enclave has Buick's fast-phone-pairing mojo. And Enclave gives you an actual pressure reading for each tire, as is parent GM's standard approach, instead of the more common, brainless, orange "Lookout!" low tire pressure warning lights that don't tell you a thing.

The optional all-wheel drive system performed well in light snow, shifting power among the wheels to keep going, stably, reliably, even gracefully ascending a slick hill under full throttle. The traction control allowed the wheels to spin enough to keep going, but not so much they dug an icy hole in the snow.

The voice-control IntelliLink system that's the central control for a variety of functions works well, misunderstanding few words or phrases. Hit the button, say, "Call my bookie's secondary, secret cell phone," and if that's a contact in your phone, bingo, Mr. Money is on the line.

But some disappointments sour the brew. Keep in mind as you read on that Buick says it focuses on "the vehicle as a whole rather than specific amenities" and says that nobody else has complained about these.

? Brake pedal feel is terrible, like stepping on a beanbag chair: a lot of nothing until you finally reach firmness. In the Enclave, it leaves you wondering if the darn thing ever is going to slow down or actually stop. Not really the sensation of choice when braking.

? "Capacitive touch" control buttons give no feedback. They feel as if you're pushing a solid surface. No movement, beep or click, nothing.

? No touch-sensitive outside door handles that lock/unlock without using the remote-control key fob. Thus, you always need to dig for the key. Touch handles are a common convenience, so they are conspicuous in their absence from Enclave.

? One-touch up/down is only on the driver's window. Passenger gets just one-touch down; backs are hold-'em. Simple one-touch up/down is handy and becoming common. Enclave's setup seems a bit primitive for a luxury vehicle.

? No push-button ignition; you have to insert and turn the key. Seems old-fashioned now that even mainstream family sedans have push-button start.

Not life-or-death items, of course. Nothing you can't live without. But Buick insists it's a full luxury brand, not just premium, and the test vehicle was luxury-priced ($52,090).

Lux folk don't kindly forgo the sorts of features Enclave still is missing. Never mind the new LED lighting or real stitching on the leather.

Test Drive's definition of a luxury car includes these: It must provide at least every feature that lesser vehicles offer. And it never should annoy or inconvenience the user. Enclave looks good, rides and handles nicely, is quick and roomy - but is missing some useful features and can't claim to insulate the user from bother.

About the 2013 Buick Enclave

What? Significant update of full-size, four-door, seven- or eight-passenger SUV, available with front- or all-wheel drive (FWD or AWD).

When? On sale since November.

Where? Made at Lansing, Mich.

How much? $39,340 including $895 shipping for base FWD with cloth interior, $44,250 for the most-common model, $54,300 for top-end AWD with leather and all factory options. Test vehicle was AWD Premium with rear-seat entertainment system and power sunroof: $52,090.

What makes it go? 3.6-liter V-6 rated 288 horsepower at 6,300 rpm, 270 pounds-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm; updated six-speed automatic transmission.

How big? A few inches longer, wider, taller than Infiniti JX35; as long and wide as a Chevrolet Tahoe truck-based SUV, but has more total interior space than Tahoe and weighs 724 lbs. (FWD) or 645 lbs. (AWD) less. Enclave is 201.9 inches long, 79 in. wide, 71.7 in. tall on a 118.9-in wheelbase.

Passenger space, 151. 1 cu. ft. Cargo space: Behind third row, 23.3 cu. ft.; third row folded, 68.9 cu. ft.; second, third rows folded, 115.2 cu. ft.

Weighs 4,724 lbs (FWD) or 4,922 lbs (AWD). Rated to carry 1,687 lbs. (FWD) or 1,537 lbs. (AWD) of people, cargo and accessories.

Tows up to 4,500 lbs.

How thirsty? Rated 17 mpg in the city, 24 highway, 19 in city/highway mix (FWD); 16/22/18 (AWD).

Test vehicle spent too much time idling for winter warmth to get representative mileage reading.

Burns regular, holds 22 gallons.

Overall: Drives better than predecessor, but feature-challenged for the price.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Test Drive: New Enclave delivers mixed results

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