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The Essence of an Enclave

Published on Thu, Dec 12, 2019

By: John-Fredrik Wright

The 2020 Buick Enclave Essence reminds us of fond memories in the Enclave Avenir. Springing from the same family of Buicks they are set apart more in their respective level of luxury than their price.

A while back I spent a week in the Buick Enclave AvenirAvenir, which in French means “future”, is what Buick calls their top-of-the-line trim levels. Like their cousins the “Denalis” of the GMC family, the Avenirs are treated as their own little brand-within-a-brand. When browsing the Buick site you can filter to only see the “Avenir Line”, as if it’s its own family of cars. It’s not. What it is, however, is a really nice trim level. The Enclave Avenir is an Enclave, with pretty much every available feature installed, and then some. On the other side of the Buick Enclave scale of trims we have the Enclave Preferred, striating at $40,000. Essentially, this is the version stripped bare of most luxuries, fluff, and bells and whistles. The trim level of Essence – just a notch up from the Preferred trim – starts at $42,000. Our test vehicle is of Essence heritage, but with all-wheel drive and a couple of niceties added to it, upping the MSRP to $49,055. Comparing this to the Avenir that starts at $53,500 you would be forgiven if you – like me – pondered if a buyer ready to drop $49k would be inclined to go a little higher (our beat the dealer down) and drive away in an Enclave Avenir. My answer would be “hopefully”, since the Avenir is a really nice car, and the Essence is “just” a nice car.

2020 Buick Enclave Essence
Rounded, but still bold and rugged.

The 2020 Buick Enclave Essence does have a bunch of things going for it. This is a solid vehicle; you can hear it when you close the doors, feel it when you turn knobs and switches, and see it portrayed in the exterior styling. It looks heavier than it feels to drive, but drives larger than it looks… Let me explain.

The Enclave is a large car, a fact noticeable by anyone walking up to it. The exterior design adds a certain level of strength – muscles – and everyone knows that muscles weigh a lot. In the case of the Enclave, however, this perceived weight isn’t carried over to the driving characteristics. This is a good thing.

The “largeness”, however, carries over to the driving characteristics. The rounded corners – mainly the headlights wrapping down from the hood – conceal the actual edge of the car. It is really hard to “learn” where the outer edges of the car are, making the Enclave really hard to park or maneuver in tight spaces. This is something I hadn’t noticed in the Enclave Avenir, probably since that test vehicle was equipped with a top-down camera. For the potential Essence-buyer, opting for a top-down camera might be a smart move. With that said; Obviously, a Buick Enclave Essence owner will, eventually, get a feel for where their car is, and how close they can get to curbs and poles without having to file an insurance claim.

2020 Buick Enclave Essence
The space of an Enclave comes in handy with three
little ones needing a place to rest after a hike.

Throughout the interior, though, the size of the Enclave Essence is much appreciated. Even with the third row in use there is still space for the aftermath of an average shopping adventure. Perhaps some Essence owners go on excursions beyond the local supermarket – one would hope as much – so I figured we should try out its excursion capabilities. Alas, the road to Monrovia Canyon Park is paved – albeit full of twists and turns – so the off-road capabilities of this all-wheel drive vehicle can’t be tested or proved. It does well going up and down the canyon road, but then again so would pretty much any car. Furthermore, it’s probably fair to assume that the vast majority of Enclave owners will not go anywhere that would entail a real need for off-road capabilities. The all-wheel-drive should, instead, be seen as a great safety feature that might prove helpful in the rain, or come in handy should you head up a mountain road during snowy conditions, perhaps for a ski-trip. And in that case, assuming that you have at least half of the third row folded away, you should be able to carry all the gear you need. Probably excluding your skis that is, but hey, there aren’t many cars that can pack a family of five and their skis, you’ll need a roof-rack for that.

The Enclave Essence has the hands-free power lift-gate, a feature once mastered – there’s a learning curve as you figure out just how much you need to swing your foot around under the rear bumper – is one thing you can’t believe you survived this long without. Manually opening the heavy lift-gate – after setting down whatever you’re carrying – is a thing of the past. Good riddance!

OnStar, on all GM products, is a great feature. Nowadays, however, with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, the very helpful voices of OnStar are having to compete with Siri, the assistant who knows more about me than I care to admit, and Waze, the traffic/navigation app that knows more about your daily drive than you do. Safety-wise – with an automatic call if your airbags deploy, for example – OnStar is still ahead of the game. As an OnStar fan, coupled with my willingness to drink any cool-aid Apple might conjure up, it will be interesting to see how OnStar stays relevant as more and more of our lives, routines, and safety are packed into our mobile device. I guess one way they are doing this, seen already, is the OnStar 4G LTE wi-fi that the mobile devices hook up to. It seems faster, and more stable, than solely using the cellphone 4G coverage, which might keep their synergistic dependency intact.

This is about as muddy as any
LA-based Enclave will ever get.

To summarize, the Buick Enclave Essence does a great job at being the middle child, straddling the position in-between the entry-level base trim of Preferred, and the top-of-the-line trim levels of Premium and Avenir. The leather-appointed seats included in the Essence, as well as the Rear Cross-Traffic Alert system, and Lane Change and Side Blind Zone Warning systems are well worth the two thousand dollars separating it from the Preferred trim. However, that can turn into an expensive way of thinking; each couple of thousand dollars you add to your price will get you a couple of features that are really nice-to-have, and one step closer to just ponying up for the Avenir. But then again, that wouldn’t be so bad now, would it?

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