The typical idea of a luxury car is pure magnificence, meticulously crafted and artfully engineered, with few expenses spared in creating the most-beautiful, best-driving machine.
Of course, pure magnificence is expensive to design and manufacture. And the world’s best-looking, best-driving vehicles — even in inherently useful market classes like seven-passenger crossover SUVs — often don’t end up with the world’s roomiest interiors.
Take the Audi Q7. This seven-passenger crossover drives like one of the world’s best sports sedans, and has a gorgeous, high-tech interior. But it starts at nearly $55,000 and has a cramped third-row seat with little cargo space behind it.
That’s why some of the most-popular three-row luxury crossovers trade maximum sophistication for family-friendly interior volume and more-affordable prices. Models like the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60 and Buick Enclave share many mechanical components with affordable mainstream-brand models (the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Chevrolet Traverse, respectively).
Of the three, the 2019 Buick Enclave we tested has the lowest base price and the most interior volume for either passengers or cargo. It promises richer interior materials, more elegant styling, a quieter ride, and a longer list of available features than its Chevrolet sibling, which is precisely what it delivers.
But if you’re looking for a more-radical advance from the already-nice world of mainstream-brand crossovers, you’ll have to settle for less interior space and buy a European competitor.
The Enclave, priced from $41,195, was last redesigned for the 2018 model year. The overhaul retained the Enclave’s longtime strengths of a spacious interior and a smooth, quiet ride, while modernizing its technology, improving its handling and upgrading its interior decor.
Longtime owners should still be satisfied, while those who found the old model to be behind the times might feel the Enclave has caught up.
Purely as a family vehicle, it’s hard to fault the Enclave. It’s bigger than the competition, and that results in enough room for even seven adults — not just five adults and two children — plus a useful amount of cargo. Many seven-passenger crossovers, particularly from luxury brands, have little usable cargo room behind the third row, which means you have to routinely fold it down.
The Enclave has two to three times as much volume back there as many competitors and the most in its class.
One drawback: Unlike the Chevrolet Traverse and some other crossovers, you can’t get eight-passenger seating in the Enclave. All models have second-row captain’s chairs.
Drivers get a nice experience, too. A high center console keeps you feeling cozy even in a big long bus like the Enclave, and it doesn’t drive like a cumbersome full-size SUV. A strong, smooth 310-horsepower V6 engine comes standard, and the Enclave gets a decent 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving on regular-grade fuel.
As a luxury car, though, some buyers would have wanted the Enclave to feel more special. It does wear gracefully curved styling inside and out, but the interior fails to truly dazzle for its materials or technology, looking and feeling ordinary in too many ways. On the road, too, it’s smooth and quiet, but it fades into the background rather than jumping out to impress you.
Meanwhile, many buyers will wish the advanced safety features of the Enclave, as a family car, were more widely available. As on many General Motors models, emergency automatic braking is restricted to fully loaded models, which in the Enclave’s case cost more than $50,000. They’re standard equipment on many mainstream-brand crossovers.
That said, for families who don’t want to sacrifice maximum interior room to get a higher-end experience than a normal family crossover, the Enclave remains a strong option. Some well-appointed mainstream-brand models are also worth considering, including the Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent, as well as the less-spacious but even fancier Mazda CX-9.
Visit tinyurl.com/enclave-sentinel to see more photos of the tested 2019 Buick Enclave.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.