Buick’s “That’s a Buick” campaign focused on a younger market. The company portrayed itself as producing cool, sleek cars that would make you forget all about that drab sixth-generation LeSabre your grandmother had that was probably beige. With the “Avenir” sub-brand Buick is extending on that premise, recasting itself for a wealthier (but still young and hip, we swear) customer.
Avenir is the French word for “future.” I had the chance to drive the future’s flagship, the Buick Enclave Avenir luxury SUV, in all its chestnut leather-clad glory, to Northern Michigan and back. The future does not come cheaply. It’s a $60,000 ($59,435 as tested) Buick. After driving it around for a week, that price point does not feel so unreasonable.
The Good: This is for an affluent, multi-child family. The parents want the practicality and the seating capacity of a minivan but swore a blood oath together never to buy one.
Who They’re For: The styling is sharp for a three-row SUV, with more defined lines than the previous generation Enclave. The drive, for a three-row SUV, is eager and agreeable. The responsive 3.6L V6 delivers 310 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. The nine-speed automatic transmission was spot-on during casual and aggressive driving. The Enclave proved itself nimble around the corners on winding backroads. The interior, in the first two rows, is spacious. Six USB ports, a power outlet, and wireless charging should meet all device power-related needs. Climate control was excellent. I’m not sure how I have survived so many summers without ventilated cooling seats.
Watch Out For: The “Avenir Technology Package” – adaptive cruise control, automatic front braking, premium suspension – is a must have. It costs an extra $2,095. Rear visibility checks in somewhere between poor and non-existent: The small rear window tilts upward at an angle; third-row headrests obscure what little you can see (essentially semi-trucks and crossover rooftops); the B-pillar is more of a “near total eclipse” than a “blind spot.” You are mirror dependent. Combine the poor visibility with a wonky, over-engineered PRND shifter with multiple buttons and a proximity warning butt buzzer, and even routine parking becomes a nuisance.
Tech: The touchscreen felt a little less “future” and more “present or recent past.” The navigation system worked. The menus weren’t very intuitive on first use, but you would get used to them. Apple Carplay and Android Auto, the preferable options for most people, are compatible. A rear camera and bird’s-eye parking view are useful and necessary. The Enclave Avenir also has a switchable rear view mirror camera, which I found unnerving to use while driving.
Alternatives: There are many in a crowded market. GM alone offers two, the Chevy Traverse High Country and the GMC Acadia Denali. Lincoln brings the MKT Reserve. Dodge has a Citadel Anodized Platinum edition of the Durango. Those wanting more off-road capability can go for the Ford Explorer Platinum or the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. That is just the American segment of the three-row SUV market topping out between $50,000 and $60,000.
Value: The fully-optioned Enclave Avenir costs a few thousand more than American competitors that are quite similar down to the engine displacement and the option for a premium tri-coat white paint. It’s about $10,000 more than maxed out versions of the VW Atlas SEL Premium, the Mazda CX-9, and the Subaru Ascent Touring. In that sense, it is pricey. On the other hand, leveling up to the Enclave Avenir offers features that would rocket the price well over $60,000 in a Volvo XC90, a BMW X5, an Audi Q7, or a Land Rover.
Pro Tip: Assess whether you need the third row of seats. Versatility to do two things can mean doing neither well. The trunk, even with a false bottom offering more storage, is small. Traveling with luggage or infant gear, or even a robust grocery trip may turn this into a four or five-seater. The rear bench was uncomfortable with little leg room for a 5’11” adult during a 15-minute cruise, and there is no way more than two of me were squeezing in back there. A smaller family could make the $60,000 go further in the two-row SUV market. A family that needs three rows may want to upgrade to a full-size SUV.
Verdict: The Enclave Avenir drives better than you would expect for what amounts to an elevated minivan. The luxury, even with the mildly discordant chestnut leather, would not leave you feeling short-changed from a more traditional premium brand. Your friends may not believe it’s a Buick. But, at $60,000, it could be a Land Rover and you need never have that conversation.
2018 Buick Avenir Key Specs
Engine: 3.6L V-6
Transmission: nine-speed automatic; front-wheel or all-wheel drive
Torque: 266 lb-ft
Max Trailering: 5,000 pounds
Price: $55,715 (base); $59,435 (as tested)
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