The spirit of the Buick Estate Wagon lives in the 2020 Enclave Avenir, with several notable improvements.
Before the invention of the minivan, many families took long trips in large American station wagons. Based on full-sized cars, they could carry up to eight people in comfort, including three each on the benches that served as the front and back seats, and two in the optional rear-facing "rumble seat" that pulled up out of the floor in front of the tailgate.
The Buick Estate Wagon was among the longest and most comfortable of these family haulers. Based on the chassis shared by the LeSabre, Elektra and, finally, Roadmaster sedans, the top-of-the-line versions featured a huge V8 for good power, a massive air conditioner for summer vacations, power everything, and — in the final 1980's version — an automatic load leveling rear suspension.
Nowadays, crossover SUVs have replaced minivans as the most popular choice for family travel. Buick has kept up with the Enclave, one of the most spacious three-rows on the market. And the new top-of-the-line Avenir trim level offers just about every conceivable comfort, luxury, safety and technology feature, including a Premium Suspension package that adds real-time adjustable suspension damping with steering calibration.
But, unlike the Estate Wagons of the past, the Enclave can also be ordered with two drive modes — Sport and Touring — and all-wheel-drive, which improves traction in wet weather driving. And, of course, the available technology, including safety systems, is far more advanced.
Our test 2020 Buick Enclave Avenir was dazzling in a White Frost paint job that showed off the flowing exterior lines, accented by massive 20-inch aluminum wheels. Inside, the Ebony interior was configured for seven passengers, with two front bucket seats, two Captains Chairs for the second row, and a third row best suited for three teenagers. But it had much more head, shoulder and leg room than car-based station wagon. It was also much quieter and smoother riding, competing with genuine luxury vehicle standards.
All Enclaves are powered by GM's proven 3.6-liter V6 engine, which produces 310 horsepower — a remarkable 70 more than the 280 in the last Roadmaster version of the Estate Wagon, which came standard with a detuned Corvette V8 engine. Acceleration is surprisingly good in the Touring mode and a little better in the Sport mode, which also features a slightly firmer suspension. When equipped with the Trailering Package, the Enclave can also pull up to 5,000 pounds, allowing it to tow most utility and camper trailers.
The Avenir trim level is intended as a sub-brand, much the same as GMC's Denali trim. It includes some special features like a Bose 10-speaker audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8-inch infotainment screen with GPS navigation, a wireless device charging pad, HD surround-view camera, and a camera-based rear-view mirror. It also features unique exterior trim and an exclusive ebony or chestnut and ebony interior treatment. That's all in addition to the premium content available in other high-trim Enclave models.
In a week of testing, we found the Enclave Avenir easy and comfortable to drive, although we were always aware of its size and took extra care when ordering food from drive-throughs and squeezing through crowded parking lots, including a run to a Home Depot for remodeling supplies that easily fit into the ample cargo space — up to 97.6 cubic feet, with the rear seat folded down and the captains chairs moved forward.
Buick has redesigned itself for a changing world, pioneering the first luxury subcompact, the Encore, and now offering a seriously sporty mid-size Regal Sportback and TourX wagon. But it has not forgotten its commitment to large families. Anyone looking for extra style, luxury and technology in a three-row crossover SUV should check out the 2020 Buick Enclave Avenir.
2020 Buick Enclave Avenir
Base price: $56,100
Price as tested: $59,990
Type: Mid-size SUV
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (310 hp, 266 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 17/25
Overall length: 204.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,685 pounds
Final assembly: Lansing, Michigan
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.