Buick’s Enclave at home on the road

GRATZ, Ky.—There’s not much happening in town these days, not since they tore down the town’s historic bridge over the Kentucky River. The new bridge may be only a quarter-mile away, but its opening effectively isolated Gratz by taking it off Route 22, which used to run right down Main Street.

What’s left can be described as an enclave for those who grew up here and stubbornly refused to leave when commerce deserted the town— and a few who came home.

The center of their lives is the News Café, a combination restaurant, convenience store, antiques shop, and B&B that is named for its owners. It sits right where the old bridge’s span began when it was built in the 1930s.

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Ask the Newses—Earl and Linda— who bucked the trend and came back to town to open their business, and they’ll tell you that Gratz had a population as high as 1,100 during the town’s heyday. That was when it was a river port nearly a century ago, a time when commerce moved mostly by water, an era that ended with the advent of the automobile.

Today, there are 80 or so residents looking out for each other in this local enclave (that word again).

So it was only appropriate that Buick made Gratz one of the stops earlier this month when it introduced its 2013 Enclave luxury crossover and 2013 Verano Turbo model to the media.

Leaving Louisville, we drove a 170-mile loop through towns much like Gratz, plus beautiful farmland and horse country. The state highways were smooth and well maintained; however, there was no shoulder for any unwary journalists who were rubbernecking at the scenery.

The Buick Enclave is an admirable luxury enclave just as Gratz is a beautiful riverfront spot that offers comfort and community to those who visit.

Even brand-new, the Enclave already is the best seller among luxury crossovers. Its primary competition is the Acura MDX as well as the Audi Q7, Infiniti JX, Lincoln MKT, and Volvo XC90.

Enclave reflects the brand’s revitalization over the past five years. In 2007, Buick’s portfolio had the LaCrosse, Lucerne,Terraza, Rainier, and Rendezvous. Today, there’s an all-new LaCrosse plus theVerano, Regal, and Enclave. Coming soon will be the Encore, ready to offer another high-end choice in the ultracompetitive compact SUV segment.

GM has been pleased to see leasing rebound from 17 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2012, assuring dealers of a flow of quality low-mileage used cars coming off lease.

Buick touts the Enclave’s exterior styling, ride comfort, and quality as its chief selling points.

What struck me was the attention to the third-row seating. Lots of vehicles offer it, but not many make access to that back row really easy. The minivan folks and competitors have come up with all sorts of sliding, flipping, and folding designs, including Buick’s own Smart-Slide system.

However, Enclave makes it even simpler. Second-row captain’s chairs on the two upper trim levels (expected to account for 90 percent of sales) allow for passengers to easily slip between seats to the third row. It’s a time when luxury meets utility.

Enclave starts at $39,270 (all prices include destination) with a leather level at $43,285 and Premium at $46,450. The main option New Englanders would check is all-wheeldrive, a $2,000 option.

GM’s design teams, both interior and exterior, have expanded their use of LED lighting. In front, there are standard LED-look accent lights but the LED accent lights have a “brush stroke” technology for a smoother look. In back, the GM engineers are the first to apply a new technology to make the LED taillights appear as even lighting instead of “somewhat less than a thousand” points of light.

Inside, LED light bars outline the top of the dashboard with ambient light at night, melding with similar ambient outlines on the doors and emphasizing spaciousness.

The dashboard features real stitching, a contour that blends into the door designs, new ice blue (looks green to me) lighting, and quality leather. Major climate controls are larger, but some of the ancillary buttons remain tiny.

A new center airbag—an industry first—is located in the console between the front seats, designed to keep the front passengers from being thrown into each other, especially in side-impact collisions.

On the road, the Enclave remains powered by GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 288 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is EPA-predicted as 24 mpg for front-wheeldrive models and 22 for AWD versions.

The six-speed automatic transmission has been significantly recalibrated, eliminating gear-hunting, especially when downshifting.

A rearview camera is standard, but blind spot alert and cross-traffic alerts remain options.

Six months of OnStar’s “Directions and Connections” service is standard on Enclave and the IntelliLink audio system seems to be fairly intuitive in integrating Bluetooth and both voice commands and touch screen controls.

It’s not likely to happen, but we’d like to be driving an Enclave in a return trip to the enclave of Gratz.