Rose Bowl or Bust

Buick Enclave takes us on a cross-country run for the ages to the centennial Pasadena game.

by on Jan.06, 2014

Our intrepid correspondent drove a 2014 Buick Enclave like this one from Detroit to Pasadena.

For more than a century, college football fans have packed their gear and headed out across the land to the “Grand Daddy of Them All,” the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

What began as a midwinter event to promote southern California tourism has grown into one of sports most heralded annual events, replete with a week’s worth of team and fan activities, a five-mile-long parade and a football showdown that makes even a non-fan’s bucket list. So when the opportunity presented itself to attend the 100th playing of said game, complete with all the pomp and pageantry, we jumped at the chance to become a rolling media stunt of our own.

Big Game!

While many of the fans attending the first college football matchup on the grounds where the Rose Bowl now stands no doubt hitched up their horse-drawn conveyances to get to the game, we stuffed and stowed our gear into a diamond white 2014 Buick Enclave for the cross-country journey to the 100th Rose Bowl between the Michigan State Spartans and the Stanford Cardinal.

Can you fit all this...

Our run for the roses wasn’t as a simple as buying game and plane tickets, booking a hotel room and packing a bag. Given that our crew included a few broke college kids, a father of five and yours truly—a semi-employed freelance auto writer—our trip by necessity demanded thrift. When Buick, the automotive sponsor of Michigan State Spartan Athletics, offered up a seven-seat Enclave to make the drive from Detroit to Pasadena, suddenly what seemed like a pipe dream sounded almost do-able.

California-based auto writer colleague Mark Vaughn sealed the deal with cheap lodging just a few miles from the Rose Bowl stadium.

What does a two-day, 2,500-mile road trip reveal about Buick’s top-of-the-line crossover cruiser? Quite a bit, and most of it good, especially considering the vehicle is heading into its seventh year on the market and is due for a total makeover for the 2016 model year. The test was even more daunting given that the average age of our crew was about two to three decades younger than the typical Buick buyer. But the premium trim, $53,400 all-wheel-drive Enclave won accolades all around.

“Not a bad car—I like it,” observed the 22-year-old MSU junior. “I’d drive one.” here? Apparently so.

At the older end of the spectrum, our father figure in the group applauded the supportive front bucket seats, second row captain’s chairs and even the relatively Spartan (pun intended) third row for keeping his back pain in check.

(Automakers end 2013 with best sales in six years. Click Here for the story.)

But a few anecdotal observations do not make for a complete report, so here goes.

While power, handling and ride all factor into a car’s worth, this one started out with a simple bottom line: Few, if any, crossovers outside the General Motors family (that includes the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia) could do what this Enclave did—specifically, load in six adult passengers and their luggage.

Although cargo space behind the third row meant each passenger was limited to an airline carry-on size bag, the fact remains that all six bags did fit in the Enclave. Six people and luggage usually demands a full-size SUV or a minivan—or worse, a fuel-economy-killing rooftop cargo box—to handle that trick. Not so with the Enclave.

Rose Bowl or Bust!

Packing in six adult passengers tested the Enclave’s seating functionality and flexibility. Second-row fore-aft adjustment provided adequate legroom for third-row riders without unduly harming second-row space. While we’d have welcomed just a few more inches of passenger space, we found the overall fit sufficient, even during back-to-back 20-hour drives. We would recommend that designers take a close look at improving the second-row seat ease of operation—it was always tough to get the seat to fold and move properly to allow for third-row passengers’ ingress and egress.

That said, as noted earlier, seat comfort was generally superior, even over the long haul. Aircraft engineers could learn a few things from the folks who made these supportive leather seats. The tri-zone climate control also proved its worth, keeping everyone comfortable from driver to third row. Interior lighting, especially the blue-glow ambient lines highlighting the doors and dashboard, was particularly pleasant.

(Mercedes lands 2013 luxury sales crown. Click Herefor details.)

We found ample power outlets and connections for phones and MP3 music players, however the vehicle did lack built-in 110-volt outlets now common in many SUVs and crossovers. We made do by plugging in a 300-watt portable power inverter. Navigation was good, if presented a tad small on the center screen, and that’s from this longtime road-tripper who inadvertently left all his paper maps at home. In nearly 3,000 miles of driving, we never got lost.

Inside the Buick Enclave -- minus passengers.

Our packed vehicle all but eliminated rear visibility, so having a backup camera proved invaluable, along with detectors for rear obstacles, cross traffic and blind spots. Excellent driving aids. And while the front-crash warning system is a good first step, we can only hope the next Enclave sports active cruise control and parking assistance.

We found the 3.6-liter, 288-hp V-6 and six-speed transmission smooth and more than adequate to haul our heavy load, with fuel economy running at a surprising 18.5 mpg—just a tad more than the EPA combined city/highway estimate of 18 mpg. Imagine what will happen when GM engineers add an eight- or nine-speed gearbox and auto stop/start technology on the next-generation model.

Though our weight-hampered Enclave lost some of its usual handling prowess, which was especially evident as we wound through twisty mountain routes, overall the vehicle was steady and smooth for most of the drive. The all-wheel-drive system was unobtrusive, but absolutely crucial during one high-altitude photo stop when we nearly buried the vehicle in deep snow along a mountainous highway shoulder. A quick reverse gear and a punch on the accelerator allowed the Enclave’s four wheels to gain just enough grip to get us out of what could have been a very treacherous situation.

(Autonomous vehicles could account for a third of U.S. car sales. Click Herefor the story.)

The Enclave's center touchscreen serves both navigation and backup camera duties.

Our trek took us from the flatlands of the Midwest, up over the Rockies in Colorado and Utah, across the dry desert outside Las Vegas, and hard into the traffic-choked metropolis of Los Angeles. Through it all, the Enclave handled everything we could throw at it (as well as some soggy shaving-cream-covered marshmallows that Stanford fans tossed at our Spartan-decorated vehicle from along the Rose Bowl Parade route where we cruised the night before the big game).

The Rose Bowl is 100, the Tournament of Roses Parade is 125, and Buick is going on 111. We know we won’t be around for it, but we can only hope that 100 years from now football (in some form) will still be played in Pasadena, the parade will still step off at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2114, and Buick will still be making transportation to get fans to the big game. For now, there’s always next year.

Road trip, anyone?


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One Response to “Rose Bowl or Bust”

  1. dwight mannsburden says:

    Nice, but you would still have been better off in a minivan.

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