Narrow niche, but it serves a purpose. The 2021 Buick Enclave isn’t quite mainstream, but it’s not quite luxury either. With a handful of premium goodies scattered among more mainstream standard equipment, premium interior and exterior designs, a ho-hum powertrain, and some questionable cost-savings tactics, the Enclave fits a very narrow class of buyers: those seeking an upscale ride and look without paying a premium price.

Stylish inside and out; lacks palette options in base trim. The Enclave plays its hand pretty wide open, as it broadcasts to the world that it’s not quite mainstream and not quite luxury. It shows off its not-quite-mainstream side with its sharp body that boasts just the right number of curves and creases, a wide grille with a thin chrome trim piece and floating emblem, and a tasteful amount of chrome trim down the sides and around back.

Inside, its non-mainstream looks continue with its swoopy, two-tone dash, angular air vents, clean center stack, electronic gear shifter, noise cancellation, and plenty of premium upholstery options. The cabin is also where its not-so-luxury side comes out, as its standard 8-inch touchscreen isn’t a technophile’s dream for a luxury crossover, but it’s functional and easy to use. Also, its cloth seating helps rein in costs to make it more accessible than a true luxury crossover.

Another cost-saving scheme that pulls it from the luxury space and will turn off some buyers is its limited color palette in every trim below the range-topping Avenir. These trims have just one no-cost color option: Summit White. They do have six optional “Premium” colors that range from $495 to $1,095. Some luxury automakers can and do get away with this upsell tactic, but a Buick? Nope.

The Avenir has five standard color options and one $600 premium option, but it rings in at over $13,000 more than the base model.

Nice assortment of standard features, safety tech is a different story. The Buick Enclave has a nice list of standard equipment in its base Preferred trim. This list includes 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, three-zone automatic climate control, a wi-fi hotspot, remote start, LED headlights, active noise cancellation, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and more.

The touchscreen and smartphone integration is on par with most mainstream Enclave competitors and even some true luxury rivals, but the Mazda CX-9 puts it to shame with its 10.3-inch standard touchscreen. Otherwise, the Enclave’s standard features are unmatched by other base mainstream crossovers.

Buyers who want to see just how close the Enclave can get to the luxury segment can opt for the Avenir. The Enclave Avenir adds upgraded leather, a surround-view camera, 20-inch rollers, a wireless smartphone charger, a panoramic sunroof, and much more. While it offers tons of features, the Avenir starts from $54,995, making it one pricey Buick. For just bout $5,000 more, you can pick up a base BMW X5. For just a grand more, you can get an Audi Q7 Premium.

Though the Enclave received “Good” scores in all IIHS crash tests, we can’t rave about its safety because it lacks available automatic emergency braking in its two lowest trims. AEB is, however, standard in the Premium and Avenir trims. This is a huge oversight, as most mainstream crossovers include this and more standard, including the Ford Explorer, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Ascent, and others.

Cloud-soft ride, not much excitement. Buick’s signature for many years has been comfort, and the Enclave delivers a winner with its standard active noise control. It keeps engine, road, and wind noise to a minimum, while its slick chassis eats potholes for lunch.

While its ride is up there with German luxury machines, its performance pulls it back down to Earth. The Enclave’s standard 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 is competent but lacks the power and refinement to compete with the X5’s 340-hp six-cylinder. It does, however, get a jump on the Acura MDX’s 290-hp 3.5-liter V6 in terms of output, but not refinement.

Buyers seeking power can opt for the Explorer and its turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, which delivers 365 to 400 hp, depending on the trim. The CX-9 is more agile, but it sacrifices in output (227 hp) and comfort.

Final thoughts. The 2021 Buick Enclave fits in a narrow niche between mainstream and luxury for buyers who want that premium feel without a premium price. It also fits those who couldn’t care less about brand prestige and see a BMW or Mercedes-Benz as just a pricier moniker.

No matter what trim level you choose, the Enclave delivers a cloud-soft ride and a peaceful cabin, but there are some trade-offs. These compromises include its unrefined powertrain and some less-than-luxurious standard features in lower trims. It also lacks standard automatic emergency braking, which other far cheaper models in its class come standard with.

For buyers seeking a crossover that’s more fun to drive, the Mazda CX-9 is an option, or you can bump up to the far more expensive BMW X5. If you’re concerned about value, the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, and CX-9 all offer lower starting prices by a few thousand dollars, making their options more accessible.

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