CORNWALL, N.Y. — I never believed that Shaquille O’Neal or Tiger Woods, or any other hot-shot celebrity, regularly drove Buicks. That automotive nameplate does not carry the prestigious oomph those people usually demand.
Does BMW do it? Yes. What about Mercedes-Benz and Lexus? Yes. Does Cadillac do it? It certainly did it for Tiger Woods. It did him in, too. He crashed a Cadillac Escalade trying to escape a wife mightily upset over his marital infidelities.
But you’ll notice that Tiger did not crash a Buick in that image-altering embarrassment. He, like Shaq, did national TV commercials for Buick. But I’m betting neither of them drove Buicks in their daily lives.
Buick is what Mitt Romney might call a 47 percent brand, which means that Mr. Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, must have understood that 47 percent of Americans really aren’t moochers.
Most of them are hardworking people, wage earners and family people. They have aspirations for something better. And Buick, since 1903, has been one of their favorite brands.
That explains this column’s subject vehicle, the Buick Enclave Premium all-wheel-drive. It is a full-size crossover-utility vehicle, also available with front-wheel drive — a station wagon masquerading as a minivan and sport-utility vehicle. It is what the automobile industry calls “entry-level luxury” in demeanor and overall presentation.
“Entry-level luxury” means a vehicle is so affordable that a truly rich person, someone like Shaq or Tiger, probably wouldn’t buy it. They’ve long exceeded their financial, and probably their social, aspirations.
But a middle-class striver will find the Buick Enclave, especially the premium all-wheel-drive version driven for this column, super-attractive.
The Enclave’s always beautiful exterior has been made even more so for 2013, probably the last year for the current generation of the Enclave model, which soon will be completely revamped. The 2013 model is sleeker than its predecessor, accented by light-emitting diodes enclosing the headlamps. In conjunction with Buick’s famed waterfall grille, this makes for one of the most attractive front ends on any crossover-utility vehicle.
The interior is sumptuous, genuinely sumptuous. The colors are rich. The materials are premium and superbly stitched and put together. It is a comfortable space with seats for seven or eight adults.
It all explains Buick’s popularity in global markets, especially in places such as China, where an emerging middle class puts special emphasis on what they term “face” — dignity, pride and honor. The vehicle they drive must be endowed with “face.”
The Buick Enclave, sold in the United States and China, offers loads of “face” and space. Equipped with a 3.6-liter gasoline V-6, a refined six-speed automatic transmission and a reworked suspension, it drives quite well, too. It will please many people. But throttle jockeys need not apply. Nor, for that matter, should people like Shaq and Tiger look at this one for their daily driving pleasure. Not enough titillation — Tiger might understand.