General Motors struck gold in 2006 with the rollout of its large cross/utility vehicles, the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse, and the auto maker polishes them to a deeper shine for the ’13 model year.

The 7- and 8-passenger GM CUVs first bowed during an industry shift from body-on-frame midsize SUVs to a unibody design offering greater fuel efficiency but the same road-commanding demeanor and cargo-carrying capabilities of their predecessors.

Today, the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse rank as the preferred pick among consumers seeking three rows of minivan-like functionality and SUV ruggedness without the soccer-mom or gas-guzzler image. According to WardsAuto data, the trio combined last year for 220,589 U.S. sales and a whopping 78.4% of the large CUV segment.

The Ford Flex, which in WardsAuto testing has proved to be an equally capable if not somewhat polarizing competitor, finished a distant second to the GM entries on deliveries of 28,224 units and a 10% share of segment.

But if the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse have suffered from any shortcomings it would be the recent age of the lineup. Their combined sales tumbled nearly 10% last year against an industry up 13% compared with 2011.

GM cures those ills for ’13, updating the CUVs with sharper styling, new gadgetry, breakthrough safety and enhanced ride-and-handling. A year-end boom in Enclave sales as the new models hit Buick showrooms proves owners have been awaiting the facelifts with bated breath.

WardsAuto tested each of the redesigned GM CUVs over the course of several weeks in late 2012, ranging from the suburbs of northern California to the back roads of rural central Kentucky to the gritty streets of Detroit.

Our impression is largely unchanged. The three arguably remain the best large CUVs on the market, although the updates qualify more as facelifts rather than the generational redesigns they might deserve.

It makes for a combination of a little something new/something used. For example, each model receives just enough exterior styling tweaks for a fresher, more contemporary demeanor, but otherwise the sheet metal goes untouched.

The interiors are crowned with redesigned dashboards boasting exotic new wood grains, cool ambient lighting and updated switchgear; below the instrument panel everything carries over.

Perhaps most notably, the 3.6L V-6 engine is reused, although a lighter, more-efficient version appears in other GM applications for ’13.

A Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner in 2008 and 2009, the 3.6L V-6 now does yeoman’s work throughout the auto maker’s lineup of cars and trucks. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, which GM recalibrates to deliver better acceleration and extra punch at highway speeds, it again proves a sufficient performer in the large CUVs.

But from a standstill under heavy throttle, this engine seems overmatched for the trio’s all-wheel-drive versions we tested that tip the scales at nearly 5,000 lbs. (2,178 kg).

Real-world fuel economy of between 17 and 19 mpg (13.8-12.4 L/100 km) is satisfactory, but not noteworthy for a growing segment with models featuring downsized boosting and other performance-enhancing and fuel-saving technologies.

That said, there’s still a whole lot to like about the ’13 Acadia, Enclave and Traverse redesigns.

The exterior of each CUV receives updated lower front and rear fascias, featuring newly designed foglamps and daytime running lights (DRL) that perfectly match their more expressive grilles, as well as integrated exhaust outlets giving their back ends a more contemporary, upscale look.

The Acadia, which includes a range-topping Denali edition for the first time, receives unique light-emitting diodes headlamp lighting and three edgy new wheel designs.

The Traverse gets bigger, with more-expressive taillamps than its predecessor. The model we tested included an upscale, chrome sill plate for the lift-gate opening. New headlamps are more stylish, too.

The Enclave grows more luxurious looking with the addition of chrome trim to the rear fascia and lower rocker panel. The familiar Buick portholes are moved to their proper place atop the hood, instead of along its side. The exterior C-pillar goes black for ’13. Previously, it was body-colored and created an unnatural break in the greenhouse.

The Enclave’s DRLs include an LED element, and the rear lamps employ new LED technology using fewer diodes. They are less costly, lighter, more efficient and attractive. And they glow like molten steel.

Inside, each CUV model takes a major step forward with new materials, lighting and color combinations, although the Enclave’s cabin wins our vote as the best of the three.

The best-selling Buick’s ice-blue ambient lighting runs across the front dashboard and cascades into the doors. A rheostat controls the brightness. Rich wood seemingly is everywhere, trimming the dashboard and expanding into big slabs on the door. Wood also caps the armrest, center console and steering wheel.

The Enclave’s redesigned dashboard eliminates the nickel-like trim of previous models that created unsightly breaks, going all-leather for an uncluttered and luxurious appearance.

All three models share a redesigned human-machine interface with an available 6.5-in. (16.5 cm) touchscreen to consolidate navigation, infotainment options and smartphone links with big full-color buttons. The HMI also includes capacitive-touch switches for the first time and new knobs for audio and climate control have an excellent tactile feel.

One blemish is the exposed guts of the sunroof on the Acadia. The black rails and levers, shiny with lubricant and fingerprints from installation, cheapen an otherwise excellent interior.

Perhaps more than anything, the three CUVs are known for cavernous interior space, and that goes unchanged for ’13.

We’ve loaded each of them to the gills on several occasions. They gulp down duffle bags, grocery sacks, golf clubs, baby strollers, pack-and-plays and child car seats with room to spare.

Unladen, each of the CUVs comfortably carries a family of seven. GM’s SmartSlide makes third-row access a snap, even with the second-row bench-seat option for 8-passenger capability. However, there should be a center headrest in the third row.

The ’13 model year also marks the debut of the industry’s first front-center airbag. Nearly every Acadia, Enclave and Traverse unit features the safety innovation, which prevents the front passengers from colliding in a side-impact crash (GM sells a handful of base units without the power seats necessary for the technology).

GM also tweaks the suspension of the CUVs to reduce body roll and deliver a smoother ride at low speeds. In the hills outside San Francisco, where twisty roads rise and fall with little or no shoulder, the Traverse feels light on its feet and surprisingly maneuverable for its size.

With the Acadia, Enclave and Traverse, GM delivers three excellent large CUVs catering to three different types of consumers with three different wallet sizes. They may not have received the stem-to-stern redesign we anticipated, but the updates should be plenty for GM to maintain leadership in the segment until that time comes.

jamend@wardsauto.com

’13 GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse
Vehicle type Front engine, AWD large cross/utility vehicle
Engine 3.6L gasoline direct-injection 6-cyl.
Power (SAE net) 288 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm) @ 3,400 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 3.70 X 3.37 in. (94 X 85.6 mm)
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 118.9 in. (302 cm)
Overall length 203.7 in. (517 cm)
Overall width 78.5 in. (199 cm)
Overall height 69.9 in. (178 cm)
Curb weight 4,956 lbs. (2,248 kg)
Base price $30,340-$39,270
Fuel economy 16-23 mpg city/hwy est. (14.7-10.2 L/100 km)
Competition Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9
Pros Cons
Luxurious interiors Aging powertrain
Gobs of cargo room Unsightly sunroof guts
Remarkable handling Go further next time