Buick may be on to something.
The latest proof is the new Envision model for ’21 that sits in the middle of the premium brand’s lineup just below the flagship Enclave.
The Envision, based on General Motors’ Epsilon/E2 platform that also underpins the Cadillac XT4, follows the same formula as the smaller Encore GX released a year ago: Jam a long list of driver-assistance, infotainment technology and comfort features into a stylish package at a reasonable price.
Imported from GM’s Yantai, China plant, the new Envision looks good. This isn’t your average, boxy midsize CUV that’s all grille and no curves. The 5-seater – its proportions no doubt benefitting from the lack of a wheelbase-stretching third row – features a strong stance, with the wheels pulled out to the corners and a sculpted body that appears taut and athletic.
The new model comes in three basic trims: Preferred, starting at $32,995; Essence ($36,995) and Avenir ($42,395).
The $1,325 Sport Touring package, available on Preferred and Essence lines, ups the aggressiveness quotient, adding a blacked-out grille, black 20-in. wheels and high-gloss black accents throughout.
This is the way to go for those looking for a little Buick swagger.
Our top-of-the-line Avenir tester features more bling, with brightwork accents along the door handles, lower trim and grille, plus pearl-nickel wheels and optional rich-garnet exterior paint.
Buick takes a minimalist approach to the overall interior design. A two-tone color scheme – a new Whisper Beige/Ebony combination – provides some drama, but accent trim is restricted mainly to the faux wood pieces along the door inners, piano-black along the center console and surrounding the touchscreen and instrument panel and a touch of brightwork around the vents, cupholders and steering wheel.
Seats are dressed up with a diamond-shaped stitch pattern (pictured below) and subtle Avenir script embroidery on the front head restraints.
More striking is the multi-layered instrument panel that adds dimensional flare and tilts controls – including the Avenir’s nicely sized 10.2-in. (26-cm) center screen (an 8-in. [20-cm] screen is standard in the base level Preferred model) – toward the driver. The center console incorporates a strip of toggles to select the drive modes, including a manual setting that allows use of steering-column paddle shifters.
The optional panoramic moonroof brightens and opens up the cabin, where leather is in abundant supply, adorning the door panels, heated steering wheel, dual-wing center console and seating surfaces.
Buick probably should have extended the leather to the lower portion of the dash to dress things up and enforce Avenir’s premium pedigree, but the cabin is attractive, comfortable and highly functional overall.
Power-adjusted front seats are heated and cooled, and the driver’s side includes lumbar support. The rear compartment offers generous legroom, and the outboard seats are heated as well. The 60/40 split rear seats fold completely flat, extending cargo room to 52.7 cu.-ft. (1,492 L).
There’s a full complement of driver-assistance technologies onboard. Even the base Envision Preferred comes complete with nine ADAS features: automatic emergency braking, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, front pedestrian braking, IntelliBeam auto high beams, lane-change alert with blindspot protection, lane-keep assist with lane departure warning (a vibrating seat), rear cross-traffic alert and rear park assist.
The user experience is further enhanced thorough a suite of connectivity and infotainment technology with a navigation system, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, head-up display, 4G wi-fi, OnStar concierge service and the Bose 9-speaker audio system.
Phone pairing is fast and wireless connection to Apple CarPlay is seamless. Embedded apps include Amazon’s Alexa, GM’s Marketplace and Reese’s Book Club. The touchscreen is Buick standard issue, logically designed around large graphic icons that make accessing apps a breeze.
Other amenities include a hands-free, programmable power liftgate and logo-projecting puddle lamps. The test vehicle’s $1,670 Technology Package adds GM’s rear camera mirror system, continuous damping control, enhanced automatic emergency braking and parking assist, plus adaptive cruise control.
The standard 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. is a good match for the Envision and easily handles the needs of every-day driving with no complaints, responding quickly when passing on the freeway. Its 228 hp and quickly accessed 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) peak torque are plenty to get the job done.
Maybe most impressive when it comes to the powertrain is the 9-speed automatic transmission, which is barely noticeable most of the time and extremely smooth even under hard acceleration.
Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) combined. We average 22.8 mpg (10.3 L/100 km) in 82 miles (132 km) of highway and city driving.
The chassis setup is skewed more toward ride than handling, with a suspension that soaks up the bumps but doesn’t get too mushy or recall Buicks of old.
Buick sees the Envision spanning the compact and midsize CUV markets, competing alongside the Encore GX with more mainstream brands, as well as going head to head with more premium marques such as Lincoln, Infiniti and Acura.
Its combination of styling flair and technology makes the Envision worth a look. With options and destination included, our all-wheel-drive test model prices at $46,810. Considering the average transaction price for a new vehicle in January was nearly $41,000, according to Kelley Blue Book, the fully equipped Envision Avenir isn’t all that far from the industry’s sweet spot.
Sales are expected to skew 50% Essence, 30% Preferred and 20% Avenir, with the Sport Touring package expected to have about a 30% take rate on the two lower trims.
Buick expects the Envision to slug it out with the smaller Encore GX for brand volume leadership. Last year, Buick sold just below 35,000 Envisions, while the newer Encore GX tallied nearly 45,000.
Overall, Buick sales in the U.S. were off 21% in 2020 in a market down 15% industrywide. Reaching the Encore GX’s pace with the Envision would be good news for the Buick, and a much-needed boost for the brand in the U.S.