Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Buick Envision Premium I

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It’s a funny thing about Buicks these days: despite being one of the most all-American marques around, one could theorize that they’re not really meant for us here in North America.

The Envision is an appealing gateway to the entry-level luxury space that could well win over younger SUV buyers. Really.

More Buicks are sold in China than anywhere else. It’s currently the most recognized and prestigious American brand there, to the point that when General Motors decided to bring the Buick Envision to the North American market last year it made better business sense to import models built in China than to set up separate manufacturing on American soil.

And GM’s decision likely goes deeper than the fiscal. Here, with people of my generation – which is pretty well bang-on the market the 2017 Buick Envision should appeal to, being that I’m in my late 30s and have a small, urban family – Buick has an awful lot of work to do to overcome the perception that everything the brand produces is a grandpa’s car. They may not move enough of these to justify build set-up costs in North America, at least at first.

If enough people get over their preconceptions and actually sit down in one, though, they’ll find that the Envision is an appealing gateway to the entry-level luxury space that could well win over younger SUV buyers. Really.

Styling is likely the biggest barrier. While the Envision slots nicely into the Buick SUV family smack between the subcompact Encore and mid-size Enclave, the first impression left by its exterior is best described as conservative. The lines are in all the right places, there are plenty of fine details like the Buick logo etched into the headlights, and I found myself very drawn to the Midnight Amethyst paint. But the overall look doesn’t necessarily stand out in this segment’s very thick crowd.

Similarly, on first blush the interior is a tad dry and the seats a little saggy compared to the Lexus NX in particular – the leather used in the Envision is noticeably less crisp and comes in more muted colours. Given these factors, more fashion-forward consumers entering the segment may find themselves gravitating toward the edgier NX or possibly even a well-equipped Nissan Murano.

But it’s the subtleties beneath the surface that make the Envision worth a closer look.

The (admittedly awkwardly named) Premium I trim that I tested pairs the standard six-speed automatic transmission with a 2.0L turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine that makes 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. It’s relaxed in highway cruising, running at 1,800 rpm at 100 km/h and 2,200 at 120, and while its fuel figures of 11.8 L/100 km city and 9.1 highway aren’t best-in-class, they’re quite good for what you get out of it.

Though I haven’t driven this car with the base engine, a 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder, I’m confident in saying that the turbo is a very worthwhile upgrade. It’s beautifully composed, refined, and easy-driving, and when you need to punch it there’s plenty of power at the ready.

Springing for the better powertrain also gets you a better all-wheel-drive system, a twin-clutch rig with an automatic locking rear differential. I didn’t put any conditions inside my testing week that could truly put it to the test, but since if you’re reading this you probably live in Canada, I don’t need to tell you that you probably would one day.

That easy-going and composed character carries through into drive feel. The available Buick HiPer Strut front suspension and stable body make this a relatively low-stress SUV to wheel around. It does feel somewhat large for its size, though – it took me a three-to-five-point-turn to get it into my condo parking spot each time despite the extra little kick of angle you get when you crank the wheel all the way to one side.

I especially liked the layout of the instrument cluster (which is the 8-inch version in this trim, not the 4.2-inch version from the base model), which gives the driver all of the important information at a glance no matter the position of the steering wheel. And the infotainment system is top-notch – as has worked its way through nearly all GM products, the Envision comes with an available 8.0-inch infotainment system that is well laid out and easy to use and includes smartphone app integration and available subscription-based in-cabin Wi-Fi. Navigation costs extra, but as buyers are beginning to realize, if you’re going to connect your phone via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay anyway, then you probably don’t also need navigation built in.

There are a few features in the Envision that made it stand out to me as being a good choice for families. The rear seats both slide and recline, cutout slots for the LATCH hooks in the back seat make them easy to access, and unlike some panoramic sunroof covers that are made of thin mesh, the Envision’s is lined with a properly dark fabric, which helps when the little ones want to catch a nap. For those who want to keep an eye on new drivers, GM’s Teen Driver Alert is included. And one feature that’s hard to find is a staged liftgate that can be set to open to full or three-quarter height, handy for those of us who park in tight spaces.

While heated front seats are standard – which is increasingly becoming an expectation rather than a luxury for Canadian consumers – heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel will require upgrading out of the base model. Where packaging is concerned, Premium I is probably the sweet spot; it gets you into the upgraded powertrain and most of the key features: 19-inch aluminum wheels, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, forward collision alert, front and rear park assist, lane-keep assist (that gives a nice, subtle nudge, not a shove) and lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning with lane-change alert, and driver’s seat haptic feedback (which I have to confess is highly effective but makes me jump out of my skin every time).

For a difference of $3,400 to get into Premium II you’re missing out on the head-up display, active cruise control, automatic park assist, HID articulating headlamps, and cooled front seats – nice features for those who want to shell out that much extra, but most people probably don’t need to.

The most important challenge to overcome for Buick in making the Envision a success is the importance of first impressions; subtlety is sometimes lost on today’s consumers. But for those who appreciate what’s below the surface, the Envision is worth a test drive.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 252 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 260 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 11.8/9.1/10.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 761 L
Model Tested 2017 Buick Envision Premium I
Base Price $46,155
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $53,580
Optional Equipment
$5,625 – Power moonroof $1,695; body-coloured moulded assist steps $900; Intellilink with navigation $795; Hit the Road Package (roof rack cross rails, body-coloured splash guards, and integrated cargo liner) $660; satin chrome grille $590; midnight amethyst metallic paint $495; universal tablet holders $260 for 2; Cargo Package with cargo shade and net $230