The Envision has been a steady seller for Buick since it launched in Canada in 2016, but it’s already been completely eclipsed by the Encore GX that offers a more interesting shape and lower price without sacrificing much size.
On the receiving end of a complete rethink, the 2021 Buick Envision enters its second generation with a new style and a chance to separate itself from its slightly smaller sibling.
The 2021 Envision gets new looks that make it sleeker, lower, and far less, well, dull than its predecessor. It employs the same front-end treatment that the Encore GX wears, and, especially in this Sport Touring guise, gives the Envision a premium appearance – something it was lacking before.
Inside, Buick offers multiple colours palettes, including this tester’s caramel, though the faux carbon-fibre trim disappoints, as does the contrast stitching on a visibly rough plastic dashboard.
It looks sleeker than before, with slightly revised exterior proportions. Its wheelbase has been stretched 28 mm (1.1 in), while just 30 mm (1.2 in) have been taken from its overall length and it stands 56 mm (2.2 in) shorter.
Passenger accommodations are generous for the segment, with head- and legroom in the second row thanks to that stretched wheelbase. The 60/40-split folding rear seats allow for longer items to be stashed inside, though the high load floor and lower roofline compromise total cargo space.
There’s slightly less room to work with than there was in the previous version – rare in modern times. Totals stand at 714 L behind the back seats and 1,492 L with them folded, the latter only 70 L more than the smaller Encore GX. That model also benefits from a flat-folding front passenger seat that’s absent from the Envision. The cargo privacy cover, meanwhile, is quite large and there’s nowhere to stash it under the floor.
Plenty of cubbies litter the interior, including one under the new push-button gear selector (which frees up some space around the cupholders), though the split-lid centre console makes access on the move more difficult. According to Buick, said this was a popular feature in the previous Envision so it’s remained, and it’s hard to find fault with giving buyers what they’ve asked for.
The climate control system’s piano-key-style buttons are easy to see and use in all lighting conditions, and it (along with the heated steering wheel) did a great job of keeping the cabin cozy. While not exactly weak, the heated seats weren’t especially hot and needed to be left on for extended periods during testing. Given temperatures were hovering around freezing instead of far below it, they don’t bode well for proper January freezes. The driver’s seat itself does offer plenty of cushioning and a bottom bolster that’s well suited for folks of all shapes and sizes.
Despite Buick’s active noise cancellation and acoustic isolation, both wind and road noise were in abundance during testing. Equipped with all-season tires on a surprisingly warm spring day, road noise remained high at highway speeds. In the smaller GX, with its far more raucous three-cylinder, the function does an excellent job of taming noises.
Ride quality is slightly stiff, though it still offers good compliance and the overall ride is greatly improved over the model it replaces. The floatiness over bumps and dips so common in crossovers this size is minimised here, and while harsh impacts don’t disappear completely they are transmitted mostly through sound rather than feel. Adaptive dampers are available, but only as an option on the top-of-the-line Avenir trim.
A new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque from an ultra-low 1,500 rpm, combining with a nine-speed automatic transmission to give the Envision loads of shove when it’s needed. It’s a quiet engine that doesn’t mind spinning to higher revs, staying refined as the output increases. While there is a sport mode that changes the shift points, even in its default setting the nine-speed does an excellent job of downshifting at no more than a brush of the accelerator and holding gears when it thinks some enthusiastic driving is in the offing.
It means excellent throttle response and minimal turbo lag, with a pleasant surge of torque if you use the manual paddles to keep the Envision in a higher gear. In normal driving, though, the transmission’s preference to keep the engine spinning around 3,000 rpm for long periods felt odd for what is aimed at being a quiet, refined ride, and likely leads to increased fuel use and cabin noise.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
With the ability to lock the Envision in front-wheel drive to reduce consumption, fuel economy gets a boost from not having to spin all of the extra driveline parts all of the time. It’s officially rated to return 10.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway, with my own 400 km of mixed highway and backroads driving delivering an indicated 8.0 L/00 km.
User Friendliness: 8/10
Buick has done a great job of making the Envision easy to use for the driver. The audio display is angled sharply to the left, leaving it easy to reach, the heated steering wheel button is a large one directly on the steering wheel, and even the electronic shifter has intuitive nubs under the reverse toggle switch to feel which gear is being selected. That sharply angled 10.1-inch display can be tougher to see and reach for the passenger, though, and while Buick’s commitment to a physical volume control is commendable its placement next to the touchscreen is awkward.
The drive mode control is located just below the gear selector, making the button easy to access though also slightly prone to accidental engagement. The need to manually engage all-wheel drive might also irritate some, but if it’s selected once it remains engaged – even through ignition cycles. Driver assistance controls, as well as the stop–start override, are just ahead of the cupholders on the centre console, making them a quick look and a short reach away.
The tailgate opening is large, while those equipped with hands-free functionality get a handy projection light that shows where to kick your foot to open it. A control on the driver’s door controls how wide it opens (if at all), which is handy for matching the height of indoor parking. The load floor, meanwhile, is higher than some in the class.
While the front doors open wide, and the openings themselves are large for easy access, the rear doors open to a narrower angle, making them tougher to climb through.
The infotainment system itself is quick and responsive, and it comes with large, easy-to-use on-screen buttons, a sharp display, and wireless support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Though it doesn’t have built-in navigation, it does have OnStar turn-by-turn directions that allow an OnStar operator to set a destination and provide on-screen directions.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The Envision isn’t the quietest, and it’s not the most plush over bumps, but it is startlingly smooth. Almost no vibrations at all are transmitted through the steering wheel, seats, or pedals, making for a strangely serene experience. Even with the tires howling over a notoriously riotous stretch of concrete highway, a failed materials experiment that makes up a common test route for my drives, I felt almost nothing coming through to my fingers, feet, or backside.
Turn-in is just fine, which is likely what Buick is aiming for. It’s not soft like a Ford Escape‘s, nor does it deliver the sharpness of a Mazda CX-5, but it should be just right for most drivers. Body roll, too, is minimal, while feedback from the steering is limited, though not so much as to sap confidence.
The Envision starts at a little less than $36,000 before freight and taxes for a front-drive Preferred model ($38,098 for AWD), which does make it a bargain against the similarly powerful CX-5. But features like adaptive cruise control are only offered in the top Avenir trim and still require a pricey options package, putting it well over the CX-5 Signature and its more premium cabin materials. This Essence trim, in black with the Sport Touring package and panoramic sunroof, wears a sticker of $42,983 before the $1,900 destination charge and tax.
Buick includes a host of driver assistance features like automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as automatic high-beams, and rear parking sensors. Still, limiting availability of adaptive cruise control is a tough pill to swallow. Surround-view cameras are optional on the Essence and Avenir, while a digital rear-view rear mirror is available in the Avenir. Of course, a government-mandated back-up camera is standard.
The suite of standard active safety features is a big plus at the entry point for the Envision's pricing, as are the standard heated wheel and heated front seats. Remote start, dual-zone climate control, and a foot-activated tailgate help give Buick a high score in this category, as does the ability to add the panoramic roof to all trims. What's holding it back, again, is limiting active cruise to a package on the top trim. It’s a popular feature that is included at a much lower point on most competitors.
The 2021 Buick Envision has a great visual presence and offers a cabin that’s wonderfully isolated from road feel – even if it isn’t from road and wind noise – while offering better-than-average performance, snappy shifting, and impressive fuel economy. However, its small-ish cabin and limited technology outside the top trim puts the model in a strange place, with the Encore GX sitting beside it at the Buick store that’s quieter, has a smaller footprint, and uses less fuel, all for less money. Against other crossovers with a similar footprint and focus, like Mazda’s CX-5, the Envision offers a more relaxed experience with excellent usability from behind the wheel. If you’re looking for a small crossover that falls between more mainstream models and the likes of Lexus and Acura, with a price tag closer to the mainstream but more premium styling and interior amenities, the 2021 Envision has strong appeal.
|Engine Cylinders||I4 Turbo|
|Peak Horsepower||228 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||258 lb-ft @ 1,500–4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.5 / 8.2 / 9.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||713 / 1,492 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2021 Buick Envision AWD Essence Sport Touring|
|Price as Tested||$44,983|
$3,585 – Panoramic Sunroof, $1,795; Sport Touring Package, $1,295; Ebony Twilight Metallic Paint, $495