When Buick announced its intention to bring over the Envision built in Yantai, China, you couldn’t go 10 minutes on the internet without stumbling into some kind of furious consternation. Would North Americans care for a car built — ostensibly — for Chinese tastes, and more importantly, would they buy a car built in the People’s Republic?
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbocharged Inline-4
Power: 252 horsepower, 260 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Cargo Capacity (cu. ft. / L): 26.9 / 761 (behind rear seat) 57.3 / 1622 (rear seat folded)
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 26 highway, 22 combined (premium required)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.8 city, 9.2 highway, 10.6 combined (premium required)
US Price: Starts at $34,990
CAN Price: Starts at $$39,995
After only a few short months on the market, Americans have proven that the Envision, competing in the U.S. market’s hottest segment, more than speaks to consumer needs, and they don’t really care where it came from —the Envision isn’t just Buick’s quickest turning model, but also the quickest turning among its chief rivals — its 25 day turnover rate is half of its next closest competitor, the Audi Q5, which will hang around for an average of 50 days.
Stacking the deck even more in Envision’s favor – to date – it has only been available in two top level trims, Premier I and II. With MSRPs topping $40,000, the up-market focused 2016 Envision was offered with a generous smattering of standard equipment, Bose stereo, heated leather front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, advanced safety features and AWD.
Sales should only continue to increase as Buick slots trims in below and lowers entry price to $34,990 for a base 2017 Envision, along with the $36,795 Preferred trim and the $38,645 Essence, with destination charges amounting to $925. In Canada, base trim is Preferred, starting at $39,995, going up to $43,695 for the Essence, $46,155 for Premium I and topping out at $49,565 for Premium II, all of which have an added $1,800 freight charge. All Canadian Envisions come equipped with AWD, accounting for the larger than usual price disparity.
Now that we know the Envision is hitting the mark with the consuming public, it’s time to find out why.
It all begins with Buick’s brand ethos – to build “beautiful, quiet and comfortable cars and SUVs in the most important segments and a customer experience shaped around quality, safety and well-being.” Since Buick decided to turn itself around nearly a decade ago, the brand has lived at the alter of safety, whisper-quiet interiors and elegant, tasteful design.
For 2017 Buick adds a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder for Envision Preferred and Essence trims. It kicks out 197 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, and both Preferred and Essence trims can be optioned with AWD.
Little has changed for the two 2017 Envision Premium trims; it still comes stock with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that sips on premium gasoline, which helps it make 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque; like the 2.5, it’s hooked to GM’s Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed automatic. Oddly, the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox will offer GM’s brand new 9T50 nine-speed in conjunction with the same 2.0T, so when will the Buick also benefit?
Premium I and II also feature Buick’s first application of GM’s venerable Hi-Per front strut suspension – along with another first for Buick – a twin-clutch torque vectoring AWD system sourced from GKN driveline, a la Ford Focus RS.
On the road, the Hi-Per front end keeps everything compliant during heavy acceleration, helping mitigate torque steer and increasing steering feel, while overall providing a soft and plush ride without being soft and wallowy.
The real star of the show is the new mechanical Twin-Clutch AWD system, similar to the one featured in the Cadillac XT5. Buick claims its version was tuned for comfort instead of outright performance. Where the twin-clutch Envision differentiates itself from competitors is its use of mechanical clutches in the rear differential to maximize traction instead of simply using stability control and individual wheel braking to manage slip.
When the Audi Q5 or Acura RDX detect slip, they use a mix of braking and stability control to reduce the torque being transferred to the ground, stopping the slip. The Envision, however, doesn’t compromise torque for traction; its mechanical delivery allows it to direct 100 percent of available torque to any given wheel.
However, it isn’t directing 100 percent of the engine’s total torque to a single wheel, I was told by Buick that “if you only have traction in one of the four corners, you’ll accelerate with 100 percent of the torque available to that wheel but 24 percent of the vehicle’s total torque.”
Do keep in mind though, the Twin-Clutch torque vectoring AWD system is only available with the Premium 2.0T – 2.5-liter models make due with a less sophisticated, conventional AWD system.
Speaking of engines, Buick’s long-time focus on Quiet Tuning works wonders under the hood, extensive use of sound deadening on the engine cover and standard Active Noise Cancellation technology dampen and dissipate the sound and fury of direct-injected gasoline exploding just in front of your knees – under hard acceleration on the highway while attempting to overtake, the engine beating at 4,500 rpm, our conversation carries on uninterrupted.
Tony DiSalle, Buick’s U.S. Vice President of Marketing, told those of us gathered: “Buick delivers as being one of the quietest vehicles in the competitive set.” Agreed, if you really listen really hard with the radio off, road noises are all but a vague hum.
It’s not just NVH that makes the cabin an enjoyable place to be: the wraparound wood dash is pleasant and premium – albeit with a smattering of plastic that has realistically become inescapable in segment – heated and optionally cooled leather seating with contrast stitching, available panoramic roof and automatic climate control all spoil you in what Buick calls smart luxury.
Buick’s standard 8-inch Intellilink infotainment system is easily one of the best in the league when it comes to simple intuitiveness, and if that’s not your game, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard, along with OnStar 4G LTE.
Other amenities include fast-charging USB ports throughout the cabin, a 120-volt plug, and a traditional 12-volt outlet, meaning there is plenty of juice for everyone, be it kids or coworkers.
As a side effect of the importance of the rear seat to the Chinese market, the Envision’s rear quarters are really the place to be. Legroom is more than ample even for six-footers, though headroom for said six-footers is at a premium, especially with a panoramic roof.
It’s not just sophistication, style, and smiles that sell vehicles in this segment; with safety becoming one of the biggest boxes for a majority of buyers, especially young families, Buick’s elevation of safety to the top of its trifecta of core competencies is no coincidence.
For 2017 Buick equips all Envisions with ten standard air bags sprinkled strategically throughout the cabin, along with Surround Vision and automatic front braking and rear parking aids. Up-level trims can option a vibrating safety seat, forward crash avoidance, lane keep, lane departure, lane change alert, blind zone alert, cross traffic alert. On Premium II Envisions you can add Adaptive Cruise Control.
With the Envision, Buick is looking to replicate the Encore and Enclave’s smashing success stories – one quarter of small SUVs on the road today are Encores, while the Enclave boasts more than a 50 percent retention rate, with majority of its buyers opting for top shelf trims.
It doesn’t hurt that Buick as a brand has enjoyed rapid growth among women, simply because most women don’t carry old Buick brand baggage and evaluate the product for the proposition it is, not the perception it’s trying to erase.
Scoff if you want at the idea of a Chinese-built Buick, but it’s no longer an idea, it’s a properly executed product that satisfies all but the pickiest shopping list, and nestles itself in where the top of mainstream meets entry level luxury, making it an attractive proposition.
And anyway, go ask most people where their car was constructed and I’d bet that 70 percent of the time people back away from you in terrified confusion.
For fun I asked one Buick official when we could expect Envision production to come across the Pacific, his response was quite succinct, “We’re on pace to sell 200,000 of them [Envisions] in China, so not unless we can move 150,000 here.”
This story originally appeared on GM Inside News