Every inhabitant of planet earth and their late Aunt Vivian wants to drive a crossover. Responding to this unprecedented demand, automakers have been scrambling to get more car-based utilities into showrooms.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder
Output: 252 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 26 hwy, 22 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 12.8 city, 9.5 hwy, 11.3 combined
U.S. As-Tested Price: $49,320 including $925 in delivery fees
CAN Estimated Price: $56,700
Unlike some of its rivals, Buick has been a bit slow in offering a full range of crossovers. Sure, the large Enclave has been around for nearly a decade and the petite Encore about four model years, but they didn’t have a model to span the chasm between these two extremes.
This unfortunate situation changes for 2017 because, at long last, the tri-shield brand has an upscale, midrange model in its portfolio called the Envision. Based on its exterior styling, premium interior, and name, this vehicle is poised to neatly bridge the gap in Buick’s portfolio and, at least at first blush, give drivers something to seriously consider if they’re in the market for a premium crossover.
This five-seater aspires to compete with other upscale models like the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, and Lincoln MKC. As a global product, it was supposedly designed from the ground up to be a Buick. Putting the hurt on rivals, it offers plenty of luxury amenities and interior space in a smartly sized package.
Like coaxing a timorous beagle into an open dog crate by dangling slightly expired cold cuts in front of the opening, buyers will be similarly enticed by the Envision’s feature content; many of its most desirable amenities come standard, including things like eight-way power front seats, a 4.2-inch driver information display, push-button start, rear park assist, and a programmable power liftgate.
Further proving its value, the Envision starts at a not-unreasonable $34,990 (Canadian examples kick off at $41,795 and come standard with all-wheel drive). This compares quite favorably with the Acura RDX, which starts around $36,645 ($44,364 in Canada, where all-wheel drive is standard) and the $41,500 base Audi Q5 ($47,045 Canadian; quattro is standard in both variants). The only model that seems to undercut the Buick is Lincoln’s MKC, which can be had for just $33,805 ($45,300 Canadian; all-wheel comes standard).
The Premium II all-wheel-drive model we evaluated was considerably more expensive than this, jingling the cash-register bells with an out-the-door price of $49,320 (including $925 in delivery fees). If that seems like an awful lot to pay for a product from a challenger brand, your instincts are sharp, but helping ease the sting of spending 50 large on a Buick, our test Envision featured sought-after goodies like lane-keep assist, forward collision alert, remote start and the company’s easy to use if somewhat sluggish Intellilink infotainment system, which supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. In addition to all of this, the vehicle rolled on 19-inch wheels, had remote start, tri-zone climate control and GM’s unusual safety-alert seat, which buzzes your bottom in certain situations, such as when reversing toward an obstacle.
A premium interior also went a long way toward justifying its price. The Envision’s cabin is both swoopy and stylish, with plenty of soft leather and upscale plastics. Its front seats are plush and even the rears offer ample room to stretch out. An unexpectedly flat floor in the back makes it easy to comfortably accommodate a third passenger.
Naturally, the rear backrests fold down, and when they’re lowered expand the Envision’s cargo hold to a little more than 57 cubic feet, a class-competitive figure. Keep ‘em up and it offers around 27 cubes.
On paper, this vehicle’s value equation seems reasonable until you notice something unusual thing on the window sticker; it’s built in China! Yep, the engine and transmission both hail from the People’s Republic with final assembly completed in Yantai, a coastal city near the Koreas. Chinese parts content is a staggering 88 percent.
Engine Options… PLURAL
International issues aside, the Envision’s up-level powertrain keeps pace with rival models. The top engine offering is a 2.0-liter boosted four-cylinder that dishes out 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This compares favorably to the RDX’s 279 horses and the Q5’s 272. Surprisingly, when equipped with the optional EcoBoost engine, Lincoln’s MKC outmuscles all these luxury crossovers with 285 ponies and a whopping 305 lb-ft of torque.
Stepping a rung down the ladder, value-conscious shoppers can also get a base 2.5-liter engine in the Envision, but it’s good for fewer than 200 ponies so you probably don’t want it. How well could it handle more than two tons of Buick? Just get the turbo option and you’ll be fine.
Regardless of engine choice, a six-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered. It’s responsive and refined, helping our all-wheel-drive test Envision average a claimed 22 miles per gallon. Around town, it stickers at 20 but on the highway, it should return 26 MPG.
Out and about, this Buick’s overall driving experience is soft, but not in a desirable way. I appreciate comfortable cars, but this one just doesn’t do it for me. Obviously, it can’t be expected to handle and perform like an LS-powered Miata, but just because it’s a crossover doesn’t mean it has to feel completely anesthetized.
Starting with the steering, it’s way too light. Since there’s no real heft, the Envision feels jumpy, like it’ll dart toward oncoming traffic if you’re not giving it your full attention at all times.
Ride quality is another mixed bag. Overall, it’s quite unsettled with the body seeming to bob up and down constantly. To be fair, Michigan’s roads are about as bad as those in Mosul, Iraq, but still, a luxury car – any people hauler, really – should be smoother than this.
Quieter, too. More wind and road noise makes itself known in the Envision’s cabin than in many smaller, cheaper vehicles, and this is despite Buick describing it as “whisper quiet.” Throw in chunky A-pillars and a brake pedal that’s spongier than a luffa and the Envision provides a pretty depressing on-road experience.
If there’s anything positive to say about the way this vehicle behaves, praise goes to the powertrain team. The 2.0-liter engine is absolutely silken; at idle or redline, it’s so smooth you barely know it’s even running. The same can be said of the transmission, which, in my experience, shifted perfectly during the entirety of my weeklong test. As for acceleration, it’s adequate, with the available 252-turbocharged horses pulling nicely, but never does this Buick feel quick.
The Verdict: 2017 Buick Envision Review
The 2017 Buick Envision is the right kind of crossover for the brand, one that’s sized, styled and equipped to compete with other premium offerings whilst filling an important gap in the lineup. Unfortunately, it – and the tri-shield brand – are let down by questionable execution. The Envision’s sloppy dynamics, springy ride, and questionable value make it tough to recommend. In fact, more mainstream products like the Nissan Murano or Ford Edge are better choices than this, plus they’re not made in China.
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