2021 Buick Envision Review: For Your Consideration

The outgoing Buick Envision had an unenviable position in the brand’s lineup.

The challenges were threefold. For starters, it lacked the cachet of the flagship Enclave. Second—and potentially related to the first—was its status as the first Chinese-built Buick sold here. An unfair reason to wholly dismiss the car, yes, but the connection stuck. Then last year, Buick dropped the quite good Encore GX, which offered much of the Envision experience in a tidier shape. The result? Every other Buick crossover outsold the Envision in the US last year, and it narrowly avoided the same fate in Canada.

Buick is hoping to reverse the Envision’s fortunes this year with this second-generation model. Envision 2.0 targets a sweet spot right between the traditional mainstream and luxury divide. Its combination of classy looks, cocooning ride, and accessible tech makes it a much more appealing proposition in the segment.

Good looks

Buick has transformed the Envision with a far more mature exterior design this time ’round. The lower, wider stance does wonders for this compact crossover’s proportions, and Buick has pinched and pulled the design in all the right spots. The old model had a face that looked like an amalgamation of every other competitor in the segment; the new one sports simpler, wider headlights, with an LED signature that aligns with the thin spar of chrome in the grille. Buick has kept the creases and folds to a minimum on the flanks, which lets this super-classy black cherry paint dramatically shift in tone as the light hits it. A set of tasteful 20-inch alloys give the Envision the requisite stance. Around back, the taillights are a similar shape to the headlights, framing a tailgate that no longer looks like a fun-house-mirror minivan.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Buick Encore GX Review: Pint-Size Premium SUV Sure is Pricey

Only the giant fake exhaust garnishes feel heavy-handed. In every other way, the Envision is one attractive rig.

The delights continue inside, too. Quilted, perforated leather seating with “Avenir” stitched into the headrests make it clear you’re in the top-of-the-line model. There’s precious little wood in here too, only showing up in a very tasteful matte, textured form on the door panels. A few flimsy-feeling plastics lower down the dashboard aside, the Envision’s interior is a satisfying space to spend time.

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The front seats themselves are soft and squishy, providing plenty of comfort for folks of all sizes. The same is true in the back, though it’s a tight fit if adults try to go three-abreast. Headroom measures 39.6 (1,006 mm) and 38.9 inches (988 mm) front and back; not segment-leading in either case, but ample for all but the most ardent top-hat enthusiast.

One bit of space-related bad news: the Envision’s newfound sense of style has eaten into available cargo room. Seats-up trunk space is 25.2 cubic feet (714 L), and dropping the second row results in 52.7 cubes (1,492 L). That’s more than the miserly Lexus NX, but some way shy of the Volvo XC60. Shockingly, it’s also barely more than the smaller Encore GX, which offers 23.5 (665 L) and 50.2 cu-ft (1,422 L), respectively. Baby brother is also 11.1 inches (282 mm) shorter.

Fuss-free tech

In America, lesser Envision trims get an 8.0-inch infotainment screen. This Avenir tester features a larger 10.2-inch unit, which is standard on all trims in Canada. It runs the familiar GM infotainment system, a straight-forward UI with a learning curve best described as “easy-peasy.” GM’s color-coded system makes it simple to navigate the screen with the briefest of glances. If you’d rather your phone’s interface, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard—on all screen sizes. A wireless charger is available too, plus both types of USB ports for added juice. 4G WiFi hotspot capability is also standard.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Lexus NX300 Review

That all said, while the central screen is easy to reach for the driver, passengers may find the angle frustrating. The tilt skyward also makes it more susceptible to glare from the panoramic sunroof.

My favorite piece of tech in the Envision is the head-up display. Available on the Essence and standard on the Avenir, it’s crisp and has a large range of positioning adjustments. The 360-degree camera runs it close, offering a very high-res view of the Envision’s surroundings.

Domestic brands used to keep active driver assists locked away on the options list, but the 2021 Envision includes a healthy amount as standard equipment. The list includes automated emergency braking, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, auto high beams, and rear parking proximity sensors. This Avenir tester also included the Technology Package II ($1,965 / $2,495 CAD)

The Roadmaster remastered

For 2021, the Envision has just one engine: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces a reliable 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque—numbers the eagle-eyed amongst our readers will note are less than the model it replaces. However, Buick is more concerned with how the four-pot makes those numbers; the torque plateaus at just 1,500 rpm, where drivers will use it most. A nine-speed automatic keeps the engine right in its sweet spot too, quickly shifting gears to keep the Envision operating in the prime part of the rev range. I’d avoid the selectable Sport mode, though: it forces the ‘box to hold gears for longer, and the 2.0-liter is not the sort of singing sensation you want exploring the upper limits of its rev range.

In fact, “Sport” feels antithetical to the Envision experience. In Avenir trim the Envision is all about long-distance comfort. Optional adaptive dampers smother any road-level nastiness before it can make its way to the cabin, resulting in a serenely smooth ride at any speed. The Envision will lean noticeably when pushed through a corner, a feeling the minimally-bolstered seats exacerbate, but again, this isn’t a vehicle for corner carving. A 200-mile mini road-trip proved the Envision was happiest at highway speeds and on sweeping country roads. Road and tire noise were average, though I found more wind noise coming from the side mirrors than expected.

Like other AWD GM crossovers, the Envision features a button to lock it in front-drive mode. This helps reduce fuel consumption, which the EPA rates at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, and a combined 25 mpg. Canadian figures are 10.5, 8.2, and 9.5 L/100 km, respectively. Driving mostly on highways, and sticking to front-drive, I finished up the week at 26.7 mpg (8.8 L/100 km). Considering the Envision gives up power to its competition, I’d expect slightly better.

Kind of a big deal

While I’m sure some folks will be shortlisting the Envision alongside top-trim RAV4s and Rogues, its high-class ambiance puts it on par with the Volvo XC60s and Lincoln Corsairs of the world. Stacked against those semi-lux models, the Envision becomes something of a bargain—especially in Canada.

SEE ALSO: Toyota RAV4 vs Nissan Rogue Comparison

The Preferred trim starts the lineup, priced from $32,995 ($37,898 CAD) including destination for the front-drive model. That amount of coin nets buyers the same great looks (on slightly smaller wheels), and cloth seating. The Essence is a few grand more, while this range-topping Avenir begins at $41,595 ($46,798 CAD). AWD is a $1,900 option on all trims; it’s $2,400 CAD in Canada for Preferred, and standard on the other two trims.

Even fully loaded, the Envision stays south of 50 grand on either side of the border, placing it closer in price to the mainstream models.

Verdict: 2021 Buick Envision Avenir Review

This new 2021 Buick Envision is a massive improvement over what came before. Buick has identified its niche in the sprawling compact crossover landscape, lodging the Envision into the white space between mainstream and premium. You’ll come for the stylish new looks, and you’ll stay for the serene ride quality, laundry list of standard features, and the easy-to-use tech. The Envision’s sophomore showing should be a success.

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