By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
With the Buick Enclave and Encore pushing against either end of the crossover size spectrum, Buick needed a mid-size model to slot into that highly competitive segment.
Before we could even envision a Buick for that space an all-new mid-size crossover called the Envision started arriving at dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2016.
What makes the Envision especially interesting is that it’s imported…from China. The Envision has the distinction of being the first Chinese-built General Motors vehicle sold in the United States. The Chinese sourcing seems logical since Buick is the second best-selling brand in China.
At 183 inches long, the Envision is about the same size as key competitors like the Acura RDX, Lincoln MKC, Audi Q5, BMW X3 and several others. The styling is good, but except for the Buick family waterfall grille design, it lacks much distinction from many of the competitors. If your Envision happens to be a popular silver or white color, finding yours in a crowded parking lot might be challenging, or require help from the OnStar operator.
The Envision interior is a different story. Designers have created a beautiful space filled with sweeping lines, multi-colors fabrics and beautiful wood accent. The infotainment and climate controls are nicely grouped for easy user access and they are topped with an eight-inch color touch screen. We like that Buick designers used real buttons and knobs for the most frequently used controls because we find them more user-friendly than touch screens. Important driver controls and some redundant audio controls are mounted on the face of the steering wheel for easy access without the driver needing to take his/her hands off the wheel to adjust.
Since the Envision has landed in the U.S., the 2017 lineup has been expanded to include five trim levels, two engine choices and front- or all-wheel drive. All versions use a third-generation GM six-speed automatic transmission. A conventional P-R-N-D-L console-mounted shifter controls the transmission. It gives the driver the ability to shift manually using a toggle switch mounted on the left side of the shifter knob. We would much prefer paddle shifters or a gated shifter, but the toggle is better than having no shifting ability. The electronic hand brake switch is mounted conveniently just behind the shifter handle.
The 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that powered our test vehicle produced better response than we were expecting. Zero to 60 mph comes in 7.1 seconds according to buff magazine testing, and the engine gets a 20-mpg city and 26-mpg highway EPA fuel economy rating. We averaged 23.3 mpg in a week of mixed driving conditions. The engine uses an automatic start/stop system that does its job seamlessly.
The five trim levels are, from lower to higher priced include the base Envision, Preferred, Essence, Premium and Premium II. The turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive are both standard equipment on the two Premium models as is all-wheel drive. The base Envision trim is only available with front-wheel drive, while the Preferred and Essence versions can be ordered with two- or four-wheel drive. The upper level trims have Buick’s first crossover application of HiPer Strut front suspension and Buick’s first active Twin Clutch AWD system.
The HiPer Strut front suspension reduces torque steering and the impact from bumps and rough surface while enhancing steering feel. The Twin Clutch AWD is a fully automatic, on-demand system designed to instantly send torque to the rear wheels in low traction situations. It is also designed to produce a quieter, smoother ride.
Pricing ranges from $34,990, including the destination charge, for the Envision and go up to $45,885 for the Premium II. Check all the major option packages and accessories, and the bottom line Premium II price nudges $50,000, which puts it in the price levels of the three-row and better looking Buick Enclave.
The Envision has a high level of technology available with features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, programable power liftgate, and a Driver Confidence Package that adds important features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Surround Vision and Front Automatic Braking. It also has Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert and rear-vision camera with Rear Park Assist.
The Buick Envision is nimble driving and it has all the important new technologies, but it’s in a category with some of the toughest and most impressive crossovers built. Nevertheless, we think it’s a midsize crossover that prudent shoppers should try for themselves. For more information on the Envision go to: http://www.buick.com/suvs/envision-small-luxury-suv.html .