The drive to the fountain of youth continues over at Buick as they release the latest take on one of the newest additions to the line-up, the Buick Envision small crossover.
It is all new for 2021, receiving new styling, new Sport Touring and Avenir trims and turbocharged power as standard; turbo power used to be optional on the Envision.
Looks-wise, not only might one mistake the 2021 Envision for another model, they might mistake the Envision to be a vehicle from a different brand entirely as it looks so advanced. Which is both surprising and not surprising because when I tested the previous Envision, many of my friends mistook it for something other than a Buick. What’s surprising, then, is how they’ve managed to reinvent it yet again to continue to move the stylistic bar.
It starts with the front fascia of my Sport Touring model which is a pleasing mix of the European with aggressive headlamps, blacked-out grille and a nice stance overall, while the chrome trim on the grille is a little more traditional Buick. The Sport Touring trim, meanwhile, adds dark-finish 20-inch aluminum wheels, black roof rails and body-colour door mirrors. The Satin-steel metallic paint on my tester, meanwhile, is not the brightest colour you can get for the Envision but it is in-keeping with a colour trend we’re seeing on cars and CUVs these days.
Inside, it’s somewhat buttoned-down but at least Buick has committed to a very tuxedo-like interior. Black is the shade of the day; it covers the seats, steering wheel, dash upper, center console – there’s a lot of it, bisected here in there with some silver finishes but those are pretty much the equivalent of silver cufflinks on a tuxedo, there to catch your eye, but just for a moment. Of course, if you wanted to lighten things up a little inside, there is a beige option.
Of course, those looking for a little more brightness need only to look at the infotainment display which, at 10.2-inches, is huge and somehow looks even bigger in person. It’s angled towards the driver but also strangely upward; not sure how tall Buick envisioned (oh, man) its drivers were going to be, but it seems just a little unnatural. It’s perfectly intuitive, however, with nice, big buttons, crisp graphics and support for Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay as well as Amazon Alexa. It’s your gateway to a nine-speaker Bose audio system, which is a good fit for these environs and the dash only has a few choice buttons to ensure a low-clutter fascia.
The new model has a slightly longer wheelbase than the old, and is also a little wider but most of that is felt in the back seat, which gets more head- and legroom than previous. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a trade-off – we’ll see that term again soon – in that there’s less cargo room that previous and slightly less front legroom as well. We’re talking just a few millimetres, though, and the front seat/steering wheel angle is such that I found the driver seating position is a comfortable one.
As for that enlarged rear seat: space wasn’t a problem – I managed to fit a rear-facing child’s seat in there without completely nullifying front passenger legroom – but rear passengers did complain about an overabundance of bounce when traversing larger road imperfections, so you’ll want to watch for that when testing one of these. Try to find a railroad crossing, if you can.
Regarding that “trade-off” thing; for 2021, the Envision is available with a single engine choice: a turbocharged four-cylinder good for 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Gone is the previous vehicle’s naturally-aspirated four, but – and here’s the trade off – also gone is last year’s more powerful turbo motor so the 2.0L-litre turbo and nine-speed automatic transmission is your only choice. You can, however, choose either all-wheel-drive (AWD) or front-wheel-drive (FWD), the latter being what you get for your $35,998 basic MSRP. Adding AWD will drive the price up to $38,398. My mid-grade Essence trim starts at $39,698 and is available with AWD only. The Sport Touring package, meanwhile, adds a further $1,295.
All that being said, however, the turbo’d four-banger we’re restricted to is actually a bit of a cracker of an engine that provides brisk acceleration across a range of speeds – that close-ratio nine-speed has a lot to do with that, of course – so that you’re rarely left wanting for power when it comes to highway passes and entries and so forth. It also manages to deliver its grunt in a manner that is fairly linear – for a turbocharged engine, anyway – as it keeps turbo lag and too much peakiness to a minimum. Obviously, Buick has learned a lesson or two from its Encore subcompact CUV – also small turbo-powered, and the brand’s biggest seller last year – and applied some of that know-how here.
While the ride did get rear occupants’ backs up a little, the handling and ride is one that does well overall, but the highlight for me the steering. The wheel is sized just right and the response a twist of it garners from the front end is right on the money for a vehicle like this; not nervous so as to induce too much body roll, not lazy to the point you’re having to wind on three-quarter lock for a right turn. It’s judged really quite well, this, and I tip my hat to GM and Buick’s steering engineers.
I tip my hat to the Envision in general, actually. It’s a bit step up over the previous model and has been given the style and the powertrain it needs to compete with the likes of the Volvo XC40/60, the Audi Q5 and the upcoming Genesis GV70. It’s going to come down to brand equity, as those considering a vehicle in class still aren’t necessarily thinking “Buick”. Regardless of that, though, this new Envision still deserves a look from those looking to buy in this segment.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.