PRIDDIS, Alberta—The crossover market, especially compacts, are dominating auto sales. As the fastest-growing sector in the auto industry, compact crossovers are a space every automaker needs to be in. And that doesn’t simply entail offering up one option; two is better, and three may be the perfect number.
Not wanting to get lost in the shuffle, Buick – General Motors’ most historical brand, established in 1903 – is getting into the three-crossover strategy. The luxury brand is filling a gap in its crossover lineup by bringing the Chinese-built, compact Envision to North America to sit in between the subcompact Encore and the full-size Enclave.
The Envision may be new to North America, but sales began in China back in 2014. Like many Buick products in China, the Envision has enjoyed success, so it only makes sense to bring it to North America. It’s a smart business decision considering it’s already in production and something we don’t already have.
During the product presentation, Mark Alger, brand manager for Buick Canada, pointed out that the Envision was benchmarked against the Audi Q5 and will be in competition with other like products such as the Acura RDX, Lexus NX and RX, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. That may not seem like a big hurdle in China, but in North America, Buick still has a ways to go before being perceived as a brand on par with the big German three.
The Envision sits on an all-new platform that’s not shared with any other General Motors product. From the front, you’re instantly drawn to its distinct waterfall grille that features a revised chrome tri-shield. This look provides a strong appearance that’s both bold and premium.
I’ve never been a fan of the portholes located on the outside of the hood. On the Verano sedan, I felt that the porthole touch ruins the makeup of the product; but on the larger Envision, they seem to blend well with the larger design.
Outside of its beautiful front, it seems to take on more of a mundane look at its sides and back. Nothing stands out as special; a standard fit-and-finish that won’t offend, nor excite.
The excitement level gets kicked up a notch on the inside; however, it doesn’t go far enough. Perhaps Buick was taking a ‘less is more’ styling approach with a clean and basic dashboard that features an eight-inch touchscreen, a lot of soft leather, and faux wood touches.
I dig the leather surround that utilizes some nice stitching to elevate its look, but not having real wood sends it down a peg. It’s hard to take a premium company serious when that type of customer is used to the real stuff and typically runs away from knock-offs.
The large eight-way power adjustable leather seats with ‘Envision’ imprinted on them allow you to find a quick, suitable position with plenty of visibility from all angles. They are equipped with standard heated seats, while ventilated seats get added on as you work up the trim level to Premium.
There were no issues with headroom and legroom in the front, and the same can be said for the back row. There’s a healthy amount of legroom for even those even in the 6’3” range, while the middle seat can be manageable for at least a short ride.
An essential tool for any family with a utility vehicle is cargo space, and the Envision has plenty of it. With the second row in its normal position, you’ll find 761 litres (26.9 cubic feet), and that moves up to 1,622 litres (57.3 cubic feet) when the seats are folded.
Buick has brought to the table a lot of technologies found in other General Motors brands and that’s where it can excel over other luxury offerings. There’s something to be said for standard LG 4TE WiFi in the vehicle, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as OnStar assistance.
In this day and age, everyone wants to be connected, and Buick provides that without creating any distractions from driving. WiFi can be such a big help to appease the kids, especially on road trips to the United States.
In the vehicles on hand in Alberta, they all featured the eight-inch touchscreen that uses Buick’s IntelliLink system. What I love most is its simplicity, ease of use, and responsiveness: buttons, knobs, logic, and order—it all makes sense.
Safety technology is a big plus for the Envision with standard rearview camera and Rear Park Assist. As you move up the trim line, you get Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Warning in the second trim. Other additional technologies are: Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, and a Driver Confidence Package with Adaptive Cruise Control, Surround Vision and Front Automatic Braking.
There are two engine choices for the Envision: a base 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder rated at 197 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque; and the top-of-the-line turbocharged 2.0-litre that produces 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Both options are matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and come exclusively with all-wheel-drive (AWD).
On this program, the only cars on hand were the turbo versions, which according to Buick Canada will be the volume-seller. That prognostication may be optimistic, as the price jumps from $39,995 to $46,155 for the turbo.
I had no qualms with the power in the 2.0-litre; it did everything I asked of it. When pushed there’s some turbo lag, but when in stride, the Envision allows you to surge ahead and make passing manoeuvres. This engine has all the power you need for this 1,852-kg mid-size to lug a bunch of kids or equipment.
The handling of it is equally impressive without much body roll and plenty of grip with some aid from its active twin-clutch AWD system that allows power to be sent not only between front and rear wheels, but also between the rears. When making turns, performance doesn’t lag, while stability is the focal point. The only thing the Envision suffers from is not being in sync with the driver, as the turning process tends to be on the slow side.
There were moments I found myself going above 130 km/h on the freeway without noticing due to its quiet and smooth ride. That quiet ride is no coincidence, as Buick has used a number of ways to absorb and block out noise.
In the presentation, we learned about engine compartment, interior trim, and door panel acoustic absorbers; acoustic laminated windshield and laminated front side glass; and a liquid-apply sound deadener, and how they all contributed to make the Envision one of the quietest rides on the road.
I can’t stress enough how much solitude there was between you and the road; it really can be a dream come true for parents that volunteer for an errand run to get away from the domestic noise.
As for fuel economy, the 2.0-litre Envision managed a respectable 9.5 L/100 km on mostly highway driving. The official fuel economy rating is 11.8 L/100 km in the city and 9.2 L/100 km on the highway, and those numbers get close to 1.0 L/100 km less for both city and highway in the 2.5-litre version.
The starting price of $39,995 was set perfectly to reach more buyers. It’s a great strategy to bring consumers in, but if Buick is talking up the 2.0-litre version as its volume seller, that gets you started at $46,155, an area that starts to compete with the likes of the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
The Envision is a great addition to Buick’s portfolio, but it needs to up its game in interior quality and driving performance if it wants to compete on a larger scale with some of the crossovers mentioned above. For now, even though the starting price rings in as a good deal, it may be hard to justify spending for the 2.0-litre in the mid-to-late 40K range.
And if we’re already pointing out gripes, I have one with the packaging of the panoramic sunroof as an option, even on the top Premier II trim. When you’re spending close to $50,000, it would make sense to not force people to pay more for a sunroof—a feature that other crossovers get at low trim levels.
The 2017 Buick Envision is a smart business decision by the long-standing American brand. It completes the portfolio of SUVs, which is currently all the rage.
When it comes to power, smoothness, and relaxation, the Envision becomes a sound decision. It can also be versatile with a folding second row and tons of cargo space.
The only thing holding it back from being a success story is its design. For the Chinese market, the Envision might work more for their tastes, but in Canada, the Envision falls short compared to the other big names in this sector, granted some of them in higher trims can escalate close to the $60K range.
For now, the Envision has come in at the right time to gain a piece of that compact crossover pie. In the near future, it may need some more premium touches on the interior, but it performs almost all tasks anyone would want in a mid-size crossover.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.