If two's company, and three's a crowd, what do you call the nearly 100 different sport utility vehicles that have been unleashed on North American shoppers over the course of the past decade? The 2017 Buick Envision is the latest to join the family fray, an almost midsize SUV masquerading as a compact in the shallow end of the luxury pool.
Don't be too hard on yourself if you're worn out by now by the seemingly endless procession of names, letters, and numbers affixed to the hatch doors rolling down your street. SUV fatigue is a real thing, although it doesn't seem to be slowing the number of Canadians trading up from traditional 4-door sedans to this bulkier, and in some cases more practical body style.
Sensing that there was a gap in its showroom it could exploit, and buoyed by the enthusiasm with which customers have greeted the smaller Encore, Buick has imported the Envision with its eye on slicing away sales from similarly sized premium rivals.
Imported? Built in China, the new Buick Envision is the first SUV from General Motors to have undertaken a westward journey across the Pacific, rather than the other way around. Still, it would be a mistake to assume that its home market has had any negative impact on its ability to please a Canadian audience.
I had the chance to sample the Buick's wares in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies, with home base centered around the startlingly modern Azuridge Estate Hotel. Previously a private residence, and now an ultra-exclusive home-away-from-home boasting 13 guest suites, a 24-car garage, and even a life-size dinosaur donated by once-guest Steven Spielberg, the Azuridge is currently managed by a pair of geologists. This explains the naming of each set of rooms after a unique mineral (I stayed in the capacious, glass-walled Aquamarine suite), with a colour scheme to match.
Size-wise, the Buick Envision matches up well against contenders like the Acura RDX and the Audi Q5, while feeling a bit bigger than the similarly priced Lincoln MKC and Lexus NX. This outward impression is confirmed after slipping behind the wheel, or even from the second row of seating, where you can tilt and slide your way to a comfortable pose suitable for spending a few hours or more on the road.
In terms of style, the 2017 Envision's smooth visage bears none of the awkwardness forced by the smaller proportions of the first-generation Encore, with Buick's design team able to stretch out the brand's familiar cues across a large-enough canvas. There's nothing particularly ground-breaking about the vehicle's looks, but then again the SUV segment isn't exactly one that rewards upsetting the apple cart.
Inside, it's a similar story. Look for expanses of wood on higher trim levels matched with a pleasing blend of soft plastic and leather.
With the Rocky range's snowcap visible in the distance, I set out from Azuridge along the 2-lane highways that link one ranch to the next, with splashes of forest serving to break up the grazing land and tilled fields. The Buick Envision's 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine made short work of the elevation changes bringing me closer to the majestic peaks framed by the long, flat clouds that stretched to eternity across the prairie sky.
With 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap—and a curb weigh that hovers around 1,800 kilograms—the Envision has plenty of oomph for its size. What’s more, its 6-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive performed with admirable transparency during our time together. This Buick’s straight-line acceleration compares favourably to other turbo fours, including the muscular MKC and the gold-standard Q5, while fuel economy checks in at a respectable 10.6L/100km combined.
Asphalt gave way to gravel and then to no road at all as I steered the Envision through pastures and, eventually, a submerged concrete bridge across a burbling stream that bisected one of the rural trails around the small town of Priddis, where Azuridge is located. Although not intended as an off-roader, the torque management capabilities of the AWD system made themselves useful when tackling more rigorous conditions than this urban-oriented SUV will likely face on a day-to-day basis.
Aim high, if you can
Lurking at the entry point in the 2017 Buick Envision's lineup is a 2.5L 4-cylinder that grinds out 197 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque without the benefit of a turbocharger. While this unit was not available for me to test drive, it's reasonable to imagine that it might have a bit more trouble dealing with an SUV the size of the Envision, especially given the preponderance of low-end torque offered by the 2.0L upgrade.
There's also the question of equipment: The Premium I and Premium II trim levels are loaded with gear in a bid to out-match Japanese and German competitors, offering impressive amounts of safety tech, connectivity, and comfort. However, you won't find nearly as much content in sub-$40k Convenience trim. Same thing for the mid-level Leather version.
Consequently, in order to fully appreciate what the 2017 Buick Envision has to offer, you'll need to step into a world where you're comfortable handing over between $46,155-$49,565 at your local dealer. It's not a casual decision to make, especially given the crowded space in which the Envision is trying to elbow out some breathing room. Of course, this isn't the first time a new premium people mover has made its way over the mountain range receding in my rear-view mirror, after its long traverse over the widest of seas, but it's the only one we've seen with a Buick badge.