Familiar with the Buick Envision, the compact crossover sitting in between the popular little Encore and the bigger Enclave in the American automaker’s lineup? No? You’re probably not alone.
The middle child of Buick’s SUV lineup hasn’t had an easy go of it since it debuted on our market in 2015. Not only is it tasked with competing against some big-time rivals in its segment, but it also to try and make room for itself sandwiched between two other Buick utility models.
What’s more, in case you didn’t know, the Buick Envision is built in China, which makes it vulnerable to the U.S.’s current trade war whims, but also tags it with the “Made in China” stigma (meaning of course many might question its quality of construction).
That’s mighty unfair, mind you. Take a look around your household and you can see it abounds with perfectly fine products manufactured in China. That country’s manufacturers are well able to produce vehicles as solid as those built anywhere else – especially those made for export. In fact, an increasing number of carmakers are setting up shop to assemble vehicles in China.
I spent a week with a very well-equipped Buick Envision at the tail end of winter, with snow persisting on the ground. Here are my impressions of an SUV that frankly deserves wider name recognition.
A question of quality
Right from the first kilometre driven, it was clear the cliché about a made-in-China product was simply off the mark here. The Envision is every bit the equal of its Buick SUV stablemates. It’s only when you compare it to some German and Japanese products in the category that it pales. But in general, the design of the Envision is seductive, as behooves a modern Buick product.
For the 2019 model-year (vintage that debuted at dealers last fall), the SUV has gotten a redesigned front end with a more imposing front grille and redrawn bumpers. My Premium II tester rode on 19-inch alloy wheels that add a touch of sportiness. The back end’s lights are redesigned as well, with those ridges at each edge of the vehicle adding more visual distinctiveness.
The interior environment is also of the same high level of quality as other recent Buick products. The dashboard, all curves and virtually no straight lines, is focused on the touchscreen. Encircling it are the command to help you navigate that screen, as well as the clock and a few other buttons to access the parking aid system, for example. I’m not a big fan of those small touchscreens under the climate control vents meant to adjust the temperature. It’s almost impossible to operate this system without taking your eyes off the road.
And while it’s great to have a big storage receptacle on the central console between the two front passengers, this one’s actually cumbersome, especially for the driver. I must have knocked my right elbow on it hundreds of times during my weeklong test drive. Imagine after a year or two!
On the other hand, the rest of the cabin environment is very satisfying. The seats are plush and comfortable, the steering wheel is pleasant to the grip, and passenger space is generous in both rows of seats. In back, the 60/40 split rear bench can be slid forward to increase cargo capacity or back to accommodate long-legged passengers.
The big engine
The first time I test out a Buick Envision, it was equipped with a base engine that did little to win my heart, at least in terms of driving pleasure. This time around, my tester had the “big” engine in the catalog, a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo unit. The SUV gets from it 252 hp and more-generous torque (295 lb-ft), allowing it to keep pace with most of the others in its segment.
Now, the performance of the powertrain does not hoist the Envision into the class of the German or the Japanese models it competes with, but for a Buick, I have to say I was surprised and impressed. The 9-speed automatic transmission does able work, and I should point out that the gear lever is not the one you find in most recent Buicks. Translation: this one’s actually simple and pleasant to use!
The suspension has also been recalibrated with the goal keeping occupants even more comfortable. Unsurprisingly, this Buick Envision holds the road extremely well, but just as unsurprisingly, there are a number of sportier models out there, and they offer that quality without sacrificing comfort.
The last word
One tricky question remains: the pricing. At $56,440, this trim of the Buick Envision sits right about even with the top SUVs in the category. It’s to be expected that, dollars being even, many buyers will prefer to have a more prestigious badge on the vehicle sitting in their driveway. It’s surely tempting as well to go for a model that’s sportier in nature.
The Buick Envision is a good product, let’s be clear – especially with the powertrain my version had. The SUV, the only North American Buick vehicle assembled in China by the way, runs into some trouble when you play the comparison game. There are rivals out there that deliver a sportier driving experience for the same price.
And since the Envision has yet to really establish itself after three years on our market, I think its future might be in doubt now that Buick has presented the Encore GX model in Shanghai. The automaker has since confirmed it means to bring that longer version to the North American market. We could well see the Envision depart to make way for the more-modern Encore GX SUV in the near-future.