2021 Buick Envision’s new looks, features have the feel of a hit

Along with the recent launch of the Encore GX, the new Envision will help to expand Buick’s reach in the fast-growing compact SUV segment. Metro News Service photo
Along with the recent launch of the Encore GX, the new Envision will help to expand Buick’s reach in the fast-growing compact SUV segment. Metro News Service photo

Buick is the right brand at the right time, and the 2021 Envision compact SUV is the perfect vehicle to cash in.

It’s got the size, looks, features and value to hit the hottest part of the car market running and print money all the way to the bank for General Motors.

The ’21 Envision is new from the ground up, styled in Germany and the U.S., built in China — where Buick was taken seriously long before the brand’s SUV-fueled resurgence in the U.S. — and equipped to maintain the brand’s momentum with affluent women, one of the auto industry’s most sought-after groups.

The first generation Envision, which went on sale in 2016, was an unexpected hit. Americans’ unquenchable thirst for SUVs was just becoming apparent when GM quietly began importing the SUV.

Positive word of mouth spread quickly and Buick had trouble meeting demand.

Based on a weeklong test, the new model should do even better, thanks to upscale looks, new features, improved ride and handling, a standard turbocharged engine and smooth nine-speed automatic transmission.

The 2021 Buick Envision is on sale now. It competes with small upscale SUVs like the Acura RDX, Audi Q3, Infiniti QX50, Lexus UX, Lincoln Corsair, Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan.

Standard safety features:

  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Following distance indicator
  • Forward collision alert
  • Front pedestrian braking
  • Automatic high beams
  • Lane change alert
  • Lane keeping alert and assist
  • Blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts
  • Rear park assist

Other safety/assist features:

  • Enhanced automatic emergency braking
  • HD surround vision
  • Head-up display
  • Rear camera mirror
  • Front park assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Enhanced automatic parking assist

Driving impressions

The 2021 Envision benefits from switching to GM’s D2 architecture and new proportions.

It’s available with front- or all-wheel drive. A 2.0L turbo engine and nine-speed automatic transmission are standard. The new engine produces less power than the old model’s optional 2.0L turbo, but a lower and broader torque peak — 1500-4000 RPM now versus 3000 RPM before — help keep performance competitive.

I tested a top of the line AWD Avenir model. Avenir is Buick’s level for features looks and trim. It’s new to the Envision line for ’21. Despite a plethora of new features, my AWD Avenir weighed 151 pounds less than the top version of the previous generation.

The new Envision’s 109.4-inch wheelbase is 1.1 inch longer than its predecessor, but overall length decreases 1.2 inches to 182.5.

The longer wheelbase and shorter length combine with new steering gear to make the Envision maneuverable and easy to park. A new five-link rear suspension combines to a smooth ride and stability. Selectable drive modes include Touring (front-wheel drive), All-wheel drive, Sport and Off-road. As with most front-wheel-drive-based SUVs, the term “off-road” is used loosely. The optional all-wheel-drive system’s twin-clutch rear end can shift torque front right to left wheel, but the system is geared for on-road performance and mobility in snow, not significant off-road challenges.

The Envision is quiet and comfortable on surface roads and at highway speed. I found myself using the Sport setting most of the time, particularly on the highway, when it improved on-center feel in fast cruising.

The transmission is smooth and quick, delivering unobtrusive shifts even in hard acceleration. The Envision can tow 1,500 pounds.

Looks get an A; shifter gets an Incomplete

The new Envision is 1.7 inches wider, its roof 2.2 inches lower, than the previous model. Those proportions combine with a wide, black grille containing a chrome wing and Buick roundel, and wraparound wing-shaped LED signature lights give the Envision a much more dynamic appearance than its predecessor.

The profile is marked by character lines in the front fenders and doors and a fast windshield. GM’s German design studio began Envision styling. When that studio transferred to Peugeot with the sale of Opel, GM studios in the U.S. took over.

The interior is equally appealing. Passenger space is almost unchanged, so there’s plenty of headroom. The wider body pays off in more shoulder room and a more accommodating front-seat center console. Leg and cargo space are fine.

The interior features soft materials at most touch points, with plenty of lines and contours on the dash. My Avenir had black, perforated leather seats sewn in a diamond pattern.

Base models have an 8.0-inch touch screen — small in a segment loaded with luxury. A 10.25-inch screen is available. There are easy to use buttons and dials for audio and climate control. Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and charging are standard.

While most of the controls are simple and straightforward, the shifter uses a new design reminiscent of Honda/Acura’s kluged center-console combo of buttons and levers. I prefer GMC’s piano-key layout, but maybe Buick’s new one will grow on me.

How much?

Envision prices start at $31,800 for a base front-drive model. Unlike the first-gen, when front-wheel drive was reserved for lower models, buyers in frost-free areas can get it on any trim level now.

All-wheel drive prices start at $33,600.

The 2.0L engine and nine-speed transmission are standard on all Envisions.

I tested a loaded AWD Envision Avenir that stickered at $45,615. All prices exclude destination charges.

The EPA rates the Envision at 24 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 26 in combined driving. AWD models come in at 22/29/25. Its fuel economy compares well to competitors except the hybrid Lexus UX 250h.

Envision prices are also competitive.

Features on the Envision I tested include:

  • 10.25-inch touch screen
  • Wireless charging
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Navigation
  • Alexa compatible
  • Head-up display
  • Remote start
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Leather wrapped steering wheel
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Heated rear seats
  • 60/40 split folding rear seat
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Hands-free programmable power tailgate
  • Automatic parking
  • Video rear mirror
  • Sunroof
  • Adaptive cruise control

2021 Buick Envision at a glance

  • Front- or all-wheel drive compact five-passenger SUV
  • Base price: $31,800
  • Estimated price as tested: $45,615

On sale now

  • Key competitors: Acura RX, Audi Q3, Infiniti QX50, Lexus UX, Lincoln Corsair, Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan
  • Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Power: 228 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque @ 1,500-4,000
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Estimated EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined. Regular gasoline
  • Wheelbase: 109.4 inches
  • Length: 182.5 inches
  • Width: 74.1 inches
  • Height: 64.6 inches
  • Curb weight: 3,932 pounds
  • Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
  • Assembled in Yantai, China

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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