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car review

The 2021 Buick Envision.Photos by Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Buick’s revamped 2021 Envision competes in a crowded segment of luxury compact SUVs that includes the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Lincoln Corsair – to name a few. But one advantage it has over the competition is the price. Starting at $35,698, it costs less than many competitors yet doesn’t fall short on luxury appointments and features. It’s a marked improvement over the first-generation Envision, and it also costs about $700 less than the 2020 edition despite adding more safety and technology features than ever before.

In the Buick family, the five-seat Envision falls between the smaller Encore and the larger three-row Enclave SUV. The new Envision is lower, wider and significantly more stylish than its frumpy predecessor, boasting a sleek and sophisticated exterior design that’s a marked improvement. The top-end Avenir model adds beautiful design details and comes adorned with plenty of bling, such as bright chrome that shines brightly in the sunlight, a distinct mesh grille design, large front air intakes and big 20-inch wheels with a pearl nickel finish.

When it comes to substance, the Envision excels. It’s filled with safety and convenience technology all wrapped in an elegant and welcoming cabin. Like the exterior, the interior is a big improvement compared to the last version, which was rather bland, undistinguishable and littered with poor-quality materials. The fit and finish is superb in the Avenir trim, with soft-touch materials such as diamond-quilted leather seats and textured wood panels on the side door, that elevate the cabin’s overall look. A new push-button gear shifter in the centre console looks cool, but it’s a bit awkward to use at first. Instead of touching the drive or reverse button, you pull up to engage.

The Avenir trim features interior appointment such as textured-wood door panels.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Also new is a 10-inch infotainment touch screen designed to access the navigation, climate control, audio system and apps; it’s tilted towards the driver for better visibility. A lip above the screen shields the sunshine so there’s less glare when the large dual panoramic sunroof is open. The screen is within arm’s length and is easy to use – there’s no need to scroll through several screens to perform simple functions. Redundant buttons for the heated and ventilated seats as well as the temperature are a welcome sight, making it easy and quick to adjust when needed. Connectivity features are plentiful and include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as Amazon Alexa integration, and several in-vehicle apps such as Spotify and the Weather Channel.

A lip above the touch screen helps reduce glare.

There’s only one engine available in the Envision. It’s a 2-litre turbocharged I-4 engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, which delivers 228 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Admittedly, those numbers aren’t that staggering; many competitors in the segment offer more power. Interestingly, the 2020 Envision had two engine choices – a more powerful 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder with 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque and a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine with 197 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Still, the ride and handling are composed and refined, soaking up bumps and other degradations in the road nicely. The drive isn’t too soft, either. And the fuel economy is respectable; I averaged 10.1 L/100 km combined city and highway driving, which isn’t too bad for a 1,753 kg AWD SUV and not too far off from the posted Natural Resources Canada official rating of 10.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 L/100 km on the highway for the AWD version.

Like the first-generation Envision, this new model is made in China. While some might not like the idea of an American company manufacturing vehicles in China, at least deliveries haven’t been hampered by the global semi-conductor chip shortage, which is temporarily shuttering many manufacturing facilities across North America. “We have been able to continue production,” says Sabrina Keeler, national marketing manager for Buick Canada. “The Envision plant in China has not been affected thus far, and we’re hopeful that stays the case.”

And there is a new Canadian connection to the Envision. Some of the leading driver-safety technology is made in Ontario. The lane-keep assist, which helps keep the vehicle centred in the lane, and the front and rear park-assist systems are designed, engineered and executed at GM’s Canadian Technical Centres, or CTC, in Markham and Oshawa, Ont.

The most expensive Envision is the Avenir trim, which starts at $44,398 – and in some cases, that’s still cheaper than the base price of some competitors. And that gives the new Envision an edge over the competition.

Tech specs

2021 Buick Envision Avenir AWD
  • Base price/as tested: $35,698 for base trim; Avenir trim starts at $44,398; $47,388 as tested (plus $1,900 freight and PDI)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I-4 engine rated at 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission/drive: 9-speed automatic, FWD/AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km city and highway): City 10.0 (FWD) 10.5 (AWD); highway 7.6 (FWD) 8.2 (AWD)
  • Alternatives: Volvo XC60, Lincoln Corsair, Acura RDX, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Infiniti QX50, Mercedes-Benz GLC

Looks

The 2021 Envision's stylish design is a marked improvement on its predecessor's.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Two thumbs up! A marked improvement over its predecessor. The top Avenir trim adds attractive design touches including larger wheels and shiny chrome accents all over the body. Cool colours, such as rich garnet metallic and cinnabar metallic, are a refreshing change from boring old black, white and silver shades. And while they cost an extra $495, the Envision still won’t break the bank.

Interior

The huge panoramic sunroof creates an airy, welcoming atmosphere in the cabin.

The Avenir trim boasts a lavish interior with upscale features including real-wood inlays in the side-door panels, diamond-perforated quilted leather seats and the Avenir label stitched delicately on the front headrests. A huge panoramic roof extends across the cabin letting in air and sunshine to create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere.

Performance

Unfortunately there’s only one new engine option available – a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While it may not be the most powerful in the segment, it delivers pleasant road manners, and the cabin remains whisper-quiet with little road, engine or wind noise seeping inside.

Technology

There’s no shortage of connectivity and safety technology. Buick’s Driver Confidence Plus package comes with nine standard safety features such as front pedestrian braking, lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert and automatic high beams. Other available driver-assistance features include adaptive cruise control and a head-up display, which projects vital driver information directly onto the windshield.

Cargo

The power liftgate can be opened with a kick under the rear bumper, revealing a cargo space with 713 L of capacity.

A hands-free power liftgate opens easily by pushing a button on the key fob or kicking under the rear bumper. Once open, there’s 713 L of cargo space. That more than doubles by dropping the 40/60-split second-row seats, which fold flat into the floor.

The verdict

A beautiful, elegant, and well-priced compact SUV that’s poised to steal new buyers from the competition.

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