The second-generation 2021 Buick Envision looks much better than the original model, which was imported to North American shores from Chinese factories in 2016. The new 2021 Envision is still made in China, at the same plant, but it has shed its milquetoast presence for a much more modern and edgy look. The five-passenger compact SUV has wider haunches, slimmer LED headlights and taillights, and chrome accents for a more contemporary feel overall.
MotorTrend got its hands on a couple Envisions, both being the new top-trim Avenir models—a first for the Envision. A $45,305 Envision Avenir FWD was sent to our office in California for testing and photography, and a $46,810 Envision Avenir AWD was secured in Detroit for a first drive.
The new Envision’s price tag is steep. Buick officials counter that the Envision’s starting price of $32,995 puts it in the meat of the segment. Buick is a premium brand, orbiting the space between mainstream and luxury. The high-spec Avenir was designed to compete in the top echelon of the segment with a unique mesh grille, 20-inch wheels, clear taillights, luxury touches, and a lot of standard equipment. Avenir is doing for Buick what Denali does for GMC, Vice President of Global Buick Duncan Eldred said.
How Much Better is the Second-Gen Buick Envision?
So is the drive as big a leap forward as the looks?
We climbed behind the wheel with a healthy dose of skepticism. Gone is the base 197-hp 2.5-liter I-4 engine. Also gone is the optional 2.0-liter turbo-four that generated 252 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The 2021 Envision comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 that generates 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque—a first use of this engine for Buick in the U.S.— paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Eldred said having a single engine is better than having too many choices without clear differentiation.
The switch means the 2021 Envision is less powerful than the outgoing Premium model. The executives at Buick push our concerns aside, saying the numbers are not as important as how it is delivered—we’ve all heard that one before—and that we will appreciate the fatter torque curve that reaches peak torque faster.
In the Cadillac XT4 compact SUV, the same 2.0-liter gets a higher 237-hp rating, which can be attributed to it requiring premium fuel, whereas the Envision is rated on regular fuel, and burning premium may close that ratings gap. MotorTrend tested the 2019 Cadillac XT4 when it came out, and the crew said it felt faster than it was (0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds) and noted the engine ultimately felt punchy after a bit of turbo lag.
Testing the 2021 Buick Envision
How did the 2021 Envision do with the same engine? Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted a bit of lag from the jump in his 0-60 testing of the Envision FWD in California and reported that brake-torque did not help the launch. But once underway, the shifts were smooth and quick. The Envision did the 0-60 scoot in 7.1 seconds, which beats the 147-pounds heavier 2019 XT4. The Avenir hangs with its competitive set. The Acura RDX with SH-AWD is quicker, sprinting in 6.8 seconds, while the 2.0-liter Lincoln Corsair needed 7.3 seconds.
Our slightly heavier Envision AWD performed much the same on Michigan roads. Initial pickup felt peppier than what the specs might suggest, and although it did not lurch forward, it did have a strong, sustained pull. The engine does not scream or whine, nor does it rumble or purr. The limitations are felt at highway speeds when you want another burst of speed to pass. That is when it sounds a bit angry and hard-working.
There was not a huge amount of difference between Tour and Sport mode. Switching to Sport does provide slightly quicker throttle response, and it does feel like it is switching gears faster. The vehicle will do a double downshift, but we did not experience it. On the skidpad in California, road test editor Chris Walton found the upshifts to be smooth, but he also found the FWD Envision was reluctant to downshift and needed prodding to force it.
On Michigan roads, the Envision AWD did not emit any snorts or adrenaline-inducing exhaust notes, nor does it lend itself to head-snapping acceleration or overly spirited driving. That arguably is in character with the Buick brand, which is largely geared to the Chinese market and North American customers seeking a more comfortable and relaxed ride.
New Platform Offers Benefits
For the second generation, the 2021 Envision rides on a new platform, shared with the XT4, and it is 30 percent stiffer. Buick engineers sought to give the SUV additional comfort and control, while Cadillac went for a more dynamic experience. The Envision is tuned the same for all markets, and engineers did not want to go over the top and risk a choppy or uncomfortable ride that might alienate Buick customers in either of its main markets.
On a more dynamic road loop, the engine felt a bit ragged at times in Sport and seemed more comfortable in Tour. Overall, the engine is fine for the kind of city driving it was designed for. Few owners will be launching and flooring it. And when the occasion calls for it, they will appreciate the Off-Road mode. All-wheel drive is standard on the Avenir; it’s an $1,800 option otherwise. Buick officials expect a 40 percent take rate of the feature that comes with hill descent control.
The Avenir has continuous damping control as part of the $1,670 Technology package II. The suspension was impressive on city roads with equally impressive potholes and was equally adept over the creases in the cement on the highway. On the road in Michigan, body roll was well controlled, and the Envision felt quite stable and planted.
Entertaining Ride in 2021 Buick Envision
In figure eight testing, Walton defeated the traction and stability controls, but they re-engaged themselves. The traction control puts the power down well on the exits and does not simply cut throttle. Walton found the nose likes to dive under braking, but under his foot the pedal was firm and brakes effective. But after testing the Envision, Walton said the vehicle performed better than expected and pronounced it “reasonably entertaining.”
Pulling 0.84 average lateral g on the skidpad and putting up a 27.1-second figure-eight lap at 0.63 average g puts the Envision in good standing with the competition. The Acura RDX zipped around the bends almost as quickly, in 27.3 seconds at 0.62 g, and the Corsair 2.0 used 27.7 seconds at 0.67 g. Cousin XT4 recorded 26.3 seconds at 0.66 g.
Braking and Steering Results
Needing only 116 feet to stop from 60 mph is a shade better than the XT4’s 118 feet and is also better than the 2021 Acura RDX SH-AWD, which needed 120 feet, and the Lincoln Corsair AWD, which needed 126 feet. Ayapana found some notable dive in his testing, as well, but said the SUV had good overall body control. His brake testing analysis: adequate bite from the brakes and tires that don’t feel like all-seasons. The Detroit drive found braking to be easy and effective, never grabby.
Steering is bit vague in both feel and precision, Walton said. That seems to also be in keeping with character. One Buick signature to be applauded: how quiet the cabin is thanks to Buick’s continued use of active noise cancellation.
Cruise control is activated by pushing a button on the steering wheel. To get the more useful adaptive cruise control, press and hold the cruise cancel switch (button with the speedometer icon with an X through it) until a message appears in the driver info center. You can adjust the distance to the car ahead of you.
Activate the lane keep assist via a button in the center console. It is not the best system—those are the ones that read the center of the road and stay there. This system lets the vehicle drift to the side and brings it back. It is not jerky, but it lets the car come too close to the line for comfort. The seat also vibrates a warning when the vehicle is drifting out of the lane, as opposed to a loud beep that can be heard by back seat drivers; the inspiration for the vibration feature, which has been on GM vehicles for a while, came from an engineer’s hearing-impaired neighbor.
Stepping Inside the 2021 Buick Envision
I like the way the instrument panel is tilted toward the driver; it makes it feel sportier. The graphics on the screen in front of the driver are crisp, and the gauges on each side of the center info screen have a 3-D look to them.
Looking out, the head-up display shows key information: speed and safety features activated such as lane keep assist. As I passed a bus stop, the green pedestrian icon on the windshield screen turned yellow, warning that a person was detected on the side of the road. If the person is in danger of being hit, the car will brake to prevent the collision. The 360-degree camera view is very clear and shows your position as you pull into a parking spot.
The steering wheel wrapped in leather with white stitching, but it’s not soft. The Buick logo is in the center of an otherwise plain steering wheel. Shifting gears is handled via a panel of buttons that are pushed or pulled.
New Infotainment Screen and Connectivity
The 10.0-inch infotainment screen—a first for Buick—is standard on the Avenir. The new architecture affords greater connectivity. There are easily accessible USB ports and a power outlet in the same bin as the wireless charging, and a cover hides your phone charging inside. I was able to easily connect my phone to the wireless charging—just set it down on the mat—and Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is also supported).
The two-tone black and cream cabin has a black dash with a soft-textured surface known as “cast skin,” which is a molded soft plastic with a low gloss, tooled grain, and some stitching for a more premium look. The wood material in the interior is a molded, film-wrapped plastic piece with a cool wave pattern you might have seen in other Avenir models. The doors on the Avenir feature a nice mix of black textured soft plastic, creamy leather, and the wave-patterned wood.
Sit Yourself Down
The seats are a matching cream perforated leather with a diamond pattern that complements the wave pattern in the wood. The heated, ventilated, and massaging seats are comfortable.
The back seat is not cramped unless you forego pulling down the leather center console with cupholders and try instead to squish a third person in the middle. Rear seats are heated, there are air vents and two more USB outlets, both C and A types, and you’ll find another power outlet. The 60/40 split rear seats fold flat easily: Pull the lever on top of the seat, and let gravity take over.
Loading is easy with a power liftgate in the back to gain entry to the carpeted cargo hold. There are no extra accessories or storage cubbies or cargo nets.
The 2021 Buick Envision is a much better choice than its predecessor. Is it better than a Corsair or RDX? Maybe not. But it offers a quiet, comfortable, premium experience that might be just right for some.
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