The prior Buick Envision was a last-resort option in the world of near-premium compact crossovers. With so many good alternatives from Acura, Lexus, Volvo, and others, the anonymous, ill-equipped Buick only made sense for a small number of consumers wanting borderline luxury at a budget-friendly price.
But the 2021 Buick Envision is a far cry from its predecessor. Using a new platform shared with the Cadillac XT4, this is a stylish, well-equipped crossover that makes some noise in a very competitive class rather than simply blending into the background. And at only $31,800 to start, the latest Envision is also the most affordable option in the class by a long shot.
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Buick is going all-in on aggressive SUV design, and that's obvious by looking at the latest Envision. Slim LED headlights that come to a fish hook-like point wrap around its sleek seven-sided grille. The red, white, and blue Buick shields sit dead center, flanked by two faux chrome trim pieces on either side. And the two lower vents at each corner of the front end have nice detailing to them, while the larger vent lower down on the bumper caps off the belligerent look.
Our tester wears the $1,325 Sport Touring (or ST) package, which adds 20-inch gloss black wheels, a blacked-out grille, black roof rails, and other darkened features. The Summit White paint job – one of four available hues with the ST model, alongside Ebony Twilight Metallic, Satin Steel Metallic, and Cinnabar Metallic – highlights those accents exceptionally well. Outside of maybe the top-end Avenir model, the ST package is our favorite look.
But for as good as the exterior looks, the cabin styling falls short. If you opt for the ST, your only interior color choice is Ebony Black leather, joined by black trim on the dash, door panels, center console, and elsewhere. The only offsetting trim piece is the faux carbon around the center screen, which we're not all that fond of. On top of that, even if you opt for the high-end Avenir or any trim without the ST package, Whisper Beige is the only other interior color.
GM also has a fondness for overly complicated shifters, and the latest Envision is not immune. The button layout on the center console for changing gears takes some time to get used to. You press the top-most button for Park, pull back just below that for Reverse, press the center-most button for Neutral, pull up again for Drive, and press the bottom button for a manual mode. It's needlessly convoluted.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Buick Envision
Buick offers a number of upscale features in the Envision that make the cabin experience more enjoyable. A heated steering wheel, air ionizer, and heated seats come standard on the mid-range Essence model we tested, while those same options are $1,750 extra on the base Preferred model.
The front buckets in the Envision are well-bolstered, soft, and offer eight-way power adjustability – but it still feels like you're sitting on top of them rather than in them. We fiddled plenty with the lumbar support and back rest in order to get comfortable, but to no avail. We had the same comfort issues in the Cadillac XT4, and although it's unclear if these two cars use the same seats (they use the same platform, after all), they feel similar.
Buick opted for a cockpit-like layout that angles a 10.2-inch touchscreen and a number of buttons toward the driver, which makes them all easier to reach, even while driving. We really appreciate this seemingly minor touch, though your front seat passenger may not if he or she likes fiddling with the controls too.
Otherwise, the Envision's 39.6 inches of headroom and 40.4 inches of legroom are somewhere in the middle for the class, but feel more than adequate for your 6-foot-tall author. And the second row's 38.9 inches of headroom and 39.3 inches of legroom are about the same, just enough for your average-sized adult.
The base Buick Envision Preferred gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen, just like its predecessor, but this setup comes with standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot. The Essence trim sports a larger, crisper 10.3-inch display with all of those features plus unique apps like NCAA March Madness, which displays live scores of the college basketball tournament (but, we imagine, would be useless for the other 10.5 months of the year).
Alongside a bevy of cool baked-in features, the display itself is laid out well and is extremely easy to use. The color-coordinated menu graphics we've grown to like in most GM products carry over here, and they're just as easy to interpret. The screen responds well to touch inputs and scrolling functions are smooth. And as we already mentioned, the cockpit-like layout angles the screen toward the driver, which makes it so much easier to use while driving, even if it does require a bit of sacrifice from the passenger.
A $2,500 Technology package adds navigation to that setup, HD radio, a nine-speaker premium audio system, a head-up display, and a few additional safety features. If you really want Buick navigation and a HUD, this option is worth adding – otherwise, the Envision Essence offers a lot of great tech standard.
The Envision rides on a brand-new platform for 2021 shared with the Cadillac XT4. And although it's not what we'd call “dynamic,” the Envision certainly feels well-sorted, just like its XT4 cousin. The five-link suspension affords it some agility in corners without displaying too much harsh feedback. The steering is great, too; the wheel is easy to turn quickly and offers little resistance, but still feels like it's picking up every piece of pavement underneath the tires.
A new platform for the Envision also means a new turbocharged 2.0-liter engine shared with the XT4, good for 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet. Powerful this motor is not – even the Caddy has more oomph with 252 hp and 295 lb-ft on tap. But that's not to say the Envision feels underpowered. The turbocharged engine has solid low-end torque, which makes the Buick feel borderline spritely around town. The throttle is quick, and the nine-speed automatic also shifts smoothly and without hassle. Only at higher speeds is there a bit of sluggishness, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for a normal compact crossover.
Front-wheel drive comes standard, and it's the drive type offered on our tester, while all-wheel drive is available as an $1,800 option on all trims. Because the Envision's engine is so torquey and the throttle so responsive, there is some noticeable clawing when you hammer it aggressively – more than you might find in the average compact crossover. To avoid that, splurge on all-wheel drive. Overall, the new Envision is nice to drive but nothing out of the ordinary.
The 2021 Buick Envision is loaded with safety features. Automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-change alert, forward collision warning, following distance indicator, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist come standard on this trim. Opting for the $2,500 Technology package adds front and rear park assist as well as an HD bird’s-eye camera.
And all of those features work about as well as you’d expect on the road. The lane-centering and lane-keep assist can be a bit too sensitive, but otherwise offer ample steering input to keep the car centered. And the HD rear camera – as its name suggests – is crystal clear. You can only get adaptive cruise as an option on the range-topping Avenir model, though.
The front-wheel-drive Buick Envision returns 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 highway, and 26 combined, which are some of the best figures for a non-hybrid premium compact crossover. The Envision’s cousin, the Cadillac XT4, and the Infiniti QX50 match the Buick with a combined fuel economy figure of 26. An equivalent front-wheel-drive Acura RDX returns 24 combined, while front-drive versions of the Lexus NX, Lincoln Corsair, and Volvo XC60 all return 25 combined.
The base model Buick Envision Preferred is the most affordable premium compact crossover on the market. At $31,800 for the front-drive model (or $33,600 for all-wheel drive), the Envision undercuts every alternative from Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, and Volvo. Even the mid-range Essence model tested here only costs $35,800 to start, which means only the XT4 is more affordable to start.
Our car does have two options that bring the final asking price to $40,820, but that’s still a very reasonable asking price, all things considered. The most expensive add-on is the $2,500 Technology package, followed by the $1,325 Sport Touring package. A comparable Lexus NX F Sport with navigation costs more than $45,000, while an Acura RDX A-Spec with the same feature costs just north of $44,000.
If you want to go all out, the Envision Avenir is the most luxurious option at $40,200. That model comes standard with 20-inch wheels, heated front and rear seats, and a bird’s-eye camera. Again, all-wheel drive is an $1,800 extra, and you can option a $1,965 Technology Package II, which adds things like adaptive cruise control.
Envision Competitor Reviews:
- Acura RDX: Not Rated
- Cadillac XT4: Not Rated
- Lexus NX: Not Rated
- Lincoln Corsair: Not Rated
- Volvo XC60: Not Rated
Gallery: 2021 Buick Envision: Review
2021 Buick Envision Essence