PRIDDIS, Alberta – It’s common knowledge at this point that the SUV market is incredibly lucrative. Sales for these rugged jacked up wagons have been skyrocketing ever since their inception, and it doesn’t seem like any automaker can truly succeed without introducing one to their lineup.
Take a look at Jaguar. Once a brand revered for their luxury sedans and sumptuous sports cars, they’ve now opted for a slice of the SUV pie with their newly introduced F-Pace. Maserati, a global brand known for its racing heritage, has popped one out too, naming it the Levante. In fact, SUV sales have been so imperative to automotive brands that even Buick is expanding its portfolio with the new Envision, the topic of today’s review.
Built in China and initially only sold in China, the Envision has now migrated to our side of the pond and slots right above the subcompact Encore and below the three-row Enclave. Utilizing an all-new platform (not found in any other GM vehicle to date) and a keen focus on delivering a comfortable ride, the Envision has helped propel Buick into a household name in the Mainland. In fact, Buick is so popular over there that they sells five times more vehicles there than in Canada.
We were flown out to the small rural town of Priddis, Alberta to test drive the new 2017 Buick Envision, and we were quite excited. You see, the Envision enters one of the hottest and most contested segments in the automotive industry. When you look at the competition it’s got to overcome, the task ahead remains daunting: Acura RDX, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, and the Lincoln MKC, just to name a few.
But after a serene drive through the barren roads and mountainous landscapes on the outskirts of Calgary, we were smitten by the qualities that Buick has always remained true to since its heyday in 1903: quietness, comfort, and luxury. And its familiar sheetmetal says it all, everything from the bulbous curves to the signature waterfall front grill. It oozes luxury, bathes in chrome, and in our eyes, is actually quite pretty.
But the biggest improvement relative to other Buicks is with the interior. The Envision’s cabin has been redesigned to a cleaner and more modern layout. The steering wheel is no longer an eyesore – it’s slim, leather wrapped, and easy to modulate, and the gauges have also been given an upgrade to the digital age. The 8-inch touchscreen and infotainment system is now the same one you find in new Chevrolets, and supports everything from Apple Carplay, Android Auto, 4G LTE Connectivity, and Bluetooth.
Safety advocates will also be glad to know that the Envision comes with the entire suite of safety features like Adaptive Cruise Control, Surround Vision Camera System, Collision Mitigation Braking, and Lane Keep Assist. One notable mention is that a rear view camera comes standard.
And if you thought Buick went all modern with those touch-sensitive HVAC controls – which don’t work very well, I might add – and forgot about its roots, well you’d be glad to know they kept some signature touches such as the center-mounted analog clock and ice blue ambient lighting that circles around the cabin.
Cabin space is quite impressive in its segment. Front row passengers enjoy a wealth of headroom and legroom, but it’s the second row that really suffers. Though it doesn’t utilize a sloped roofline like a BMW X4, back seat headroom is very poor. I stand six feet tall yet despite the flat floor and seat recline function, I can’t seem to sit up straight without banging my head on the roofliner. Trunk space on the other hand is impressive, with more capacity than the Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC.
Quiet tuning is what they call it – Buick’s task of making the Envision’s cabin as quiet as possible. There’s insulation everywhere, from the double-paned windows to the laminated windshield. It’s the first thing you notice when you hop inside the Envision and shut the doors.
Silent as a church, you can even have whispery conversations at triple digit speeds down the highway. Road noise is absent, tire noise from the Hankooks is non-existent, ride quality is sublime, and the cabin is surprisingly free of any creaks or rattles. The quality we experienced is surprisingly on par with the likes of the BMW X3.
All that extra padding adds weight unfortunately and results in quite a porky curb weight of 1,852 kg. But Buick engineers were quick to address this issue with powerful engines and innovative suspension designs.
There are two engines to choose from: a 2.5-litre four-cylinder delivering 197 hp and 193 lb-ft, and a more potent 2.0-litre turbo-four that produces 252 hp and 260 lb-ft. Both are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Only the turbo variant was available for testing, and it proved adequate on the long barren stretches of 100 km/h limit backroads. Even though you can feel the weight of the Envision dragging it down during hard launches and overtaking maneuvers, it never feels sluggish or jerky. Acceleration becomes one smooth motion, creating a feeling of effortlessness and leisure in the drive. It has a relaxed personality, one that enjoys floating towards the red line rather than charging towards it like a bull.
Buick also takes pride in their clever HiPer strut front suspension technology, which helps to improve the wheel’s contact patch to the ground and improve steering feel while reducing torque steer.
While it’s certainly no corner carver, the Envision comes with Buick’s latest twin-clutch all-wheel drive system, a similar unit to the one found in the familial Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia. It can split torque not only between the front and rear wheels, but also between the rear left and right wheels, ensuring maximum grip and confidence for those tasked with enduring long and treacherous winters.
The 2017 Buick Envision enters the market competitively priced, with four trims ranging from the base Preferred ($39,995), to Essence ($43,695), Premium I ($46,155), and the most expensive Premium II ($49,565). Every trim has their benefits, with Buick’s projected volume seller to be Premium I, which includes the 2.0-litre turbo engine, a Bose premium audio system, the aforementioned suite of safety features, 19-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel as well as heated rear seats. Navigation and a panoramic sunroof are both stand-alone options.
Who would have envisioned that the SUV market would blow up as much as it did but then again, no one could have predicted Trump’s shocking win in the presidential election. The compact Envision may have entered the game late, but its luxury appeal has garnered quite a lot of attention in China, and I’m fairly confident that Canadians will quickly follow suit.
The Envision is yet another stellar addition to the Buick portfolio and heavily caters towards those who care more about enjoying the subtleties of luxury rather than the art of flaunting it to their neighbours. Buick knows this and is hitting the segment in full force, giving accepting customers the best bang for their buck with a whisper quiet cabin, a supple ride, and great packaging.