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PowerSteering: 2017 Buick Envision Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Buick Envision Review

By Christian Wardlaw, April 05, 2017

Introduction
From a product sourcing perspective, Buick is the most global brand in the General Motors (GM) lineup. The Enclave SUV hails from America. The compact Encore SUV is built in South Korea. The Cascada convertible comes from Europe. The Regal sedan is assembled in Canada. And the new Envision SUV is made in China.

A compact crossover SUV, the Envision is one of the first Chinese-built vehicles to be offered in the United States. Do not assume, though, that it will be inexpensive. Buick is positioning this new entrant as an alternative to the Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC, and within the GM lineup as a bridge between the GMC Terrain and the Cadillac XT5.

2017 Buick Envision front quarter left photoFor this review, we evaluated a fully equipped Envision Premium II with metallic paint, power sunroof, and a Driver Confidence equipment package containing automatic emergency braking, full-speed-range cruise control, and a surround-vision camera. The price came to $49,320, including the $925 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 Envision, it’s helpful to understand who buys compact SUVs and what they like most and least about them.

J.D. Power research shows that compact SUV buyers are split nearly even as far as gender is concerned, with 49% of buyers being men and 51% women. Their median age is 56, and they earn a median annual household income of $89,505.

More than half (54%) of compact SUV buyers identify themselves as practical buyers or price buyers, and 62% agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company. Reliability, quality, and low maintenance costs are the most important factors when they select a vehicle, followed by versatility for busy lifestyles.

Buyers say their favorite things about compact SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, visibility and safety, and seats. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about compact SUVs are (in descending order) storage and space, engine/transmission, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2017 Envision performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Depending on your vantage point, the Buick Envision is appealing or misshapen. Viewed in profile, the excessive front overhang, boldly scalloped doors, tapering roofline, squat greenhouse, and oversized mirrors all contribute to an unbalanced look. From other angles, this is an attractive SUV, though it is time for Buick to bid adieu to the chrome “Ventiports” that it tacks onto fenders and hoods.

Interior
Stylishly outfitted, the Envision’s cabin nevertheless represents a hodgepodge of GM parts-bin components. They’re high-end, but to some degree lack visual and tactile cohesion. And the new-car smell is awful, which could be attributed to the Envision’s Chinese assembly location.

2017 Buick Envision interior photoThe top-trim test vehicle had Chestnut Brown leather, which contrasted nicely with the black dashboard and carpets as well as the trendy gray simulated wood. The overall vibe was clean and contemporary.

Seats
Designed to hold five occupants, four adults will be comfortable inside of the Envision.

Up front, the seats will prove short and narrow if you are a larger or taller person. The cushions are firm and supportive, though, and the test vehicle’s passenger seat included 8-way power adjustment. The test vehicle also had heated and ventilated front seats as well as a heated steering wheel.

The rear seat offers a surprisingly generous amount of legroom and foot space. It slides forward and back to maximize occupant comfort or cargo space, and the backrests recline for relaxing travel. The test vehicle included a panoramic sunroof, as well as heated outboard seating positions. Buick also supplies a 3-prong power outlet, dual USB ports, and rear climate control settings on top-trim versions of the Envision.

Climate Control System
Generally speaking, the Envision’s controls are properly placed and easy to use. The exception is the climate control system, which employs touch-sensing temperature and seat heat/ventilation controls. These are arguably the most commonly used climate functions, and to both locate them low on the dashboard’s center stack and to make them touch-sensitive is a recipe for distraction.

Infotainment System
Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system might not have the largest screen, but it is quite easy to use thanks to its combination of large, touch-sensitive screen menu icons and a collection of buttons and knobs located directly below the display.

This design makes it easy to find what you want and to operate the stereo without taking your eyes off the road ahead. Just remember that if the screen is displaying the navigation system’s map, the tuning knob serves as a zoom knob.

Storage and Space
Cargo space is both tight and narrow in the Envision, measuring 26.9 cu. ft. behind the rear seat and 57.3 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down. That latter figure isn’t much more than what a Kia Soul can hold.

Within the passenger compartment, the Envision provides a generous center console storage bin as well as tiered storage trays and bins on the front door panels. The glove box is small, and the Envision could benefit from a storage bin located forward of the transmission shifter, but the tray carved into the dashboard in front of the passenger’s seat sure is handy.

Visibility and Safety
Thanks to large side mirrors and front quarter windows, outward visibility is impressive to the front and sides of the Envision. The view through the rearview mirror, however, is not. And if you look over your shoulder while reversing from slanted parking, you’ll find an impeded view out.

Fortunately, a reversing camera and rear park-assist sensors are standard equipment. Buick also offers a 360-degree surround-view camera system for the Envision, as well as a head-up display that remains visible even when you’re wearing polarized sunglasses.

2017 Buick Envision rear quarter right photoTeen Driver technology is new to the Envision for 2017, providing programmable settings and driving reports to the parents of teenaged drivers. Buick also offers an opt-in Smart Driver Program that monitors your driving habits and produces data that can be used to obtain car insurance discounts. Given that the test vehicle’s navigation system did not have a speed limit update on one of the roads I use during testing, where the limit was recently raised from 35 mph to 40 mph, you might want to think twice about enabling it.

As would be expected of an SUV priced near $50,000, the test vehicle included a full roster of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies. They work as well as those offered by other car companies, and suffer the same types of flaws with regard to sensitivity levels and occasional behavior that fails to mimic what drivers would actually do in similar situations.

Should a collision occur, the Envision protects its occupants with a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Engine/Transmission
Upgrade to Premium or Premium II trim and Buick swaps the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine for a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine delivering 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque starting at 2,000 rpm. It is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and an active twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system is standard with this engine.

Charged with motivating nearly 4,100 lbs., the turbocharged engine provides quick acceleration and the transmission delivers smooth gear changes. At all times, the drivetrain operates with refinement, never drawing undue attention to itself.

Fuel Economy
The turbocharged engine is equipped with an idle-stop system that shuts the engine off while the Envision is at rest in traffic or at intersections. Designed to help conserve fuel, the system is mostly unobtrusive in terms of its operation.

Nevertheless, this small but heavy turbocharged Buick returned just 21.5 mpg on the evaluation loop, just short of the official EPA rating of 22 mpg in combined driving. Given the Envision’s diminutive dimensions, this is unimpressive.

Driving Dynamics
Envisions with Premium and Premium II trim are dynamically superior to the more affordable versions of this SUV. They have the turbocharged engine but they also come with Buick’s Hi-Per Strut front suspension and bigger 19-in. wheels and tires. As a result, they are faster and more entertaining to drive.

That does not mean the Envision is engaging to drive, despite its confident brakes, correctly weighted steering, and capable suspension tuning. There is an artifice to the athleticism that negatively impacts authenticity. Around town, the short wheelbase and taut underpinnings are somewhat of a liability, producing a somewhat choppy and stiff ride quality.

This Buick certainly is quiet, though.


Final Impressions
With a base price that starts higher than a fully loaded Honda CR-V and an as-tested price that rises higher than a fully loaded Honda Pilot, the Buick Envision does not represent value when compared to mainstream crossover SUV benchmarks. Worse, it is parked right next to the larger and more impressive GMC Acadia Denali on Buick-GMC dealership lots, making it an even more challenging value proposition.

Compared with the automaker’s stated competition, the Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC, the Envision is better aligned in terms of price, but struggles to convince in terms of luxury and driving engagement. The various pieces of the puzzle are present, but they don’t come together in a convincing way.

Buick needed to fill the gap between the smaller Encore—purchased by aspirational buyers who want something small and nimble to drive—and the larger Enclave, popular with families seeking lots of space for people and cargo. Unfortunately, the Envision is too small inside and when equipped with desirable features it is priced too high.

As a result, unlike with Buick’s other car and SUV models, it is hard to envision whom the company is expecting to woo with the new Envision.

General Motors supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Buick Envision review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.


Additional Research:


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