Kicking off it's second generation, the 2021 Buick Envision is all new from the wheels up. Still a 5-passenger compact-to-midsize crossover, Envision sits between the larger Enclave and smaller Encore GX in Buick's lineup. Despite a one-inch increase in wheelbase, Envision loses a bit of overall length and height. Changes under the skin include a revised standard engine, new exterior and interior styling and updated infotainment system with support for wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Competitors include the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX, Lincoln Corsair, Mazda CX-5 and Volvo XC40.
Trim levels include Preferred, Essence and Avenir. All get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 228 horsepower this year, down from 252 in the previous model. The engine features direct injection and start-stop technology. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.
All models get standard forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitor and LED headlights. Other standard features include keyless entry and ignition, and roof rails. Options include hands-free liftgate, dual-zone climate control, 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system, head-up display, ventilated seats, wireless charging pad, adaptive suspension, digital rear-view mirror and Bose premium audio system. Prices range from $35,000-$43,000.
Dumping its base engine from last year, Envision now offers a turbocharged 2.0-liter four across the model lineup. The engine is down on power compared to last year's optional powerplant and that shows in overall performance. Offering spritely acceleration around town, the engine runs out of steam in highway passing situations and with a full load of passengers. In optimal conditions with a light load, it will push Envision from 0 to 60 MPH in about 7.5 seconds. That trails most competitors by a fair margin. At least the engine revs smoothly and mates well to the slick-shifting 9-speed automatic.
Envision's optional all-wheel drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for extreme off-road use. In most cases front-wheel drive will suffice and will end up saving you $1,800 up front (Though keep in mind when you trade, you would get that money back in value.)
EPA ratings of 24/31 MPG for the front-drive version are commendable. Even the AWD Envision is rated at 22/29 MPG. In most cases those numbers are a few MPGs better than competitors. Throw in the fact that the Envision runs on regular fuel, while most competitors require premium-grade fuel, and the savings add up quite nicely. In routine suburban driving it is easy to average 25 MPG overall. Go easy on the throttle and you might see as high as 28 MPG.
Buick knows Envision's role well and that's not to be a sport crossover. Regardless of model, the suspension is set up to provide a comfortable and controlled ride -- emphasis on comfortable. The soft springs and shocks provide excellent bump absorption but not much rebound control. That means there's more bouncing and bobbing on bumpy roads, but at least the impacts are softened, compared to some harder-riding competitors.
Preferred and Essence ride 18-inch wheels while 20s standard on Avenir and optional on others. This, combined with the Avenir's standard adaptive suspension, makes a big difference in overall handling characteristics. While the lesser models tend to float and bound about the Avenir stays better planted and provides a more sure-footed feeling around corners. In all cases, the numb steering is over boosted at all but parking speeds. At least brakes have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal.
Buick should be commended; interior noise levels are the lowest in the class. There's almost not tire noise and wind noise is very muted at highway speeds. This makes it easy to carry on a conversation with rear-seat passengers - something that can't be said on some sportier crossovers.
With its 2021 redesign, Envision got a complete interior makeover. Materials, design and features are all upgraded and functionality is top notch. Though not quite as posh as some more-expensive rivals, the Envision sports a look that's entirely price appropriate.
The front seats are quite comfortable and provide ample cushioning for long-haul trips. They lack the firmness needed to hold you in place in quick maneuvers, but that's to be expected. Rear seats are similarly soft, though they offer even less lumbar support. In both cases head and leg room are generous -- a result of a true 5-passenger design rather than trying to smash a third-row seat in back. Outward visibility is great and entry-exit is a snap, thanks to the low ride height and large and wide-opening doors.
On the tech front, Envision has all of the necessary goodies and even offers wireless smartphone compatibility and a wireless charging tray. Buick's infotainment system is a breeze to operate and doesn't require a PhD in order to change the radio station, thanks to standard buttons and knobs. Of course, all of the safety features at there along with a large panoramic sunroof and lots of USB charging ports. Buick really nailed the creature comforts.
Because it's a largish 5-passenger crossover, Envision offers above-average cargo room. Seats up, there's more than 25 cubic feet of storage space. Flip the seats down and that number grows to more than 50 cubes. Add to that a large tailgate opening and low load floor and you'll enjoy taking the Envision on antiquing runs. Interior storage is average with just a few open and covered bins throughout. A few thoughtful touches include a butterfly-opening center console that allows for easy access from all seating positions and a handy bin below the center stack for stashing personal items.
Bottom Line -- Buick tries to strike a delicate balance between mainstream and luxury with all of its vehicles. Envision might just be the best version of that vision yet. It's quiet, comfortable, roomy, loaded with features and priced in that sweet spot between mass-market crossovers and luxury crossovers. While it lacks any sort of athletic nature, it's a go-to in terms of comfort and refinement. Sure, a RDX or MX-5 might be more fun to drive, but if you have to live behind the wheel, you might just appreciate the Envision's comforts a bit more.