The temperatures dropped, the snow started and I faced a choice in the garage — with hockey bag in one hand, kids’ backpacks in the other. In my pocket were two key fobs, one that promised something fun and new, the other assuring me of the practical but dull.
I chose the latter and drove the Buick Envision through the snow with the family to our sundry activities. The tossable Toyota 86 coupe would have to wait.
The initial deprivation of driving a crossover while anticipating a season-limited sports coupe soon passed. Lulled by the comfort and competence of Buick’s all-new compact crossover, I experienced in microcosm the dilemma confronting most car buyers: Buy the fun one or the practical one?
The practical usually wins. The Buick Envision does practical nicely, and is vital to maintain Buick’s resurgence in a crossover-crazy world where automakers cannot rely on two crossovers alone.
The Envision is built in China, where Buick is the second best-selling brand. Offered there first, Envision has helped GM’s premium brand boost sales by a record 23 percent compared with 2015. It’s impressive growth for a lineup of only six — now seven — vehicles, and has been fueled by the best-selling subcompact crossover Encore introduced just four years ago.
The Envision slots between Encore and the large three-row midsize crossover known as Enclave.
It’s not distinct — few crossovers are — but the Envision extends what Buick does best by offering a quiet, smooth ride in a simplified-yet-stylish interior design at a good price.
Standard goodies include heated seats, heated steering wheel, Bose sound system, rear seat climate control, and on the outside, side-mirror-mounted indicators and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The compact platform is shared with Chevy Cruze, Chevy Equinox, and GMC Terrain, but not all GM crossovers are the same, especially on the inside. There are no volume or radio dial buttons on the back of the steering wheel, which is nice. Redundant thumb-controlled steering buttons are easy to understand, with a dynamic display in the instrument cluster that lets you do everything you could do in the 8-inch touch screen mounted in the center of the dash.
The wood elements extending across the dash are a nice new look in an old-school style, which is complemented by the luxury class’s obligatory analog clock. The center stack is simple, which is a great thing, especially compared with competitors such as Acura, Infiniti and Lexus. There are seven big buttons for audio and screen functions. The only misstep was the touch-sensitive temperature gauge that didn’t work in Cadillac and is simplified here. You’ll need to take gloves off to change the temp. It keeps the design neat, however.
Buick is proud of its large storage console with dual-wing covers. It houses a lot without being obtrusive — including two of four USB ports throughout the available Wi-Fi connected car. Rear passengers can access it as well.
There is plenty of room in back, with 26.9 cubic feet of cargo space, less than its Chevy, GMC and Cadillac counterparts, but more than Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC. The 60-40 rear seats can be folded down via handles accessible in the hatch, and there’s legroom enough to not have to worry about folding down the headrests.
We traveled with two kids in back, the cargo area packed with gear, and didn’t feel cramped in the five-seater. Headroom and legroom were ample.
The 2-liter turbocharged engine never got our pulse going, which may be preferred in an all-wheel-drive people hauler. It was punchy when it needed to be, and the six-speed transmission shifted predictably. We had no doubts in slick conditions but the powertrain overall is unremarkable.
And that’s fine. Envision is a premium value proposition, which isn’t as oxymoronic as it sounds. Most people prefer to be swaddled without having to pay for it. Advanced safety technology abounds, including park assist, lane charge alert, forward collision alert and more in a long standard features list. The tester came in Premium trim, which begins to erode that value proposition compared with so many other models.
There are luxury-leaning crossovers such as the Nissan Murano or Mazda CX-5 that offer a compelling package with more available performance. Lincoln MKX is worth a look too.
The Envision doesn’t really stand out, but with all the crossover options, and the lure of the sports car or two, it needs to do more to deserve a space in the garage.
2017 Buick Envision Premium at a glance
Vehicle type: Luxury compact crossover
Base price: $34,990
As tested: $43,640 (excluding $925 delivery)
Mpg: 20 city, 26 highway
Engine: 2-liter turbo four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic in AWD
Parting shot: Buick may need this crossover more than consumers do