AUTO REVIEW: Buick Envision’s Beguilingly Good Looks Are Hindered by Performance That Could Be Better

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2021 Buick Envision
The 2021 Buick Envision (Buick)

It may sound shallow, but great design always wins out. It is why Apple has become one of the world’s most highly valued companies, a lesson not lost on Dell and Microsoft. So, I wasn’t expecting to like the redesigned 2021 Buick Envision, if only for the fact that it is the only car currently sold in the U.S. made in China. But then it arrived, and my political animosity melted along with my heart.

Unlike the ungainly 2020 model, the 2021 Envision is a handsome crossover utility vehicle in a way not readily apparent in photos. Its flowing flanks and smartly placed creases are tautly shaped. Its compact length and width make it the perfect size for modern-day motoring, endowing it with a sporty stance and interior large enough for four people and 25.2 cubic feet of their accumulated paraphernalia. Like the vehicles against which it competes, the Envision has a turbocharged double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine that powers the front wheels or all four. And its nine-speed transmission promised good fuel economy and ample acceleration.

Then I learned that the Buick Envision shares its platform, known within GM as Epsilon II, with the Cadillac XT4. The Buick also shares its powertrain and wheelbase, but was slightly longer and narrower than the Cadillac, while possessing more cargo space and a starting price of less than $31,800 in base Preferred trim. My test vehicle was fitted with mid-level Essence trim starting at $35,800; a top-of-the-line Avenir trim, at $40,200, is also offered.

2021 Buick Envision
The 2021 Buick Envision (Jessica Lynn Walker/Buick)

I climbed inside and was delighted. As in a great sports sedan, the instrument panel envelops the driver, making all of the controls easy to reach. They’re blessedly simple to understand and operate. Fit and finish is excellent, and the ambience is somewhat European. The new push-button transmission frees up interior space, lending it an airier feel. Reminiscent of Honda’s design, it’s very easy to use once you are accustomed to it.

The Envision’s 2.0-liter turbo four and nine-speed automatic, optional on the 2020 model, is this year’s sole powertrain, and is shared with the Cadillac, albeit a few ponies shy. But this year’s Envision had 10 percent less horsepower than last year — 24 fewer ponies, to be exact. How is this a selling point? Who would buy a car knowing that this year’s model has even less horsepower than before?

That said, its performance is more than acceptable. Yes, there’s enough power off the line — after a brief moment of turbo lag — and the Sport driving mode provides quicker initial throttle response. Despite the presence of an Off-Road mode, and the ability to move power from one side to the other, this is a vehicle made for urban jungles, not actual ones.

As you might expect from a Buick, the Envision possesses the traditional Buick softness, along with a hint of sportiness. Traversing bumps brings out more body rebound than you’d expect, and the steering is somewhat vague. Braking performance is good, despite a bit of nosedive. Yet the Envison is very controllable. Its cabin is quiet. However, the seats, comfortable on shorter drivers, do turn painful during longer turns in the saddle.

Buick’s standard driver-assistance safety package is very impressive, with automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert, forward collision alert, following-distance indicator, automatic high beams, rear cross traffic alert, and rear park assist. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive with hill descent control is available.

Then, you’ll focus on the amenities, such as a standard 8-inch infotainment screen with USB ports, wireless Apple CarPlay, and wireless Android Auto. A 10.25-inch screen is available. A must-have is the $2,500 Technology Package, which adds Bluetooth audio streaming, head-up display, Bose 9-speaker audio system, front park assist, HD radio and universal home remote. But some options, like ventilated seats and electronically adaptive suspension dampers, are only available on the top-of-the-line Avenir.

The Envision’s sporting beauty is beguiling, and it possesses the qualities consumers have come to expect from the brand. Like the best Buicks of the last 118 years, the Envision is handsome and nicely built, with a comfortable ride and quiet cabin. But a few more ponies and a bit more athleticism would make it truly world class.

2021 Buick Envision
The 2021 Envision is now available in Buick’s Avenir trim. (Jessica Lynn Walker/Buick)

2021 Buick Envision Essence

Base price: $35,800

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 228/258 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24/31 mpg

Observed fuel economy: 22 mpg

Length/Width/Height: 182.5/74.1/63.3 inches

Cargo capacity: 25.2-52.7 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds