In the classic sci-fi film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, aliens come down to Earth and essentially start producing emotionless human duplicates. A similar, albeit much less sinister, scenario is happening with Buick, a brand that has now abandoned cars entirely and replaced them all with crossover SUVs such as the new 2021 Envision, which unconvincingly mimics more premium nameplates.
It's not that the completely redesigned, second-generation Envision isn't visually appealing or packed with popular features. That's true on both counts. But beyond those basic prerequisites, the Envision lacks the driving joy and refinement that might help it transcend its position as a compact luxury SUV poseur.
Top-Tier Avenir Fails to Impress
To showcase Buick's latest effort, our Envision was a top-of-the-line Avenir trim. It's dressed up with an exclusive mesh grille design and shiny 20-inch rims. Inside, it has quilted leather-appointed seats and standard features not found on the lesser Preferred and Essence models. These include a driver's seat massage function, ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, and wireless charging. It's also the only Envision available with adaptive cruise control, a camera-fed rearview mirror, and self-parking assist. Our fully loaded, all-wheel-drive Envision Avenir cost $47,105. That's at least less money than the priciest Lincoln Corsair and Infiniti QX50, both of which can approach $60,000 when optioned lavishly.
Unfortunately, the Avenir's interior materials undermine Buick's luxury aspirations. There are some ergonomic gripes too. The new electronic shifter allows useful storage space under the center console, but the shifter's push/pull buttons aren't nearly as intuitive as a traditional lever. The plastic piano-black center console collects dust and smudges and isn't convincing anyone that it's 10 coats of lacquer on wood.
The Buick's overall vibe is relaxed luxury, but the cockpit wraps around the driver like the Envision wishes it were a Corvette. Our front-seat passenger said she felt neglected (we're not sure if that was the Buick's fault) and that the volume and tuning knobs for the infotainment system were awkward to access. Even from the driver's seat, we also had to reach forward and around the steering wheel. Otherwise, the big 10.2-inch touchscreen provided effortless interactions, and it comes standard with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Too bad the Envision's driving position was another disappointment. Despite 12-way power seat adjustments, the closeness of the steering wheel made it hard to get comfortable.
Tranquil Ride Quality, Mellow Driving Dynamics
The new Envision might not handle with much verve. Steering feel is largely absent and the body leans in corners more than we like, but the ride is smooth. Our Avenir was also fitted with the newly available electronically controlled dampers (called Continuous Damping Control) that seem to work to keep the ride comfy. But while the ride is serene, at 70 mph the new Envision's interior sound level is four decibels louder than that of the outgoing version, which registered a hushed 66 decibels.
Some of that extra noise comes from the Envision's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which is slightly louder at idle and wide-open throttle than the outgoing turbo-four. Paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the 228-hp inline-four is also less powerful than the old Envision's 252-hp turbo four. The sprint to 60 mph now takes 7.3 seconds, 0.8 second slower than a 2019 Envision. Respectably responsive around town, the new engine's lower torque peak gives it an advantage at highway speeds. In the 50-to-70-mph passing test, the new Envision does the deed in 4.8 seconds, 0.4 quicker than before. All-wheel drive Envisions go from an EPA combined estimate of 22 mpg to 25.
Oddly enough, there's are steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to take control of the nine-speed. Apart from that and the firm brake pedal, which helped the Envision stop from 70 mph in 162 feet, there's not much sporting DNA to be found. Even with the addition of selectable drive modes, including a risqué Sport setting, it's tough to get excited behind the wheel of the Envision. Well, it's difficult to get excited about the Envision at all.
As with the alien imposters in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 2021 Envision looks like a handsome compact luxury SUV, but the uninvolved driving behavior and interior details reveal it to be something else. Buick stresses the premiumness of its models and names Infiniti and Lincoln as competitors. While we appreciate there's a large price difference in favor of the Buick when you compare a loaded Envision to a QX50 or Corsair, we wouldn't call loaded versions of either of those vehicles a value. So, while its price might sound attractive, the Envision remains a premium pretender.
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