We’re not sure of the full history of GM’s decision to build cars in China, but it was years ago, and we recall it initially being about selling cars in China, not about building them there with Chinese labor and sending them to the U.S. to sell as American cars. So, before you consider the virtues of the stylish Buick Envision midsize/compact crossover, know that it’s made in China.
Buick is quick to say that the Envision was designed in Detroit, for the North American market. However, it’s a bit narrow for its class. Buick adds that fewer Envisions will be sold in the U.S. than in China, where people are smaller.
And nowadays, many of them richer. Even with cheap labor, the Envision is still fairly expensive, and lacks some features on the top models that we’ve seen on competitors like the Lexus RX and Acura RDX, or even the Nissan Murano.
The Envision is well assembled but unremarkable. The ride is really nice, but the rest of the driving dynamics are average.
New last year, the Envision fits in size between the Buick Encore hatchback and three-row Enclave wagon. It’s a couple of inches shorter than the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers. It weighs 3800 pounds and can tow 1500 pounds when properly equipped.
For 2017, Buick Envision expands to seven models, offering a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Base engine is a 2.5-liter four cylinder making 197 horsepower, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder making 252 horsepower that comes only with all-wheel drive. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
There are two available all-wheel-drive systems. The 2.5-liter gets the basic system, while the 2.0-liter turbo gets a twin-clutch system that splits the power not only between the front and rear wheels, but also between each rear wheel for better control in corners. That’s torque vectoring at the rear. Some cars do it at the front.
What the Envision does to improve control at the front wheels is through the steering that’s assisted by an electric motor, which can counter-steer in crosswinds.
We haven’t driven the 2.5-liter, but we found the turbo 2.0-liter, used in other GM cars from the Chevy Malibu to Cadillac CT6, to be confident and competent.
The 2.5-liter with front-wheel drive gets an EPA-rated 22 miles per gallon City, 29 Highway, and 25 Combined. The 2.0 turbo with all-wheel drive gets 20/26/22 mpg. Compared to rivals that’s nothing to brag about.
In crash testing, the Envision gets five stars from NHTSA. It gets all top scores from the IIHS, and when equipped with the optional automatic emergency braking system, gets Top Safety Pick+. But to get there you’d be in the Premium II model and might be looking at nearly 50 thousand. Almost all the other cars in this class make this safety feature available on more models than just the top one.
2017 Buick Envision ($34,065) comes standard with power and heated cloth seats and rearview camera. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) The 2.5-liter engine comes on base, Preferred ($35,870) and Envision Essence ($37,720) models. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is available.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive are standard on Envision Premium ($42,320) models. Envision Premium II ($44,960) gets air conditioned leather seats, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. The Driver Confidence Package, with automatic braking and adaptive cruise control, is available only on the Premium II.
The Envision styling isn’t bold like for example the Nissan Murano, but that means it’s safe from being ugly like the Murano. The Envision is pleasing enough to the eye, if not anything your eyes are compelled to look twice at.
A deep shoulder line and rear roof pillar are vaguely European, with a line of thin chrome trim around the windows that’s suggestive of the BMW 3. At the front, a petite waterfall grille is flanked by LED daytime running lamps that flow upward into fenders with iconic faux portholes.
The rear taillamps are like blobs floating in space. LED accent lights are connected by a wide metallic bar studded with a Buick logo. It’s inoffensive but uninteresting.
You can see the instrument panel as either a dramatic and asymmetric sweep of controls, or a mish-mash of GM corporate switchgear. A climate control panel uses capacitive touch switches. There’s a sporty three-spoke steering wheel suggesting capability that doesn’t exist. Fabric upholstery comes on the two lower models, with faux wood trim, while the others get leather in brown, black or tan, which doesn’t feel particularly nice. Big swaths of real wood trim and ambient lighting beautify the cabin on these models.
The 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits high on the dash. Although its graphics are a bit busy, Buick’s IntelliLink is one of our favorite systems, for its simple menus and plug-and-go Apple CarPlay.
The Envision is a bit narrower than GM’s Terrain and Equinox, so it feels a bit more confining in the rear compared to some competitors. But there’s still room for three in the rear seat, which slides on a track like those models; and there’s plenty of headroom, as well as available heating and reclining backrests. There’s an excellent 26.9 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, and 57.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
It’s very quiet inside. We pushed it over some of the worst asphalt we’ve seen in a while, and didn’t hear one creak or rattle. Its doors slammed with the solid thunk we’ve come to expect from GM.
What the Envision does best is smooth out choppy roads. Even with the bigger 19-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, there’s not much road noise.
Even though we haven’t driven the 2.5-liter engine in the Envision, we have seat time in other GM cars with this engine, and we can’t say it feels exactly upmarket. Its 197 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque sound too low to move this 3800-pound vehicle with authority.
The turbo’s exhaust note is muffled and distant, releasing a light thrum under hard acceleration. There’s some turbo lag before the power comes on smoothly, while the 6-speed automatic is always smooth, with either engine.
We got an all-wheel-drive Premium on gravel roads, and had no problems with grip. The system is front-wheel-drive based, but sends power to the rear when traction is needed there.
Despite the image of the sporty steering wheel, the Envision isn’t into spirited cornering. Still, there isn’t much body lean, and the steering system keeps the car on a steady track whether in a sweeper or switchback. The turbocharged Envisions come equipped with Buick’s sophisticated HiPer strut front suspension that counters torque steer mainly on front-wheel-drive models.
We can’t find anything exceptional about the Envision. Nice cabin, good ride, solid 2.0-liter turbo, excellent automatic transmission, average handling, forgettable styling, unimpressive fuel mileage, eyebrow-raising price. Plus you can’t get away from the Made in China thing.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.