“Hook a left at the road’s final fork, then drive as far as you can without getting wet.”
“I’m committed to this now,” I thought, as I hung up the phone. I had just been speaking with the tour guide at Cape Forchu Lighthouse, a beacon situated on a slim rocky point that juts out into the ocean like a spoilt child’s bottom lip, on the very edge of Nova Scotia’s western rim. The current structure, known as the ‘apple core lighthouse’ for reasons that are clear the minute one sees its shape, was built in 1962, but there has been a station on this space since 1840.
Not that I could see its shape, because it was blanketed in a thick shroud of Twilight Zone quality fog, rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean like an angry cloud, cutting visibility to near-zero and putting an exclamation point on why a lighthouse is here in the first place.
Why was I standing there, in the cold fog, surrounded on three sides by frigid Atlantic water, on the very edge of Canada’s Bluenose province? Well, a few weeks earlier, a map of the province and a paper calendar (remember those?) happened to be on my desk at the same time. Measuring the distance from the western seaside edge to one of the most eastern points of the province, I learned it would take eight hours to make the journey. A quick look at the calendar revealed the summer solstice was coming up, promising eight hours of darkness on the shortest night of the year. Perfect. Guess how many hours of darkness our province enjoys during the summer solstice? That’s right, about eight hours. Let’s hit the road, then.
Dubbing this drive the #CapeToCape adventure was the easy part. Now, I had to make the journey itself: depart Cape Forchu Lighthouse in the extreme southwest part of the province at sunset, making my way to Low Point Lighthouse on the eastern edge of Cape Breton by sunrise. Google Maps promised a 714 km drive (close – it was actually 735 km) and given that a not-insignificant amount of the trek would be undertaken on rural roads with a speed limit well below 100 km/h, I knew I’d be cutting it close.
Our steed would be the 2017 Buick Envision, the tri-shield’s all-wheel drive new entrant into the red-hot compact luxury crossover segment. Sized to target competitors like the Lexus RX and Lincoln MKC, the Buick is offered in a quartet of trims with standard all-wheel drive. This entry-level tester was slathered with $495 worth of Bronze Metallic paint but was otherwise well furnished with a good list of standard equipment. Heated front seats, a hands-free power tailgate, dual climate control, and GM’s 4G LTE wifi service were all along for the ride.
Making the $3700 walk up to the Envision’s next trim level brings with it several key features to help Buick compete in this segment such as leather seats, a heated steering wheel, plus sensors for rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. Back seat royalty will enjoy heated rear seat and tri-zone climate control on this snazzier Envision. Buying advice? Spring for the leather-lined version.
The let-them-eat-cake cloth seats (available only in beige on this entry-level Envision) were very comfortable, offering a deep seating surface and great thigh support for this long-of-leg driver. Good thing too: I had an eight-hour drive ahead of me. I’d love to say that the sun winked down below the horizon, signaling the start of my trek but the pea-soup fog hanging in the air made that observation impossible. Knowing the exact time of the sunset, I left Cape Forchu Lighthouse in my rearview mirror at precisely 9:10pm.
The first few kilometers back to the highway were spent at an agonizing crawl, covering a narrow strip of pavement across Yarmouth Bar on what is technically labeled Route 304 but known to locals as John’s Cove. The Buick’s infotainment screen, hosting GM’s Intellilink system, served me a map via the excellent Apple CarPlay, promising a destination 714 km away where the sun would rise at 5:09am.
Hitting the long, freshly paved expanse of Highway 101 afforded the opportunity to sample Buick’s signature QuietTuning. A mix of sound absorbers, acoustic laminated glass, and liquid sound deadener are intended to provide Envision occupants with the quietest experience this side of an abandoned library. The effort works, creating a ‘don’t bother me’ atmosphere that’ll be appreciated by road-weary commuters.
Digby and its famous scallops emerged and then faded into the darkness like an old AM radio station. Rolling up to the community of Windsor, I had a choice to make: stay on the major highway which dips through the province towards Halifax before heading north again … or hang a left onto the sinewy rural roads which cut a swath clear through the countryside all the way to my halfway point in the town of Truro. With the clock sweeping past midnight, I wagered the lower-speed country roads would be devoid of slow moving tractors and plodding campers. Deer, however, were another story—I remained vigilant.
To the hubtown, then, and my planned fuel stop in Truro. Hitting the turn signal brought forth a deep tick-tock sound, as if there were a grandfather clock buried well within the dashboard. Traditional buyers will be reassured by many of the design choices in the Envision, from its clear gauges to conventional shifter complete with a PRNDL display. No electronic shifters from the Jetsons (or even GM’s own parts bin) here. Buick is doing a good job in hauling down the average age of its customer base with vehicles like the Regal, Enclave, and Encore, but the Envision may very well end up attracting a more seasoned demographic. This is no bad thing; their money is as good as anyone else’s.
A quick splash of fuel was all that was required, as the Envision’s large 65.5L fuel tank assured that I could easily make it clear across the rest of Nova Scotia without further pause. GM rates this entry-level engine, a naturally-aspirated 2.5L inline-four making 197hp, at 11.1L/100 km in the city and 8.4 on the highway, meaning a theoretical cruising range well in excess of 700 km. Not wanting to press my luck and having no interest in hoofing it the last few kilometers of this #CapeToCape journey, I brimmed the tank in jig time.
A nifty long and thin cubby resides in the dashboard ahead of the front passenger, good for holding a few items supplementing the smallish glovebox. A deep, well-shaped, centre console, whose cover opens up dual-wing style like in a Mercedes GLC, more than makes up for the pint-size in-dash storage. An analog clock adds a luxury touch, while large buttons for the climate, heated seats, and infotainment volume keep secondary controls straightforward and easy to understand. Leather covers dashboard surface touch points up top where it matters; hard plastic is used below deck. Twin cupholders in the centre console provided space for my extra-large double doubles.
The summer solstice occurs (cold fog or not) when the Earth’s rotational axis, or geographic pole on either its northern or its southern hemisphere, is at maximum inclination toward the sun. All this meant to me—as I passed through the town of Antigonish and its St. Francis Xavier University, which is home to more than 5000 hormone-sodden undergrads—was that I only had until 5:09 am to complete this end-to-end journey. Would I make it to Nova Scotia’s eastern edge and be amongst the first in mainland Canada to see the sunrise that morning? If I didn’t it sure wouldn’t be the Buick’s fault.
The top two trims in this new Envision eschew the 2.5L four-cylinder mill found between the frame rails of my tester for a 2.0L turbocharged unit making an extra 55hp. Thing is, all throughout the night, even as I climbed the TCH to the top of Kelly’s Mountain in Cape Breton, I never found the Buick wanting for power. There could be a case made that the greater amount lower end torque in a turbocharged four makes for a better driving experience around town where point-and-squirt lane changes are common but here on the open road, the base engine was more than sufficient.
By this time, the smudges of pink that had started to mar the blackness of the night’s sky were quickly turning into large smears of pink and gold. I was close to this finish line, and so was the sun. Leaving the highway, I twirl the Buick’s electric power steering on to a paved two-lane, then a gravel track, and finally a dirt path. Low Point Lighthouse is within sight.
The fishermen are off the shore in their boats but the sun isn’t.
I made it.
I travelled the length of the province faster than the sun, and Buick’s new crossover hadn’t put a wheel wrong.
In fact, I had a full eighteen minutes to spare. Sitting on the grassy bank overlooking the water, looking east as dawn broke on a new day, I thought about the current state of the car market, and how the majority of buyers are moving to crossover-type vehicles. Young buyers seem to like ‘em for the space they provide to the family unit, and an informal survey of baby boomers revealed praise for the higher ride height which provides easier access to those with joints that are no longer as limber as they once were. Everyone seems to appreciate all-wheel drive; whether they actually need it or not is up for some debate.
Nevertheless, I think Buick will sell its fair share of Envisions, with the 2.5L model fitted with leather seats being the best value of the four trim levels. Matching the nrCan fuel economy rating of 8.4L/100km on this trip was a definite value-add to a trip that cut it close on time but didn’t skimp on the level of comfort.
Good thing, too, because despite knocking off 735 km in a single night, the trip was technically only half over … now I had to turn around and go home. Time to put two more double doubles in the Buick’s cupholders then.