THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Traditional styling and easy drivability.
- What’s Bad: Fuel-saving technology isn’t as advanced as the competition; key safety features cost extra.
Perhaps now more than ever, there’s a case to be made for a family vehicle that offers an unassuming touch of upscale without crossing the line into ostentatiousness.
There aren’t a lot of brands operating in this in-between space sandwiched by the affordable mainstream and the priciest premium brands. And for those drivers who are seeking this happy medium, Buick isn’t always a brand that immediately jumps to mind. (If the last Buick you spent time in was your grandfather’s LeSabre, this isn’t entirely surprising.)
Colour me surprised, then, by this 2020 Buick Envision. No, it’s not as fast, powerful, or fashion-forward as its all-the-way-luxury equivalents. But it is stylish and nicely appointed, feeling just a notch or two above mainstream and appropriate for younger professionals, while coming with a strong set of feature offerings at a competitive price. This is the last year of the current generation as a redesign is coming for 2021, and while there’s room for improvement in certain respects, and there remain viable reasons to choose other brands, some buyers will consider the Envision an understated sleeper hit.
Engine and Mechanical
The standard engine in the Envision is a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, but opting for the more expensive trims – Premium or, as is the case with this test unit, the top-priced Premium II – upgrades that to a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. This latter engine produces 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque that peaks at 3,000 rpm, equating to a stout amount of power and delivery that’s energetic and has a presence during everyday driving. A nine-speed automatic transmission is matched with this more powerful engine, as is an active twin-clutch all-wheel drive system that’s able to send power to individual wheels in low-traction situations.
There’s a trade-off that comes with this, however, which is fuel efficiency. Natural Resources Canada rates this combination at 11.7 L/100 km in city driving, 9.4 on the highway, and 10.7 combined. These figures aren’t terrible, and my result of 11.4 L/100 km after four days of mixed driving aligns with them. Plus, they’re close enough to the base engine (10.0 combined) that it feels easy to justify the upgrade. But with Infiniti making its impressive variable-compression turbo engine standard on the QX50 (9.7 combined) and Lexus offering a hybrid variant of the NX (7.5 combined), the argument becomes tougher.
Relative to those competitors, the Envision comes across as more relaxed in its performance. The steering is responsive yet comfortable, and the handling, while not as sharp as other SUVs this size, is manageable and easy-going.
Other players in this space tend to be relatively dramatic in appearance. I find myself appreciating the Envision’s more classic good looks. I don’t always enjoy Buick styling, but it works well here with a combination of gently rounded lines on the hood set against deeply creased shoulder accents.
The interior looks very sharp in an unusual grey that’s light enough to brighten up the cabin – though the optional panoramic moonroof goes a long way toward that as well – yet dark enough to make things like blue jean scuffs less offensive than in the near-white interiors that have become popular in recent years. I especially like the inserts, which have a dramatically flowing look to them that’s accented by the faded blue streaks. A passenger pointed out that the pixilation from the printing process is visible if you look very closely, which some observers may find comes across as low budget. But I enjoy the aesthetic enough that I would choose to overlook it.
Similar comments can be made about the gauge cluster included in the Premium trims. It’s only partly digital, leaving the tachometer, fuel, and temperature gauges outside of the 8-inch colour display. But I’m a fan of the layout this produces and find the execution to be visually appealing and user-friendly.
Safety Features Cost Extra
The Envision comes with a set of standard features that one would expect in the entry-level luxury segment: heated front seats and exterior mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, reclining rear seats, and a hands-free power liftgate are among the highlights. The Buick version of the General Motors infotainment system is included, though getting on-board navigation requires an upgrade to the Premium II grade. Since Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, this may not concern some drivers. While I find this system generally very user-friendly, it did have difficulty loading twice on start-up during my time with it.
In this top-of-the-line Premium II test unit, I found ventilated front seats with a driver’s side memory function, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel (which, unfortunately, is only available on the Premium trims), 19-inch alloy wheels (though the exact wheels pictured here are a $2,695 extra charge), a Bose seven-speaker audio system, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, and an automatic parking system. There’s also a wireless phone charger, although rather than setting the phone flat like most, this one charges your phone in a pocket set behind the cupholders that leave the phone sitting upright and sticking out the top. It looks like an invitation to constantly bang one’s elbows.
On the safety side, most of the more desirable safety features are found in the pricier end of the line-up, including forward collision alert, lane change alert and lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams. A 360-degree camera is available, but only as an extra-cost option.
There are a few features that are either exclusive to GM or rarely found in other makes, including a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot (though it requires an active OnStar subscription), the vibrating safety alert driver’s seat, and the teen driver function that lets you limit your teenager’s top speed and driving distance by assigning limits through a dedicated key fob. One thing that’s missing is GM’s rear seat reminder function, the one that reminds you to check the second row before you get out of the car.
A package is available that equips towing capability for up to 1,500 lbs.
While it does have some limitations – a swath of more fuel-efficient competition being one of the bigger ones – there’s something about the Buick Envision’s design and steady, predictable drive dynamic that will make it appealing to buyers who want style without a lot of fuss.
The fact that it comes with easy-to-navigate pricing is a plus, too, though it’s a shame that some of the safety features aren’t more affordable. Still, my time with this vehicle came as a pleasant surprise, and I suspect that people whose demographic is similar to mine would find they agree.