Buick is one of several automakers that can attribute most of its recent success to the rise of the crossover. It first started with the Rendezvous at the change of the new millennium. But once the full-size Enclave arrived, followed up with the compact Encore, it’s clear Buick found a way to get buyers to look past its image of making rental fleet beige-mobiles, becoming the automaker’s bestselling models. Predicted to soon take second place, its newest crossover, the made-in-China Envision. It’s a near-luxury midsize crossover for those who find the three-row options excessive, and the compact lot insufficient, and coincidentally, fulfills the midsize gap that went unfilled after the Rendezvous.
Arriving a few months before the Envision was another midsize crossover, the third-generation Kia Sorento. Out of the stiff competition, its stellar combination of amenities and value earned a 2017 Sorento 3.3L SX AWD a spot in my mother’s garage replacing her Audi Q5. The Envision was on her shortlist as well, but the Buick wouldn’t arrive to dealers in time for her lease return.
Coincidentally, a little while after the Sorento joined the stable, Buick tossed me the keys to a fully loaded 2017 Envision 2.0T AWD Premium for a week. Thus, I pretended to be back in high school, asking my mom if I could borrow her car, albeit for a side-by-side comparison of the two similarly equipped crossovers instead of a joyride.
If the Envision looks familiar, that’s because it carries the Buick design theme first introduced years ago by the larger Enclave. Surely, it’s not nearly as strikingly handsome as the new Enclave Avenir. But its unobtrusiveness as a shrunken down Enclave earns it the descriptors, safe, and unfortunately, unremarkable.
Meanwhile, the Sorento wears elegant sheetmetal that bears Germanic influence befitting the pen of Kia’s design director, Peter Schreyer. Putting the two side-by-side and the Kia is easier on the eyes despite neither vehicle commanding glances from onlookers. Part of this may be better proportions due to the Sorento’s larger proportions and clean panels. The Georgia-built Korean sits with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase than the Chinese-American. It’s also 3.7 inches longer and 2.0 inches wider overall. Despite the noticeable difference in dimensions, both weigh around 4,100 lbs.
The Sorento’s larger dimensions prove their extra worth in the department where people spend their time and it matters most: the interior. A third row is optional in the Kia while the Buick is purely a five-seater. As expected, cargo volume in the Kia peaks at 73.5 cu ft, a whopping 16.2-cu-ft advantage over the Buick and its 57.3 cu ft in the same two-seat configuration. With the second row up, the Kia’s space premium drops to “just” 11.9 cu ft, offering 38.8 versus the Buick’s 26.9. Headroom is about equal between the two. At the end of the day however, if stretching out your legs out on long road-trips is your thing, or have lots of things to haul, the Sorento wins.
There’s little competition between the two since both come loaded with enough technology and amenities to question the need for a more premium automobile. Large, touchscreen infotainment systems with sat-nav, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, and other applications come either standard or optional across all trims on either vehicle. And neither heated seats nor dual-zone automatic climate control require checkboxes on the options list. Keep moving up the trim levels and both crossovers are neck-and-neck, matching each other with equipment level offerings. The Buick also has Active Noise Cancellation to keep road noise minimal. But the Sorento’s cabin is equally serene that there’s no need for augmentation to keep NVH levels down.
To control all the equipment, both crossovers centralize the functions in the infotainment system, meaning the button-fest is kept to a minimum on the center console. If one were to split hairs, the Sorento’s layout comes across as better executed for its simpler appearance, thanks to large buttons and legible labels. Buick’s interface seems just fine if you’re used to working with any other GM-based infotainment system. But the dashboard’s constant curves and wavy shapes make it seem more fussy than necessary.
Fuel economy concerns continue pushing automakers to downsize. Resultantly, Buick utilizes a 2.0-liter turbo-four good for 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque for its top-spec engine. The Kia, on the other hand, retains its six-pot mill, a proven 3.3-liter V-6 with 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. Both are mated to a six-speed automatic, sending power to all four of its respective crossovers’ wheels when needed.
On paper, the two offer nearly identical performance, needing around 7.0 seconds to hit 60 mph. The biggest differentiator is with how each crossover delivers its power. The Envision’s six-speed is well matched to make full use of the force-fed four, reminding my mother of her Q5 2.0T driving experience. But as smooth and somewhat lag-free as the Envision’s drivetrain is, it still cannot compare to the creamy, silky, linear powerband provided by two extra cylinders, natural aspiration, and greater displacement. Hands down, the Sorento wins in the refinement department, which reaches near-Lexus levels. In this space, praise doesn’t get much higher than that.
In some sense then, because the Envision is smaller and weighs just a tad less, it could be viewed as the sportier one of the bunch. What the Envision’s powertrain doesn’t offer in refinement compared to the Kia, it instead returns a sprightlier drive. Body roll seemed less of an issue, lending the Envision a more tossable feel, thanks in part to quicker steering than the Sorento. And because there’s a lighter lump up front, the Envision’s turn-in was certainly more eager with more mid-corner composure and balance than expected.
While the Sorento has earned its fair share of positive attention, Buick trails not too far behind, offering another option for the near-luxury, midsize crossover buyer. For those that find three-row offerings like the Sorento to be a little too much crossover, the Envision could be just right — and perfectly seems so on paper. Start considering price, however, and competition makes decision making very difficult, especially since adding on the options, like Buick did with this $44,135 loaded tester, brings you firmly into luxury territory.
For Mama Chin, none of those luxury options were viable as she wanted to keep her insurance payment lower. The prices of some of the other three-row midsizers climbed well into premium territory with the options she desired, as well. The Kia stickers at $41,505, offering more value by way of a more cavernous interior and better refinement. After experiencing the Buick for herself, the Sorento’s refined drivetrain, overall better execution, and feature set kept her content with her purchase.
2017 Buick Envision 2.0T AWD Premium Specifications
|PRICE||$34,065/$44,135 (Base/As Tested)|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/252 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||183.7 x 72.4 x 66.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec (est.)|
|TOP SPEED||134 mph|
2017 Kia Sorento 3.3L SX AWD Specifications
|PRICE||$25,600/$41,505 (Base/As Tested)|
|ENGINE||3.3L DOHC 24-valve V6/290 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 252 lb-ft @ 5,300 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||17/23 mpg (city/highway)|
|L x W x H||187.4 x 74.4 x 66.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.1 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph (est.)|