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2021 Buick Envision First Drive: Liquid Metal Luxury

Buick’s compact SUV gets a new look, new tech in a bid to be noticed in a crowded segment.

2021 Buick Envision

I'm pulling out of my neighborhood in the new, second generation 2021 Buick Envision when I find a gap in traffic and get on the throttle. Whoa, got the tires chirping. It's not entirely surprising given this particular Envision is a front-drive model, but as the Envision's new 2.0-liter turbo four with 228 horsepower spools up and its nine-speed automatic kicks down, the combo proves it can move the compact Buick SUV with relative authority.

No, the new 2021 Envision isn't a super sport ute, and if you look at the stat sheet of the outgoing model's optional 2.0-liter turbo rated at 252 horses, you wouldn't be wrong to wonder if the new Envision can hang with the old one from 0-60 mph. Wonder no more, because according to Buick officials we talked to it will indeed hang, thanks to the new engine's peak torque curve (258 lb-ft at 1,500-4,000 rpm) that comes on a bit sooner and stays longer. (As an FYI, a 2017 Envision we tested with the previous turbo engine moved from 0-to-60 mph in 7.0 seconds, and MT just tested a 2021 Envision Avenir and recorded a 7.1 second to 60 mph time.)

Envision it from the outside and in

So while the 2021 Envision's sole powertrain option is decent enough, it's far from its standout feature—it shines brightest on the outside. The Envision is arguably the best-looking Buick in recent memory, especially so this particular Envision Essence model wearing the optional Sport Touring package (check out the model in the photo gallery). Sprayed in Buick's ebony twilight metallic with blacked-out 20-inch aluminum rims and other ebony accents, this is one handsome devil of a crossover.

It starts with its stance, which is 1.7-inches wider and 2.2-inches shorter than before. There's a reason why exterior stylists keep pushing vehicles down and flattening them out, and you can see the results in the Envision's front end, which is highlighted by a wider and shallower grille treatment. Framed by scallops housing trapezoidal elements, and far more horizontal, swept back boomerang-look headlamps, it's aggressive and elegant in its execution.

"We were going for an athletic feel, with a lot of tautness and tension in the curvature so that you see a lot of beautiful reflections," said Christine Cheng, Buick's exterior design manager. "The movement of the reflections takes your eye all around the vehicle. We like to call it 'liquid metal on wheels. '" Cheng also pointed out other horizontal styling touches such as the wrapping of the rear LED lamps around the back of the vehicle.

While the inside of the 2021 Envision doesn't quite have the same wow factor as the exterior, there are plenty of solid tech options on board and the cabin has a near luxury feel to it, with copious stitching accents and soft touch materials. The optional 10.2-inch infotainment screen is angled toward the driver and is stylishly cut into the dash. Wireless capable Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the Amazon Alexa built-in app are all on offer as part of the entertainment package. Other available tech includes a surround view camera, heads up display, and Buick's safety suite, which comes with nine features as standard equipment.

The overall interior arrangement and materials mix of our tester were impressive, as was its rear seat space, fold flat rear seats (52.7 cu-ft of cargo space is available with them down), and the dual door access center stowage area, which is large for a compact SUV. USB-A and C ports are available in the front cubby and rear passenger areas. New to Buick is the Envision's most interesting interior feature: A flat, multi-button gearshift selector located in the center console parallel to the cupholders. By-wire gearshifting systems have allowed automakers freedom to experiment with the placement of driveline functions (mainly in an effort to save space), and Buick's push-pull setup is among the better ones we've experienced.

How to envision the Envision's road manners

Fire it up and pull the D button, and you'll find the Envision's ride, handling, and overall demeanor on par with other offerings in its competitive set. Underpinned by the same platform as the Cadillac XT4, the Envision tends toward a sportier, stiffer ride (some 30 percent stiffer than the previous model) over road imperfections—especially so the Sport Touring model we tested with its 20-inch wheel/tire package. At freeway speeds its steering feel doesn't wander, and you won't fight with the wheel in tight spaces, either. This is not the type of SUV you're going to wildly hustle along a twisted-up canyon road, but it doesn't roll over and play dead, either, thanks in part to a five-link independent rear suspension setup. The Envision does what you expect it to do: It's not going to wow you in any one area, but it accelerates, stops, and handles respectably for its class and mission.

Buick has also worked hard to lower the outside racket entering the cabin, and its efforts seem to have paid off there as well. At full throttle you'll hear the Ecotec 2.0-liter with its twin-scroll turbocharger do its thing, but at cruising speeds it purrs along nicely as the 9-speed swaps the gears without issue. Thankfully, Buick has added back a stop/start button that can stop the Envision's stop/start feature, which isn't exactly seamless in operation.

Front-drive Envisions come with Tour, Sport, and Snow/Ice modes that change the steering calibration, throttle mapping, and transmission shift points (AWD-equipped models come with additional AWD and Off-Road modes). Order an Avenir model with continuous damping control, and it will monitor and react to road imperfections with sensors in the wheels making 500 decisions a second. You can also get your Envision with Buick's twin-clutch, all-wheel drive system in any trim. It activates when it senses you need traction to the rear wheels and it can apportion torque to either side of the vehicle depending on the situation.

How much does the 2021 Envision cost?

The 2021 Buick Envision lineup, which comes in Preferred, Essence, and the more upscale Avenir trim levels, starts at $32,995. The as-tested price of the Essence Sport Touring model we tested was $41,315, which puts it in line with the similar compact SUVs from Infiniti, Acura, and Lincoln. And while it will be a challenge for Buick to usurp customers from those marques, once buyers get a good look at it, they may just envision themselves in one (sorry, couldn't resist).

2021 Buick Envision
BASE PRICE/PRICE AS TESTED $32,995/$41,315
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/228-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,692-3,932 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 109.4.x in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 182.5 x 74.1 x 64.6 in
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22-24/25-26/29-31 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 153-116/140-116 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.75-0.79 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Now