Quantum leap

by Kelly Taylor  . Nov 18 2016

PRIDDIS, Alta. — So, if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump had a fit about Ford building the Fiesta in Mexico, what’s he going to say when he discovers the 2017 Buick Envision was conceived, designed and is built… in China?

Here’s the thing: Trump won’t know, and you probably won’t either.

The Envision’s ride, handling and build quality rivals anything coming from North American GM factories.

The interior is first-rate, stitched together with precision and employing attractive materials throughout. The electronics work like in any other GM product and the powerful and smooth powertrain — in the 2.0-litre turbo model we drove — put the Envision on par with any of its competitors.

In other words, GM taught its Chinese counterparts well. Perhaps too well.

It is a quantum leap from the first taste of Chinese car manufacturing we had. That was in the early 2000s and three Chinese carmakers exhibited at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. If the headliner wasn’t falling down, the interior panels were made of bamboo.

Not the attractive, laminated kind you see on some hardwood floors, but cut pieces of bamboo reminiscent of the car the professor built on Gilligan’s Island.

The Envision fills a hole in Buick’s lineup between the tiny Encore and the three-row, full-size Enclave. It also employs the possibly all-too-cute convention of naming all Buick SUVs with words beginning in EN. What’s next? Entrance (the verb, not the noun)? Enrapture? Enthrall? Entrails?

It is roughly Equinox in size, seats five and uses the nifty sliding rear seat to give a choice between extra legroom or proximity to parents.

The cargo area is typical, with the side panels pushed out enough to maximize room and a lift-up floor to hide the spare tire.

The cabin uses a spacious approach to design, with the dash pushed forward and employing an attractive wrap-around style that uses continuous lines from one door to another. Prominent in the centre of the dash is GM’s touchscreen display, with an interface that will feel familiar to anyone coming over from another current GM product.

Heated front seats are standard, while heated rear seats and heated steering wheel are standard on what GM Canada expects to be the volume sellers, the Essence and Premium I models.

The powertrain features either a normally aspirated 2.5-litre four or a turbocharged 2.0-litre four.

GM said no 2.5-litre models were available for the drive program, so the assembled media could only drive the 2.0-turbo. In either case, the transmission is a six-speed automatic.

The 2.0-litre turbo employs an improved front suspension from the 2.5: instead of a typical MacPherson strut, it has what GM calls a Hi-Per strut, which moves the steering knuckle the strut for reduced torque steer and improved on-centre feel. Since we only drove the 2.0, no comparative information is available.

The turbo is fast and responsive. Its 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque are nicely matched to the Envision’s size.

The 2.5, which brings the starting price to just less than $40,000, delivers 197 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque.

The cabin of the Envision is a comfortable place to spend a few hours. The seats are supportive and legroom, front and rear, is good. One concern, however, is the width of the centre console, which makes it a little challenging for larger North American bodies to fasten their seatbelts.

As with most, if not all, current GM products, you can use your Apple CarPlay or Android Auto through the entertainment system, though it should be noted the user interface of GM’s system is already quite easy to use.

Pricing starts at $39,995 for the base 2.5-litre and rises to $49,965 for the Premium II model. A loaded Envision will set you back about $56,000.

The Envision in Canada comes only as an all-wheel-drive model and uses what GM calls a twin-clutch, all-wheel-drive system that splits power front to rear and from rear tire to rear tire as needed.

As good as the Envision is — at least with the turbo — at $56,000, it pays to come up for air and see what else is around. Worthy of a look are the slightly smaller Mercedes GLC, the somewhat larger — albeit with three rows and less cargo space — Infiniti QX60 or the Lincoln MKX.

One thing Envision has in its favour is an aggressive lease plan, with an estimated 48-month lease payment of $280 bi-weekly for the Premium I package.

Brand manager Mark Alger said Buick has chosen to set pricing for its models closer to typical transaction prices, “rather than pricing it high and using discounts,” which helps Buicks hold their values more. That allows for higher residual prices, which translates into lower lease payments.



Photos by Kelly Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press

Photos by Kelly Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press

Buick Envision. Photo courtesy Buick

Buick Envision. Photo courtesy Buick

Jim Fets / Buick

Jim Fets / Buick