Taking on the giants

by Brian Harper . Oct 14 2016
Buick didn't hold back in throwing the Envision into an uber-competitive segment. The crossover admirably delivers the brand's core tenets: it's quiet, it's smooth and it's comfortable.

Buick didn't hold back in throwing the Envision into an uber-competitive segment. The crossover admirably delivers the brand's core tenets: it's quiet, it's smooth and it's comfortable.

CALISTOGA, Calif. — At the heart of it, the new Buick Envision is plugging a hole in the brand’s crossover lineup — a compact-sized, premium-priced product to slot between the subcompact Encore and the full-size Enclave.

But while it might be on the minds of interested customers that the Envision will be fighting for market share with the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and more than a half-dozen other models from the mainstream automakers, Buick’s marketing department is looking at bigger fish to fry.

It wants the new, built-in-China crossover to duke it out in the small luxury segment and that means going up against the likes of the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Lexus NX and other models from high-end nameplates. No easy task!

To give credit where it is due, Buick hasn’t exactly brought a peashooter to a gunfight.

There’s no cheaper model with fewer features. The Envision, which has been on sale in limited trim versions for a few months as a 2016 model, comes fully featured and with a 252-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, offered exclusively in Canada with all-wheel drive (the U.S. has a front-drive model) and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

A full lineup of 2017 models is making its way to dealerships and for 2017, a normally aspirated, 197-hp, 2.5-L four-cylinder will be added to the entry trim level.

Two-litre turbo fours are the de facto entry-level engine of choice among more than a few premium brands and the topline motor among several mainstream crossovers (Escape, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester).

The twin-scroll unit in the Buick has plenty of oomph; there’s 260 pound-feet of torque, of which 90 per cent is available starting at 1,800 r.p.m., with the full load coming on board from 3,000 to 4,000 r.p.m.

The bonus is that the boosted four is also impressively quiet, even when the gas pedal is mashed.

Since “refinement” is a key word in Buick’s vocabulary, the engine is designed with balance shafts and sound-attenuating components and is isolated on a hydraulically damped substructure that helps quell noise and vibration. Four powertrain mounts are used, says Buick, rather than the conventional three.

Official fuel economy figures have not been determined, but the Envision is equipped with stop/start technology, Buick’s first application on the 2.0-L turbo engine. As much as the engine delivers a decent turn of speed when required, equally impressive is the Envision’s ride and handling bona fides.

The crossover — and what Buick calls its HiPer strut front suspension — dealt with tarmac irregularities with aplomb, soaking up the worst without disturbing the serenity of its passengers.

There are plenty of twists and turns to the roads wending their way through the valleys and it was while tackling these that the Envision truly surprised.

For a crossover that touts refinement and luxury, not sporting performance, it offers impressive grip, good road feel and little body roll — even in sharper S-turns.

True, the steering is a little light to the touch; the crossover would benefit from having variable driver-selectable modes but overall, it’s a well thought-out setup.

For those looking for a family vehicle, the Buick Envision is roomy. Front-seat accommodations are quite acceptable and so are the back seats, which are 60/40-split and sliding, offering the flexibility of more legroom for taller second-row passengers.

For those looking for a family vehicle, the Buick Envision is roomy. Front-seat accommodations are quite acceptable and so are the back seats, which are 60/40-split and sliding, offering the flexibility of more legroom for taller second-row passengers.

Stitched, soft-to-the-touch surfaces abound, accented by shiny wood-like trim. Instrumentation is clean and clear; ditto for the graphics used in the centre-stack touch screen, and all the major control buttons are large, clearly marked and easy to find.

Stitched, soft-to-the-touch surfaces abound, accented by shiny wood-like trim. Instrumentation is clean and clear; ditto for the graphics used in the centre-stack touch screen, and all the major control buttons are large, clearly marked and easy to find.

The new Buick Envision comes fully featured and with a 252-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, offered exclusively in Canada with all-wheel drive.

The new Buick Envision comes fully featured and with a 252-horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, offered exclusively in Canada with all-wheel drive.