Is the Envision going to get attention this time?
The first-generation Buick Envision was a fine vehicle, but it blended into the background of a crowded compact crossover segment filled to the brim with stellar options. When the second-generation 2021 Buick Envision broke cover with a radical new design, many people had to double-take.
Buick's changes to the Envision are more than skin deep, as the entire Delta platform was retired in favor of the more advanced Epsilon architecture shared with Cadillac. CarBuzz spent a week driving the mid-level 2021 Envision Essence with the Sport Touring package, and while it's clear this is a massive improvement over the outgoing model, does it do enough to stand out amongst its competitors?
Cover up the Buick logos and Envision badging, and this could easily be mistaken for a European SUV. The new design sports a lower, wider stance than before, with slimmer headlights and a larger grille. Rarely do we see a model change so significantly between generations, but we think the alterations were sorely needed. While far from ugly, the first-generation Envision looked entirely generic and wouldn't stand out from a pack.
This new model is much prettier, though we aren't sure if it will finally get noticed. Saying that this "doesn't look like a traditional Buick" is both a blessing and a curse for the brand. Buick needs to reinvent itself to capture a younger audience, but if the new models don't combine to create a cohesive lineup, those handsome looks might go unappreciated. Half of all Envision buyers opt for either the Sport Touring package or the luxurious Avenir trim, so it's promising to see that Buick's bet on styling is paying off in the short term.
Based on the cabin of our mid-level Essence trim tester, we'd call the Envision premium but not luxurious. It sits somewhere between a mainstream crossover and a fully-fledged luxury model. Material quality is adequate, though some hardpoints and plastic surfaces would feel out of place in a luxury vehicle. Finished in Ebony black, the interior looks pretty dull, with too many unbroken expanses of black injection molding on the dashboard. Opting for Whisper Beige helps brighten up the otherwise plain cabin.
A few buttons and switches are shared with lesser General Motors products, but the Envision feels a tad more premium than its Chevrolet counterparts. The available 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system is highly intuitive and packs stellar technology, though we wish Buick would have paired it with a digital gauge cluster. Our Essence tester was missing some other key features that we'd expect at this price, such as ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control, and a moonroof.
In a rare move, Buick decided to decrease the power from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 2021 Envision. The base engine now produces 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, down from 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. With less torque on tap, this new Envision's acceleration feels more labored. 0-60 mph now takes 7.1 seconds, while the old model could hit this speed in 6.6 seconds.
Buick's decision may sound like a mistake, but the power drop brings with it significant fuel economy gains. This new model will return 24/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel-drive or 22/29/25 mpg with all-wheel-drive. Not only are those improvements over the outgoing turbo model, they are on-par with the discontinued naturally aspirated engine.
Buick made some interesting changes to the passenger and cargo space in the new Envision, sacrificing one to prioritize the other. There's more legroom and headroom for second-row occupants, courtesy of its improved Epsilon platform. But this comes at the expense of cargo space.
The second-generation Envision offers 25.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats compared to 26.9 cubic feet in the old model. Likewise, dropping the rear seats open the capacity to 52.7 cubic feet, less than the first-generation's 57.3 cubic feet. Looking at the Envision's exterior, it's easy to see what happened to the cargo space. Buick wanted to make this new model more attractive, so the roofline was heavily raked at the back. This cuts into the overall practicality but helps the rear end look more stylish.
Starting at $31,800, the 2021 Buick Envision is actually cheaper than the model it replaced. Load up an Envision Avenir trim with the Technology package, and the price tops out at around $43,000. Buick clearly positioned the Envision below traditional luxury options like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Pricing for those European models starts where the Envision ends, putting the Buick into a "near-luxury" category all on its own. Even the more affordable Japanese options like the Acura RDX and Lexus NX cost significantly more, making the Envision stand out as a bargain with a huge caveat.
While the Envision is cheaper than luxury rivals, it's priced close to or above fully-optioned mainstream options like the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4. Some buyers might see the appeal of the premium Buick badge, while others will take the price savings. In our estimation, the Envision Preferred and Essence trims miss too many safety and convenience features that customers crave, making them tougher to recommend. The Avenir trim comes mostly fully loaded at a reasonable price, explaining why one in five buyers opts for this model.