INDIANAPOLIS — Buick once stood for the kind of cars your parents and grandparents owned, the big fluffy station wagons that encouraged cross-country family vacations and the formal sedans that took families to church. Look around a Buick dealership and you’ll realize the sedans and wagons of your parents’ youth were replaced by today’s range of sporty crossovers that rise from the urban-friendly Encore and Encore GX to the quite roomy three-row Enclave. Right in the middle is the model my family embraced this week, the 2021 Buick Envision Essence.
If you didn’t notice the red, white, and blue Buick badges, you might mistake the Envision for an Acura or Lexus. You’d never guess the China-built crossover shares its basic underpinnings with the Cadillac XT4. It’s fetching with its hungry grille, aggressive lower facia, expansive hood, and crisp arching bodylines that pay homage to the swoopy “sweepspear” styling of yesteryear. Squinty LED headlamps and 20” black alloy wheels lay on a youthful attitude. It’s all quite sporty, but also classically elegant in its proportions.
Slide inside to find a driver-centric design with intuitive touchscreen and button-activated gear selector. As in other GM crossovers from the entry Chevy Trax to the top Escalade, seats are a bit firm, but they are heated and supportive on long drives. A heated steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control add comforts, as does a smooth 9-speaker Bose audio system that’s made more enjoyable by the Envision’s active noise cancellation system. Connect devices via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and 4G Wi-Fi. Navigation gets you there. Wireless phone charging and a sunroof would have made the ride even better.
Being a premium ride, most of the latest safety tech was installed. From the head-up display to lane keep assist, forward collision alert with auto brake, blind spot warning, and rear cross path detection, your family should be safe. Adaptive cruise keeps a safe distance from other vehicles on the highway while drivers are further warned by the safety alert seat that buzzes in the direction of trouble. Lane-centering steering would complete the package.
Beneath the Envision’s shapely hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that conjures 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque – sent to the wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive is available, but our front-drive model achieved an acceptable 24/31-MPG city/highway with auto stop/start engaged. The engine sounds a little agrarian on start-up, but settles down quickly and dishes out all the power a compact crossover needs to zip up to speed or click through morning traffic.
The Envision drives much like other smaller General Motors crossovers, which means it’s a bit clunky, but tight in the corners, solid on the highway, and quick to turn. Unlike some Cadillacs, the Envision goes without any electronic turning for the chassis, but it doesn’t really need it. The four-wheel-independent suspension rumbles over the rough stuff without a squeak, creak, or rattle. Sport mode does sharpen throttle response if you prefer. It’s easy to park and goes smartly down the road.
The Envision is far removed from the hefty soft-riding Buicks of the past, casting its gaze into a future dominated by near-luxury crossovers like the Acura RDX, Lexus NX, Subaru Outback Touring, and Mazda CX-5. I wish it was built in the U.S., but that does nothing to diminish the Envision’s charm. A base price of $31,800, or $41,315 as tested, seems appropriate.
Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.
2022 Buick Envision
2021 Buick Envision Essence
Five-passenger, FWD Crossover
Powertrain: 2.0-liter T4, 9-spd auto
Output: 228hp/258 lb.-ft. torque
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Luxury
Fuel economy: 24/31 mpg city/hwy
Base/As-tested price: $31,800/$41,315