2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD: Nothing says “Celebrate America 2021” on July 4 like a Buick. Made in China.
Price: $39,990 as tested. Blue paint, $495. One more option package noted below.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “stylish exterior styling, low pricing compared with rivals, smooth ride,” but not the “disappointing acceleration results in testing, boring driving dynamics, cabin could use more refinement.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Designed to stand out.”
Reality: Sometimes it’s better to keep your head down.
What’s new: The Envision small SUV gets a redesign for 2021. Buick calls it “striking,” and I did find it a handsome vehicle in the Driver’s Seat driveway. But remember, beauty is only sheet-metal deep. (The unofficial Lexus motto.)
Up to speed: All Envisions feature a 2.0-liter EcoTec four creating a healthy 228 horsepower, not bad from this baby power plant. The vehicle moves to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Motor Trend. We’re definitely not in rocket territory.
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On the road: The Envision handles like a Buick from China. Its steering is vague, and the fun factor is kept to a minimum, even in Sport mode. Perhaps the all-wheel-drive version adds a bit of spunk.
The Envision is also fairly rough over the bumps.
Driver’s Seat: The perforated leather appointed seats offer comfort for Mr. Driver’s Seat, not too firm and not too soft. The center pod provided loads of information in digital form, so I hardly even noticed the standard skinny-font numbers of the speedometer and tachometer. They’re also easy to avoid, lurking behind the steering wheel as they were. The ergonomics could be better.
But the materials and control felt luxurious and solid, which is definitely not a given in a GM product.
Shifty: The late Papa Driver’s Seat — rest his soul — thought he could drive a stick, but he really couldn’t. The herky-jerky was pretty hard for the shotgun passenger. (In his defense, he was a sportsball guy, not a car guy.) Also, it involved a 1963 Ford Falcon with a bench seat and three-on-the-tree, sans seat belts. But the ride didn’t get much better in a 1982 Horizon. (We moved about in some stellar machines, the Sturgises. You’re just jealous.)
But, speaking of jerky, Mama Driver’s Seat and young Master Driver’s Seat were fairly merciless in our … feedback.
Anyway, the Buick Envision 9-speed transmission — not a stick — made Mr. Driver’s Seat fondly recall the old guy. That first engagement of Drive always came with a bit of suspense. “Now? Now? How about … NOW?” (Screech!)
That cleared up right away, but using Sport mode brought it back for the rest of the trip. Plus, the thing would stay in lower gears too long and make the engine sound like a goat dying most of the way. Or Stevie Nicks.
One would think using shift mode would help, but here’s where the spirit of Papa Driver’s Seat really shone through. The shifts would not engage immediately, and so the jerkiness would be enhanced.
And bonus: The paddles sit right above controls for the stereo, so sometimes the gear wouldn’t change but the song would grow louder (upshift), or skip (downshift).
I’ve gone on too long, but I haven’t reached my word limit yet, so I’ll note that the gearshift is replaced with a row of buttony things, although only Park and Neutral are buttons. Reverse, Drive and Manual are little baby levers. I’m not sure what we’ve gained here.
Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers will appreciate the business-class accommodations. Legroom, foot room and headroom are all noteworthy, and the seat itself provides comfort and support with a soft, cuddly material.
The seat folds down to offer a total of 52.7 cubic feet, with 25.2 behind the second row. It’s longer and lower back there than in most SUVs, which has pluses (groceries) and minuses (tall stuff).
Play some tunes: I still live in a world where I expect GMs to have great stereos. The Envision is helping Mr. Driver’s Seat move bravely into today’s world. Sound from the Bose Premium nine-speaker system is about a B+; it just doesn’t match the way many songs should sound, even after much adjustment. (It was part of the $2,500 Technology Package, which also added front park assist and head-up display.)
The controls are nicely done, though. Dials allow volume and tuning adjustment, and the 10-inch touchscreen is easy to get around.
Keeping warm and cool: A row of ebony switches allows for easy up-down bumps to adjust temperature and fan speed. Buttons control the heat source, while any adjustments turn the touchscreen display into HVAC info while you adjust.
Night shift: Challenging. The lights shine a little thin and a little low so it’s a little hard to see. Interior lighting is just almost too bright.
Fuel economy: I did have a few highway trips but only averaged just under 23 mpg.
Where it’s built: Yantai, China.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be a 4 out of 5, and it’s received two 5s and two 4s since 2018.
In the end: Not so bad, except for the jerkiness. (But that’s why you read this column.)