2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD Review
Buick has been evolving the last five years or so.
It’s still a solid entry-level luxury vehicle maker, but it has been transitioning away from cars to crossovers and SUVS. Currently there are three models, the Encore and Envision that I’d classify as crossovers and the Enclave, its sharp luxury SUV.
Three years have passed since I last tested a Buick and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the new Envision Essence, its mid-level trim line, is a bargain for folks looking for near luxury at an affordable price.
Envision is attractive, totally in synch with today’s crossover styling trends, and comes well equipped at a price that frankly surprised me.
A base front-drive Envision Preferred starts at $32,995 with delivery and the tested Essence, which sounds a bit like a perfume label, lists at $36,995 with delivery. A loaded Avenir (the name of a sans-serif type face), goes for a still reasonable $41,595.
Here’s why I think the Envision is a deal.
It’s not only affordable, but practical for a family of five or less. The interior is roomy, the ride is nice, steering is light and easy and you can add AWD for just $1,800. So it’s possible to end up with a nicely equipped comfortable family crossover for less than $40 grand. The white test vehicle came in at $39,495, but without AWD.
Let’s start with the ride as Buick has long been noted for its boulevard ride that seniors appreciate as salve for their aging skeletal systems. The Envision does not float and coddle like an old Buick Electra, but the ride is controlled and comfortable thanks to a five-link independent rear suspension. There’s a bit of bounce on uneven roads, but that provides only a jiggle, not a rump thump.
Steering is light and easy too, unless you press the Mode button on the console to shift Envision into Sport. That firms up the steering feel just enough to be pleasant during a highway drive. In town, leave it on the Normal setting. There’s Eco too if you want to save fuel and make your acceleration sluggish, but you probably won’t.
Envision is easy to park, easy to keep in a highway lane, and simply pleasant to drive.
Power? Well, it’s on the upper end of mediocre, say a six out of 10. The Buick, which is made in China, features a Chinese-built 2.0-liter turbo I4 linked to a 9-speed automatic. Power comes on smoothly with slight turbo lag and easy gear changes, but the getaway from a stoplight is mild, mostly. Tromp the gas pedal and put the drive mode in Sport and things pep up quite a bit, but you’ll still not strain your neck muscles.
The benefit of all this is gas mileage you likely wouldn’t suspect from a 182.5-inch long vehicle (about the same as a Nissan Rogue). I got 28.2 mpg in about 60% highway driving with several folks aboard. The EPA rates Envision at 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Envision has more power than the Rogue, by the way, but Rogue earns 1 mpg better fuel ratings.
Some of the automotive intelligentsia say the Envision competes with the likes of Acura’s RDX, Lincoln’s Corsair and Infiniti’s Q50, which are similar in size. Those are more luxurious in feel and interior stylings, but also can run quite a bit more money. The Envision is more mainstream.
Buick’s safety equipment is exactly what you’d expect — lane keep assist with lane departure warning, front pedestrian braking and collision alert, smart high-beam headlights, lane change alert with blind-spot monitor, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Smart cruise control comes on the Essence, too.
Other Essence trim upgrades include a 10.2-inch screen (up from eight inches), a power hatch and heated front seats, and the wheels are upgraded to 18 inches.
Inside the test vehicle featured black perforated leather seats with gray trim and stitching, a black dash and doors with satin chrome trim and fake carbon fiber inserts to spiff up the dash and doors. Black gloss trims the instrument pod and the big info screen is angled nicely toward the driver, although front-seat passengers may not be fond of that.
The steering wheel is heated too and that big screen is easy to use with large touchscreen buttons that are simple to see. Toggles below the screen control the heated seats and climate controls.
One slightly unusual feature is the push-button transmission that mixes how it’s engaged. Park is a straight push down, while Drive and Reverse require the driver to pull up on separate console buttons. I’d prefer they all function with a push.
Seats are relatively flat with mild hip and lower back support, but are powered and the driver gets a power lumbar support and two seat memory buttons. The rear seat is roomy and comfortable too, plus splits and folds. That power hatch (with wiper) can be activated from inside, the fob, or by wiggling your foot by the rear bumper.
A couple misses include the lack of a sunroof or wireless phone charger on the Essence model. The center armrest/storage box also is split, which I’m not a fan of, finding one that swings up and out of the way easiest to manage.
The test crossover did add a $2,500 technology package that some may appreciate. It upgrades the stereo and adds some other electronic niceties. There’s a premium Bose 9-speaker stereo in the package, plus voice recognition and the larger screen, Bluetooth, wireless Apple Car Play and Android auto, a universal remote and HD radio and surround vision. A head-up display also is part of the deal.
Move up to the Avenir trim level and the seats are quilted leather and include a massaging function. Hmmm, that could be a bonus on a long drive.
Quiet tuning is something Buick also touts that it says quiets the interior. While not up to top-end luxury standards the interior is quiet, although some pavement noise is audible.
Again, this is entry-level luxury at a standard crossover’s pricing. Add in AWD for northern climates and the Envision will be a fine suburban hauler of kids to school, soccer or band practice. It also would be a fine long-distance vacation vehicle, sort of like station wagons of old, but quieter, more comfortable, and more fuel efficient.
Overview: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD
Hits: Attractive crossover, nice ride, three drive modes, light handling, good safety equipment, power hatch, heated seats and steering wheel. Roomy interior with big user-friendly screen, comfy seats, and rear wiper.
Misses: No sunroof or wireless phone charger, mediocre power.
Made in: China
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 hp
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Weight: 4,005 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.4 in.
Length: 182.5 in.
Cargo: 25.2-52.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 28.2 (tested)
Base Price: $36,995 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Technology package (HD surround vision, head-up display, Bose 9-speaker premium stereo, front park assist, memory card receptacle, info system w/nav, 10-inch touchscreen, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, wireless Apple Car Play/Android Auto, personalized apps, HD radio, universal home remote), $2,500
Test vehicle: $39,495
Editor's Note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.