Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Buick Envision

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My 89-year-old dad is not a car guy. Yet, within the first few metres of driving in the 2017 Buick Envision Preferred AWD, he pretty much wrote my review. “It’s very smooth and quiet, isn’t it?”

The Envision waves the old Buick colours loud and proud. Comfort is in, canyon carving is out. This is the anti-Nürburgring-brouhaha crossover, and we’re better for it.

Well, there you have it. Done like dinner. Next.

Okay, there is a bit more to say about this tidy new compact crossover from Buick that nestles in between the subcompact Encore and full-size Enclave. But as far as an endorsement of its inherent Buick-ness, that’s probably about as good as it gets.

Indeed, Buick has been straying from its expected values of late – all we have to do is gaze at the gorgeous Avista coupe concept that made the auto show rounds last year. And how cool is the Regal TourX sport wagon? Rebadging a Euro-chic Opel wagon for the North American market shows real commitment. You know this anti-SUV will probably sell like anchovy ice cream on this side of the pond.

Ah, but fear not, those who look to Buick for comfort, quiet, and traditional values. The 2017 Envision delivers on that front, and it proved an ideal vehicle for helping my dad move from his home of over 30 years in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, to Wickwire Place, an assisted-living facility just a few blocks away.

We speak of buying a house, getting married, and having kids as major milestones in our lives. But many elderly must embark on another life chapter when living on their own is no longer possible. Moving is no fun at the best of times, but how about when you’re pushing 90, alone, and heading to unfamiliar territory?

But Sherman Bleakney is a trooper. Not to mention a world-respected marine biologist, PhD., educator, published author, and dyed-in-the-wool naturalist who has traipsed almost every corner of this earth with boots on his feet and a collecting jar in his hand. You’ll find his precious sea slug collection and pioneering research at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Today was Sherman’s last day at the house, and he asked if my sister Jill and I could drive him to Evangeline Beach – a spot that in the early 40s he frequented as a young lad for the dances, and subsequent decades to cruise the salt marshes and miles of exposed low-tide sea bed for his critters.

While the Buick Enclave was designed, engineered, and tested in Michigan, its real target market is China where the Buick badge is revered and back-seat comfort rules. The Envision is actually a bit shorter and narrower than the Chevy Equinox (it’s built on a modified Chevy Cruze platform), yet the rear doors are long and open up to cushy back seats that slide, recline, and offer generous legroom and headroom.

With a starting price of $40,195, this base Envision Preferred AWD runs with a 197 hp, 192 lb-ft 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and six-speed auto. Fast or athletic it is not, but as an easy-going conveyance with a good helping of utility and a healthy dose of civility, it does just fine. If you need more poke and luxury kit, move up to the hi-zoot Premium I and Premium II trims with a turbo 2.0L that spins out 252 horses and 260 lb-ft.

We head to Grand Pre and are soon traversing the flat dykelands – thousands of hectares the Acadians reclaimed from the sea almost 300 year ago with a brilliant dyke and sluice system. Hard to believe we are actually driving below sea level here.

After retiring from teaching biology at Acadia University, Sherman spent years exploring and excavating these lands, and was the first to decode how the Acadians built their sea walls. Read all about it his book Sods, Soil, and Spades.

The squishy front buckets in the Envision hint at old-school GM sagginess, and with numb (albeit accurate) steering, slightly nautical handling and tomb-quiet interior, the Envision waves the old Buick colours loud and proud. Comfort is in, canyon carving is out. This is the anti-Nürburgring-brouhaha crossover, and we’re better for it.

First stop was the tiny North Grand Pre Community Church with its gothic revival windows and doors. Built in 1861, the door is always open and the sign reads “Visitors Welcome”.

The Envision is pleasingly conservative but not particularly distinctive, save for the Buick waterfall grill. The optional $495 Bronze Alloy Metallic paint classes up the proceedings, and the more time I spend with the Envision, the more I appreciate its clean, reserved lines. Those 18-inch alloys with tall 60-series tires may be far from cool, but they surely contribute to the Envision’s smooth, quiet ride. As does Buick’s signature Quiet Tuning that incorporates targeted sound insulation, acoustic glass, special door seals, and active noise cancellation.

Heading up over a hill we arrive at Evangeline Beach’s dirt parking lot. The old dance hall is still there, with its original hardwood floor showing a storied patina. As Dad told us, “The boys would line up on one side, and the girls on the other. You’d get up your nerve to cross over and ask a girl to dance, just hoping she would say yes.”

The next day we put the little Buick to work, taking unwanted stuff to Value Village and moving delicates and art (no Picassos, sadly) to Wickwire Place.

The Envision gets standard powered liftgate with two settings – full or three-quarter height – and the rear 60/40 seats easily fold forward when released via a pair of chrome levers on the walls of the hatch. The load floor is flat, and underneath is a shallow, compartmentalized bay. Being narrower than most competitors, the Envision is pretty easy to manoeuvre. I would ask for better headlights though; the standard units proved exceedingly dim on the dark Nova Scotia roads.

After a few whirlwind days of moving, gonzo furniture arranging, and full-contact picture hanging, I had to return to Toronto. Too soon. I felt this way when my son went off to college – protective and worried. Thankfully, Dad’s apartment is lovely, the food is fantastic, his hunting/fishing buddy from when he was a teenager lives one floor down, and the ladies are already eyeing him. I think he’ll be fine.

Engine Displacement 2.5L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 197 hp
Peak Torque 192 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 11.4/8.1/9.9 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 762 L
Model Tested 2017 Buick Envision Preferred AWD
Base Price $40,195
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $42,980
Optional Equipment
$985 – Bronze Alloy Metallic $495; cargo package $230; back seat tablet holders $260