First Drive: 2017 Buick Envision

I was looking forward to driving the 2017 Buick Envision compact SUV. Specifically, to comparing its newly available 2.5L four-cylinder engine with its optional turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that was standard in 2016 models. The new 2.5L engine helps bring the 2017 Envision’s base price down to slightly under $40,000, a significant drop from the 2016 version’s base price of nearly $46,000.

Was GM concerned that journalists would portray the less powerful [2.5L] Envision as “underpowered” or “boring”?

But after arriving at the driving event in Priddis, Alberta, I was informed that there were no Envisions with the 2.5L engine available for a test drive; only Envisions with the optional 2.0L turbo engine were on hand. Immediately, my inner skeptic was aroused. Was GM concerned that journalists would portray the less powerful Envision as “underpowered” or “boring”? Perhaps. But here’s the thing: not letting journalists compare the two engines can only lead to unfettered speculation, such as, “Is the new Envision 2.5 just a price leader to get people in the door so salespeople can upsell customers to the pricier 2.0L turbocharged model?” or “Will GM actually sell any Envisions with the 2.5L engine?” or “Is the 2.5L Envision a real dog?”

Well, there’s little doubt that with 55 fewer horses and a reduction of 68 lb-ft in torque, the 2017 Envision Preferred and Essence models with the 197 hp 2.5L engine won’t have the lively performance and early throttle response of the 252 hp 2.0L turbocharged Envision Premium I and Premium II models, despite a favourable 70 kg reduction in curb weight. And with a different front suspension (McPherson strut vs HiPer strut), the 2.5L Envision may not have the same handling and steering characteristics as the 2.0L turbo Envision.

Full driving impressions will have to wait until I actually drive the base model. In the meantime, I can report that the 2017 Buick Envision equipped with the turbocharged 2.0L engine, six-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive is a very responsive, smooth, quiet and comfortable vehicle to drive in. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that, if you can afford it, this is the Envision to buy.

The Envision’s turbocharged 2.0L engine develops a healthy 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm, and throttle response is almost immediate. Stomp the pedal, and the Envision takes off in a hurry reaching 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds, not bad for an SUV that weighs 1,852 kg (4,083 lb). At cruising speeds, the Envision hums along quietly except for some wind noise.

The standard six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability enhances the performance of this engine in a way that a continuously variable transmission (CVT) would not. Shifts are well-timed and at times almost imperceptible. Interestingly, the six-speed automatic in the Envision 2.0L turbo is different to the one in the Envision 2.5L model, which might make a difference in the performance of the different Envision models.

Both available engines come with an automatic engine start/stop system that’s so unobtrusive that it wasn’t until I’d been driving for a while before I noticed the engine had stopped and restarted several times at stop signs and traffic lights.

Official fuel economy numbers for the Envision 2.0L turbo are 11.8 / 9.2 / 10.6 L/100km city / highway / combined. That’s in the same ballpark as key competitors such as the Lincoln MKC (12.3 / 9.3 / 10.9) and the Audi Q5 (12.0 / 8.6 / 10.5) but not as good as the Lexus NX (10.6 / 8.4 / 9.6) or BMW X3 (11.1 / 8.4 / 9.9). During my test drive which was mostly highway, the onboard fuel consumption display showed 9.2 L/100 km, the same as the official NRCan highway estimate. Like most vehicles in its class, the Envision uses premium gasoline.

My driving partner and I spent a few hours driving around the foothills in southern Alberta where the rural roads are virtually empty and the temptation to hoof it is only tempered by the possibility of T-boning a wayward moose or deer. Though challenged by sudden dips in the road and occasional construction zones with hastily repaved sections, the Envision maintained a cushioned and well-damped ride that soaked up bumps and sudden changes in road camber without losing its composure. Despite being a rather tall and narrow vehicle, the Envision felt very stable when cornering.

Envisions equipped with the 2.0L turbo engine have the so-called HiPer strut front suspension, essentially a modified McPherson strut suspension with an extra lower support arm to reduce torque-steer under acceleration and keep the wheels at 90 degrees to the road surface at all times. At the rear is an independent multi-link setup. Our Envision tracked straight and true at speeds over 100 km/h, and some credit must go to Envision’s electric power steering that includes cross-wind and road shake calibration to compensate for sudden gusts of wind and irregular road surfaces.

In Canada, all 2017 Envisions come with standard on-demand all-wheel drive that varies torque front to rear as needed but also has a rear twin-clutch differential that automatically varies torque from side to side in case one rear wheel slips. Even on dry roads, this system helps traction and stability if one side becomes unloaded or loose surfaces are encountered. It’s all automatic – there’s no low range or centre differential lock to engage.

Buick put a lot of effort into making the Envision quiet. Apart from extensive sound insulation, the Envision features engine balance shafts to reduce vibrations, four hydraulic engine mounts, and a cabin noise-cancellation device that counters outside noises with opposite frequencies. Apart from a little engine noise under acceleration and moderate wind noise at speed, the cabin is quiet enough to have a normal conversation without having to raise your voice.

Various active safety features are offered, depending on the trim level. The Envision Essence features standard Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Alert and Safety Alert Seat (vibrates if collision is possible). Premium 1 models add Lane Change Alert, Side Blind Zone Alert, Cross Traffic Alert and Front Park Assist (Premium I). And Premium II trims add Auto Park Assist, and HID headlights.

Inside the 2017 Envision Premium models are comfortable leather seats with multi-adjustable power driver’s seat and split folding/sliding rear seats, a sweeping instrument panel with three bright gauges (the centre one being digital with integrated trip computer), a large 8-inch touchscreen and a swath of glossy wood panelling on the dashboard and console.

The fit and finish is good, at least in the Premium trim level, although not everybody will like the big hunk of woodgrain on the passenger dashboard, or the excess of white stitching on the dash, console, armrests, steering wheel and seats.

Interestingly, climate controls use a combination of hard buttons for ventilation and small touch-sensitive screens for temperature and seat heaters. I found that the touch-sensitive temperature buttons needed a solid push before activating and I wonder if there is really any advantage to them. The floor shifter is positioned close to the driver for easy reach just ahead of an electronic parking brake. Behind that, a split centre armrest opens sideways towards the front occupants and includes one auxiliary and 2 USB ports inside. With the armrest closed a cord channel allows smartphones to be charged while sitting outside in a dedicated slot behind the shift lever. New for 2017 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity allowing phone functions to be displayed and operated through the centre touchscreen.

Also new for 2017, is a Teen Driver Mode that allows parents to keep tabs on their teen’s driving habits. It can produce a report outlining when active safety features were activated.

With an EPA interior volume of 3,610 L (127.5 cu. ft.), the Envision has more interior room than the Lincoln MKC. And with a cargo volume of 761 litres behind the rear seats and 1,622 litres with the seatbacks folded, the Envision offers more cargo space than the Lincoln MKC, Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Lexus NX. Though it’s a compact SUV, the Envision’s front and rear seats offer decent headroom and legroom (see photos) and the split rear seats can slide forwards or backwards to increase legroom or cargo room. The rear seatbacks can be folded flat using a lever on the side of the seat cushion or a lever in the cargo area. The cargo area itself is fully lined including the side walls, hatchback frame and rear seatbacks. A plastic scratch guard is tacked on to the loading lip but the bumper itself is painted.

2017 Buick Envisions are available in four trim levels, Preferred ($39,995), Essence ($43,695, Premium I ($46,155) and Premium II ($49,565). Preferred and Essence trims come with the 2.5L engine while Premium I and Premium II trims have the turbocharged 2.0L engine. All Envisions include a standard six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

Standard in Preferred trim are 18-inch tires and alloy wheels, cloth/leatherette seats with heated front seats and eight-way power adjustments; dual-zone climate control; centre touchscreen with satellite radio, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability and back-up camera.

The Essence trim level adds polished alloys, roof rack, three-zone climate control, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, safety alert driver’s seat, lane-keep assist and forward collision alert.

The Premium I trim adds the turbocharged 2.0L engine, 19-inch tires and wheels, leather seats, larger 8-inch touchscreen, Bose premium audio system, rain-sensing wipers, 110V outlet, front park assist, lane-change alert, side blind-spot alert, and cross-traffic alert.

Premium II trims add articulating HID headlights with automatic high beams, navigation system, cooled front seats, driver-seat thigh support, head-up display, and Auto Park Assist.

A panoramic power sunroof ($1,695) is optional on Essence, Premium I and Premium II trims. A Driver Confidence Package with Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Automatic Braking and Surround Vision Camera ($1,975) is optional on Premium II trims.

I deliberately left the most interesting thing about the 2017 Buick Envision to the last: it’s manufactured in Yantai, China. Lest you have any doubts about Chinese-built automobiles, the Buick Envision appears to match western build quality standards right out of the gate. It’s not the first Chinese-built vehicle sold in Canada and it definitely won’t be the last.

Chinese-built compact SUV is quiet and comfortable 11/25/2016 6:28:00 AM