Buick adds a third SUV this year with the compact Envision, a competent and nicely equipped five-seater that is the first SUV to be built in China and sold in the United States.
The 2017 Envision's 15.3-foot length and starting retail price of just under $35,000 put it between Buick's two other SUVs — the small Encore and the larger Enclave — and into the thick of the U.S. and Chinese SUV markets. The design and engineering was done in America.
The Envision earned an overall five out of five stars for occupant protection in crash testing by the U.S. government, though the frontal crash test rating was four out of five stars. Those are the same ratings as the 2017 Audi Q5 SUV, which Buick officials say is a key competitor.
The base, front-wheel drive Envision comes with a lot of standard equipment for its $34,990 manufacturer's suggested retail price plus destination charge — starting with a 192-horsepower, non-turbo, four-cylinder engine. It also comes with 10 air bags, keyless entry, heated and power-adjustable driver and front seats, rear vision camera, rear park assist, hands-free rear liftgate, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, 8-inch touchscreen display, remote garage door opener, push-button start, fog lamps and dual-zone climate control.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2017 Envision with all-wheel drive is $38,645, and that includes a 252-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. All Envisions use a six-speed automatic transmission.
Visually, the five-door Envision doesn't stand out: Exterior styling is bland but pleasant, and the overall shape is like that of other SUVs.
The interior is pleasant, too, with cloth seats in the base models and Preferred trim levels and leather seats reserved for upper models. The Envision seats, however, don't provide much side support and there was less thigh support than expected, even in the $44,000-plus test Premium model.
The Envision test vehicle, which had 19-inch tires, had a compliant ride that still let through a number of mild road vibrations. The ride wasn't firm like some European SUVs, but it wasn't totally refined, either.
Envisions with the turbo engine get a HiPer Strut front suspension that retards torque steer, or that tugging of the steering wheel to one side or the other, at startup acceleration.
Inside, passengers sit up a good bit above the pavement. The interior overall felt open and airy, even without a sunroof, and the tops of the side doors didn't come up so high that passengers would feel hemmed in. The test vehicle's leather-covered seats looked nice but didn't have the supple feel of a higher-end luxury car. Gauges and controls were easy to understand, particularly if a driver is familiar with the interiors of other Buicks.
One odd item, though, is the placement on the dashboard of a small analog clock within inches of another digital clock in the touchscreen display. The clocks weren't automatically synchronized, so one could be minutes behind the other. Plus, who needs two clocks?
The test Envision's uplevel engine — a 2-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder — worked strongly and without hesitation to power the 4,000-pound vehicle. There was no noticeable turbo lag, and the car felt peppy and responsive. Peak torque is 260 foot-pounds at 2,000 rpm.
But aggressive driving dragged down fuel mileage to an average 20.6 miles per gallon, meaning total travel range was 356 miles. The federal government's ratings are 20/26 mpg for an average of 22 mpg for the all-wheel drive Envision. Thankfully, regular gasoline is fine, even with the turbo engine.
Rear seat headroom and legroom of 38.5 inches and 37.5 inches, respectively, is commendable for a compact SUV. Maximum cargo space is 57.3 cubic feet, and towing capacity is 1,500 pounds.
There has been one U.S. safety recall of the Envisions involving incorrect weight information on a label that might cause an owner to overload the vehicle and create an unstable driving situation.