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2016 Buick Envision: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Michelle Krebs June 2016

The 2016 Buick Envision can be perfectly described as right-sized.

The compact SUV fills a gaping hole in Buick's product line, slotting precisely between the subcompact Encore and the lengthy, 3-row Buick Enclave. The 2-row, 5-passenger Envision aims directly at the heart of the fast-growing premium-crossover market, positioned against the likes of Acura, Audi and Lincoln.

For now, the Envision comes only in upper-level Premium I and Premium II trims, with prices starting at $42,995 and $45,635, respectively. Currently arriving in dealerships, the Envision has a short run for the 2016 model year. This fall, the 2017 Buick Envision goes on sale with other trims available, including one that starts at under $35,000.

The China Connection

The Envision marks a first for an American automaker. General Motors is building the vehicle in China, though it was designed, engineered and tested in the U.S. While an unpopular move with GM's union workers, building the Envision in China makes business sense for the automaker.

Buick is more popular with the Chinese than with Americans, and the brand will sell exponentially more Envisions there than it ever expects to in the U.S. Plus, the SUV's new architecture isn't shared with any U.S.-sold vehicle, so making it in the states at small volumes doesn't measure up economically. Engineers counter questions about production quality by noting that GM's plant in Yantai, China, is near an Apple facility that produces the ubiquitous iPhone. GM executives note that Chinese workers are fastidious about manufacturing details.

Indeed, the care and attention show in how well the Envision is put together. The gaps between exterior body panels are tight and uniform. Interior construction is equally meticulous. We found the ride to be quiet, with no wayward noise to suggest anything but quality.

GM is so confident about the Envision that it's encouraging Buick dealers with competing brands to let shoppers test drive it against its rivals. Reviewers were encouraged to make back-to-back comparison drives on GM's Milford, Michigan, test track against the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC.

Opting for Elegance

The Envision sticks with the tried-and-true utility formula in terms of its handsome exterior design. It leans toward elegance more than the sportiness of BMW SUVs or the ruggedness of Jeep.

Paying homage to Buick's heritage, which is important in the U.S. and China, the Envision features the brand's classic waterfall grille and portholes in the hood. Inside, the center console has a tiny, jeweled clock as another Buick cue.

But the inside story is what really matters, and the Chinese influence on the Envision's interior should prove beneficial to American buyers.

Behind the wheel, the driver sits high with the commanding view of the road that utility drivers desire. In contrast to some competitors, the Envision doesn't make you feel like you're sitting in a bathtub surrounded by high walls.

The interior has a comfortable, purposeful elegance. Premium materials are used throughout, including soft-touch surfaces, stitched leather and tasteful touches of chrome and woodlike trim. A heated steering wheel and heated front seats are standard; cooled front seats are optional. Also standard is an 8-inch Buick IntelliLink screen with available OnStar, 4G LTE connectivity and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. A roomy center console is accessed through a clamshell-like opening. The cabin abounds with USB ports, 12-volt outlets and a 120-volt outlet.

As lovely as the front compartment is, the rear seat got a lot of attention from designers -- another influence from China, where many people are chauffeured, thus putting added focus on the back seat. The 3-person rear bench seat slides far rearward to provide generous legroom. In addition, the rear floor is completely flat without the hump from a transmission tunnel. This is another carryover from China, where passengers always slide across to disembark curbside. Rear-seat passengers have their own USB ports, climate controls and heated seats.

The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and handily folds completely flat for large cargo loads. The cargo bay can be accessed hands-free by a power lift gate.

The Envision is packed with technology and conveniences that are either standard or available. Standard features include stop/start engine technology, 8-way power front seats with 4-way adjustable lumbar positioning and a Bose premium sound system. Options include a panoramic moonroof.

Quiet, Comfortable Ride

Buick prides itself on providing a quiet ride, and the Envision delivers thanks to active noise cancellation, laminated glass and other sound-deadening materials used throughout.

The word planted constantly came to mind while we drove the Envision on numerous laps over different road surfaces on GM's test track. The new, stiffer architecture, combined with a suspension system borrowed from the sporty Buick Regal GS, helps the Envision remain firm and controlled around sweeping bends and over railroad tracks and rough pavement.

Acceleration is respectable, with the Envision's power coming from a 252-horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The current Envision comes only with all-wheel drive, which can shift power to the tire or tires that need traction. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Buick will offer the 2017 Envision with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder rated at 197 hp.

The automaker expects to receive a 5-star crash-test rating for the Envision, which has 10 standard airbags and a host of safety features, including lane-departure prevention, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system, cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors and a backup camera. The top-of-the-line trim offers a head-up display and parking assist.

Worth a Spot on the Shopping List

In addition to sizing it properly, Buick designers and engineers got a lot of other things right with the 2016 Buick Envision, including a quiet, comfortable ride and a long list of standard and optional tech, safety and comfort features. If you're considering a premium compact SUV, the Envision deserves a spot on your shopping list.

Find a Buick Envision for sale

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Used 2016 Buick Envision AWD Premium
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Buick Envision: First Drive Review - Autotrader