2021 Buick Envision Avenir: When Parts-Binning Pays Off
Buick’s compact crossover is low-key, but it’s actually low-key good.
There's a litany of compact crossovers for sale these days. Nearly every automaker that sells cars in the United States offers one, and, as a matter of fact, they're the only thing Buick sells. The 2021 Buick Envision is the brand's compact offering, and while you might argue Buick itself could enjoy a bit more love from North American buyers, you shouldn't discount the Envision solely based on that.
Sitting below the larger Enclave but above the smaller Encore and Encore GX, the Envision shares a platform with the Cadillac XT4 and is a handsome, no-nonsense crossover that checks all the boxes: It's comfortable, powerful, and a good value. For the majority of buyers, a car doesn't need to offer much more than that.
With a base price of $32,995, the Envision is cheaper than similar crossovers from European makes like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. It's still a premium machine, though, even offering features that similar cars like the X2, X3, Q3, and Q5 simply don't, like quasi-massage seats.
All three of its trims—Preferred, Essence, and Avenir—are straightforward. They all get the same powerful engine, and if you want the superior one, buy the top-trim Avenir. It's that simple. There's no GLA 250 4MATIC or Audi Q3 40 TFSI Premium quattro Tiptronic or whatever any of that alphanumeric salad is to decipher. It's just "Buick Envision Avenir." Isn't it nice when we use actual words?
2021 Buick Envision Avenir: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $32,995 ($45,305)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four | 9-speed automatic | front-wheel-drive (AWD available)
- Horsepower: 228 @ 5,000 rpm
- Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 4,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,692 to 3,932 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 25.2 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city | 31 highway | 26 combined
- Quick take: A very premium compact crossover for not very premium money.
You don't see Buicks scoring big headlines for the latest cutting-edge tech or selling in record-breaking numbers. But what its designers have done is quietly built a capable product that more buyers could stand to be aware of. Here are five of its standout features.
1. The Looks
The Envision doesn't stand out—no compact crossover really does—but it's restrained and a little edgy at the same time. It's a handsome car that fills its envelope well and has no awkward angles. The clear taillight lenses at the rear are a nice touch, as are the sharp daytime running lights at the front. Combine all of this with plenty of brightwork all over the car, and it's bound to please customers old and young, something Buick is definitely keen on.
The Avenir comes standard with 20-inch wheels, which definitely helps this car look more premium. Base Envisions come with 18-inch wheels, but the 20s are available even on the lowest trim for an extra $1,325, meaning Buick is really putting in the effort to make every trim look a bit sharper if you want it to.
The selection of colors is pretty good as well, with the usual whites and grays offered alongside a dark metallic blue, the metallic black color the test car came in, and even—gasp—orange. The darker, more mature colors are really what work best here, though.
2. The Parts Bin Tech
GM has always had a massive parts bin, but it's actually a very good one these days. As a result, a fair amount of premium features from other GM makes—even Cadillac—are dropped into the Avenir trim level of this car and they all add up very nicely.
For instance, the Envision Avenir I had featured the very good rear-view camera mirror also seen on the Escalade, with the washer for the rear-facing camera being carried over as well. The car also had quasi-massage seats, using the inflatable lumbar support to apply pressure to my lower back in various locations over long periods of time. Four of the vehicle's five seats were also heated, with the front two being ventilated as well.
An air ionizer and quality detector are available too, as is an active noise cancellation system to make the cabin much quieter. Both of these features come standard on Envisions on any trim higher than the base. There's also GM's great radar cruise and lane-keep system, which put on a good showing here. If this car had Super Cruise—the crown jewel of GM offerings—it would be a truly incredible value. I wish it did. And seeing as Super Cruise is finally trickling down from Cadillac, one day it might.
The steering wheel switchgear, USB charging ports (standard and type C), and numerous other odds and ends like the window switches are very visibly borrowed from other cars like the Escalade and Corvette. This shouldn't bother you. All of them feel premium and work great. The end result of the parts binning is passengers get all the features they want at a reasonable price.
The very comparable XT4—built on the same platform—is a close competitor, although spec'ing one with the same features as the Buick will push its price to over $50,000. It also does not offer Super Cruise. If it was available on the XT4, I might be more inclined to go for the Caddy.
Plus, Buick went above and beyond in other areas of the interior to complete the whole picture.
3. The Premium Interior
The interior of this crossover is hard to beat for the money, and it's a slew of small details that really add up to make it that way. There is a ton of piano-black plastic that reflects a lot of light from the massive moonroof above, meaning you're never really seeing flat black—or your fingerprints—but instead a subtle reflection of everything around you.
Also, take a look at the little details on the quasi-wood trim, the stitching, and the carpeted floor mats. The mats ($295) are not solid black; there's a little bit of salt and pepper in there. They also feel just a little thicker than regular floor mats; just enough to make the car feel that much more insulated. In the winter, that'll feel nice.
There's thought going on relating to the materials here. The push-button shifter, for instance, isn't covered in fingerprints in my pictures, despite it being used often. That's because you reach under and pull up on the switches for reverse and drive to activate them, and the button for Park isn't piano-black at all. All of this means the shifter stays clear of fingerprints.
Another nice detail is the backlit switchgear, which quite literally disappears into the dash when the car isn't running, a cool touch. The tuning and volume knobs for the infotainment system did the same thing, with the screen itself wearing a matte coating to prevent smudges and glare.
And this is all before mentioning this car's upholstery, which looks great. Coming standard with the Avenir trim, the stitched pattern is premium and unique and the stitching itself contrasts with the black leather nicely. If this car was available with more interior colors or themes (just white and black are available) it would be even better.
4. The Drivetrain
The drivetrain offers more than adequate horsepower and torque. Courtesy of a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, there's 238 horsepower along with a respectable 258 pound-feet of torque. As mentioned above, it's the only unit available—so even base model Envisions get this sort of burly power.
It can be had with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. The test car was the latter and it was driven a few months back, amid a New England winter, on all-season tires. I almost got stuck a few times in a few inches of hard-packed snow, a place where all-wheel drive and winter tires would've helped. So definitely opt for that if you live in a place that can get snowy.
The transmission, a nine-speed automatic, struggles a bit when you want to shift it manually or when the engine gets close to redline. At those points, it feels a little lazy and clunky. However, if you're just driving around town, you never notice it doing its business. Likewise, it's great on the highway, with kick-downs for a bit more power happening quickly and pickup coming on strong.
Overall, the drivetrain feels very modern and sophisticated, matching the attitude of the rest of the car.
5. The Space
Tying all of this together rather well is the amount of space you get and how you can use it. The Envision is classified as a compact crossover, but legroom in the back is adequate, even for passengers taller than six feet. I tested this with a six-foot-four friend and there were no complaints about being cramped. Headroom was a little tighter, but he wasn't craning his neck over to fit or anything; there was still room to spare.
As well as offering ample comfort, the rear seats fold flat, too. There's a 60-40 split if you still need to carry a passenger or two along with larger, bulkier items. I used the back of the Buick to transport flat-packed furniture from Ikea and it was perfect for the job. The 52.7 cubic feet of space offered with the rear seats folded is very usable and versatile.
It's hard to buy something else this decked out—the heated and cooled quasi massage seats are especially worth it—for around 45 grand. We like to tease cars for certain parts-bin aspects, but they really work in the Buick's favor here.
A BMW X3, as discussed previously, starts at $44,695 for a barebones base model, and the use cases for that car are more or less identical to the ones here. The smaller, $37,595 X2 is arguably more comparable, but it has less cargo volume and several nice options on the Buick aren't offered with the BMW. Ventilated seats, the lumbar massage function, the excellent camera mirror, rear heated seats, and active noise cancellation (which is subtle but noticeable) are simply not available. So not only is the X2's starting price higher than the base Envision's, but its options ceiling is also lower. You are getting more car for the same sort of money if you go with the Buick. The only thing I would've added to the test car is all-wheel drive (an extra $1,800), as that's pretty much the only thing it lacked.
The 2021 Buick Envision Avenir's slew of premium features are all integrated well into a quiet, comfortable interior that's versatile as well. The drivetrain, likewise, feels modern and more than up to the task of dragging this car's nearly 4,000-pound body around. And while 26 combined miles per gallon is acceptable, the sticker price is indisputably the biggest draw. It offers premium luxury car quality for base-price luxury car money. If you weren't already previously aware, this is a secret you should get in on.
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