2017 Buick Envision Premium II Road Test

Most automakers have voids in their lineups that eventually need to be filled in order to take advantage of market developments.
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The "new" 2017 Envision presents a lot of opportunity for Buick to gain market share in North America. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Even major luxury brands like Audi and Lexus are missing key models that would dramatically boost sales if available. For instance, Audi could use a smaller, sportier mid-size five-passenger crossover SUV to take on Lexus’ segment-leading RX, and Lexus needs a seven-passenger car-based sport ute to fight the Q7.

This issue is even more pronounced amongst entry-level luxury brands like Acura and Buick, with Honda’s premium division requiring a subcompact SUV to battle the popular Encore, and GM’s near-premium subsidiary having long needed a compact crossover to go up against the RDX. Thanks to the new 2017 Envision this latter problem is now resolved, but is it good enough to unseat the mighty RDX.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The design seems a bit dated despite being new to our market. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
yes, but Acura isn’t number one in the segment. That position has long belonged to Audi’s Q5, but the RDX has almost always maintained a respectable second. Sales in this category have grown considerably in recent years, with these two leaders in the low 3,000-unit range at the close of calendar year 2010 and their 2016 sales totaling more than 8,000 apiece.

The Envision didn’t enter the picture until April of last year, yet still managed to attract more than a thousand new buyers. By the end of Q2 2017 its sales had already exceeded 1,500 units, while just two months later there were 2,145 new Envisions down Canadian roads. Although nowhere near as strong as the segment leader that’s already sold nearing 7,000 units this year, the opportunity to add thousands
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The Envision gets Buick’s older waterfall grille instead of the newer, sportier design found on the Encore, LaCrosse, and upcoming Enclave. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
of additional customers to the Buick fold each year was too good to pass up, even if it meant bringing a model to market before it’s mid-cycle refresh.

That’s the first thing I noticed when looking it over in my driveway. It’s new, but it already looks a bit dated. Its shape is conservative for sure, but that’s not the issue. It seems like an SUV Buick might have envisioned (sorry for the pun) a few years ago, complete with a chromed waterfall grille and “ventiports” atop the hood. These design elements were eliminated from this year’s new-look Encore and the latter moved over to the front fenders for the recently redesigned LaCrosse, but they’re still part of the “new” Envision.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
LED signatures help modernize the headlights, which aren’t available with full LED illumination. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
was designed and engineered in Michigan before going on sale in China two years ahead of arriving here. That means it was new about three years ago, hence the dated look when put beside Buick’s new Encore, LaCrosse, upcoming 2018 Regal Sportback, and redesigned 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir. No doubt it will adopt the modernized grille in a future mid-cycle update, so for now we’ll need to look past its mature appearance.

Before we do, a bit more about its origins. The Envision hails from GM’s very successful SAIC General Motors Corp., which manufactures and sells Buick, Chevrolet, and Cadillac brand vehicles in Mainland China, a Shanghai-based venture that first produced the Buick Regal in 1999 and has since resulted in one of
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Buick offers an optional set of machine-finished 19-inch alloys that are more up-to-date. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the most formidable U.S.-Chinese corporate partnerships. Those paying attention to all things Buick have likely heard stories about nicer, more opulently trimmed models available in China that couldn’t be had here in North America. Of course, they don’t mention the GMDAT (Daewoo) sourced economy cars and odd looking minivan also sold under the Buick badge, but it’s still good to see some of the fruit from this relationship finally heading our way in the form of this new compact SUV.

Yes, the Envision is produced in SAIC-GM’s Shanghai facility and then shipped here, which only makes me wonder why it took so long. Certainly they could’ve picked a better year to do it, with President Trump’s anti-offshoring rhetoric and all,
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Standard LED taillights provide quick response for added safety. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
but these days the U.S.’ bombastic new commander in chief seems more twitterpated with “unfair” Canadian trade practices than anything the Chinese might be doing. Of course, I digress as usual, but in the case of anything Buick related, a “Made in China” stamp makes perfect sense.

After all, if it weren’t for the Chinese market there wouldn’t be a Buick today, which means our friends across the Pacific deserve all the jobs this once solely domestic brand can allow for. If it were up to the North American market, we’d be wandering through show ‘n shine shows on Sundays telling our kids about this great tri-shield brand that made now legendary nameplates like the GNX/Grand National, Riviera (how I love anything from 1963–1965), Roadmaster (especially the
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The two-tone interior increases the Envision’s overall wow factor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Skylark), or the Model 40, but now this history is still part of a brand that teases us with new dream cars like the fabulous Avista and Avenir concepts, just like the Y-Job did to our forefathers. Yes, if it weren’t for the Chinese market Buick would likely be history along with Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

To be completely clear, global Buick deliveries were 1,432,679 units last year, beating its previous best year ever (2015) by 200,698 for a 16.3 percent increase. Can you guess how many of those sales were from the U.S. and Canada? The world’s largest vehicle market accounted for just 229,631 Buick deliveries during the 12 months of 2016, whereas Canadians purchased just 19,053, no doubt many sold to new Canadians of Chinese descent (or at least that’s what my local dealer tells me). So on behalf of all classic automobile brand lovers, thank you China
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The cabin is certainly stylish and modern looking. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
for saving yet another storied American brand from elimination. Now, can you please do something about Chrysler before it’s too late?

Before signing off on the Chinese connection, a bit of Buick history is in order. Most of us aren’t aware that Buick has been a fixture in the Chinese market for longer than luxury brands like Audi, BMW, and even Mercedes-Benz have been in existence, let alone Acura, Lexus and Infiniti. The modern era of the four-ringed Audi brand we know today began in the late 1960s, whereas BMW started producing cars in 1928, although these were rebadged Austin 7s. It wasn’t until the 1950s they started building cars of their own design. Mercedes? It began as a brand in 1926. Buick was well established in China long before this. In fact, Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, and Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the country’s first provisional president, used early Buick models. What’s more, by 1930 one of every six cars in Shanghai was a Buick.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The large 8.0-inch multi-info display is optional, but a fully configurable gauge cluster is not available. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the 2017 Envision might not be the newest looking SUV on the block, or within Buick’s ranks for that matter, it’s ideally positioned in the market to push the luxury brand’s North American sales up considerably. The compact luxury SUV segment is Canada’s third largest category amongst premium brands, just behind D-segment cars (sedans, coupes and convertibles) and mid-size SUVs, but it’s one of the fastest growing and therefore represents the greatest opportunity. This is especially true for Buick that’s a virtual no-show in the D-segment with Regal at 841 units in 2016 compared to BMW 3 and 4 Series at 12,217 or Mercedes’ C-Class at 9,954. It did better in the mid-size SUV class last year with 3,632 Enclave sales compared to the bestselling Lexus RX’ 8,147, and to its credit owns the
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Buick’s infotainment touchscreen is one of its best features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
subcompact premium SUV category with 4,765 sales, but its Encore is priced nearly $10k lower than its closest competitor so it’s not really a true premium player there.

The Envision is, however, in both its pricing that starts at $40,295 plus freight and fees, which is near the bottom of the premium pack, and its standard and available feature set. As for materials quality it’s a mixed bag. Given a cursory glance the design is elegantly attractive in a traditional Buick way, with plenty of glossy woodgrain, tastefully applied metal-like brightwork, plus no shortage of both genuine and man-made leathers.

The latter isn’t an issue as it’s applied generously by most in this class. In fact, the contrast-stitched padded leatherette covering the Envision’s dash and door uppers
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
A closer look at the touchscreen shows a bright, colourful, high-resolution interface. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
is nicer than many rivals have on offer, but you won’t find any high-quality soft-touch synthetic surfaces below the hips, while in some cases the harder cheap stuff is chest height. The glove box lid is subgrade plastic too, which is just another misfire in meeting expectations when comparing it to most premium competitors, even those that cost less. In fact, plenty of non-premium brands do a better job of this. Likewise, parts of the upper door panels and all of their lower halves are hard shell plastic, but not finishing doors off as well as BMW is forgivable as it’s not unusual in this class.

On the contrary, some particularly nice soft-touch synthetic trim is fitted above and below the contrast coloured door inserts and armrests, while Buick even went so far as to wrap the outer portions of the centre stack and lower console in padded
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
This analogue clock is a nice touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
leatherette. Like I said, it’s a mixed bag of premium and mainstream quality, but unfortunately it comes across as if it were an entry-level brand trying to imitate luxury, not a top-tier player pushing down market.

This in mind, most rivals use genuine aluminum or hardwood inlays across the instrument panel and doors, so I was also disappointed with Buick’s choice of faux wood, despite being denser than most of the fake woodgrain it’s used in the past. Truly, I almost believed it was real, so I suppose we can give them a partial pass for looking legit while saving trees. Then again, my top-line tester’s leather upholstery was a bit low rent for the premium class, at least as far as suppleness goes. What’s more, Buick wraps the front roof pillars in fabric yet doesn’t apply this de rigueur luxury feature anywhere else, so once again the Envision doesn’t measure up to the class average.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Three-zone auto HVAC is standard, and the switchgear is good enough albeit nowhere near class leading. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
switchgear was pretty good, albeit no better than you’d find in a higher end Chevy, and ditto for the half-digital dash and infotainment touchscreen, although in this respect it’s more because all GM products are now doing a great job with their digital displays.

My tester was equipped in full load Premium II trim, which means it was equipped with nearly everything Buick could throw at it, except some obvious options that should’ve been added to optimize the experience. The most notable omission was any sort of sunroof, this especially odd because a powered panoramic glass roof is available as a standalone option for only $1,695. I’ve read that its inclusion can cramp second-row headroom, however, so possibly that’s why it wasn’t part of our
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The soft padded leatherette around the centre console is impressive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
press model’s packaging. Buick also offers a sportier looking set of machine-finished 19-inch multi-spoke alloys with metallic grey painted pockets, while a $1,975 Driver Confidence package adds full-speed range adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a 360 Surround Vision parking camera, and autonomous emergency braking, but no such luck.

I can only guess the powers that be in Oshawa didn’t want we journos griping about the price tag rubbing up against $60k when fully optioned out, which left my tester costing $49,665 before freight and fees, instead of its fully loaded MSRP of $56,825. Of course, add similar features to one of the Envision’s competitors and you’ll face similar sticker shock, or considerably more if it’s European-sourced, which makes this Buick a more value-oriented premium compact SUV, and reason enough for its reasonably strong early sales.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Faux wood is never the best, but its density felt genuine. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
it was, my unadorned Premium II tester came well stocked, its list of exclusive features including articulating HID headlamps with auto high beams, semi-autonomous self-parking, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield, adjustable driver’s seat thigh support, and ventilated front seats, while navigation is standard with Premium II trim but optional with lesser variants. Thanks to those just noted headlights upgrades, top-tier Envisions earn IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus status, while all Envision trims get five stars from the NHTSA.

Features pulled up from the lower trims include fog lamps, 19-inch 10-spoke alloys, chromed roof rails, remote engine start, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a garage door opener, a heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a large 8.0-inch colour multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, forward collision alert, a following distance indicator, blindspot monitoring with lane change alert and rear
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Nice looking seats, although the leather isn’t as supple as most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, a driver’s seat safety alert that buzzes when the above safety systems give warning, tire pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, Buick’s 8.0-inch IntelliLink infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, two USB ports, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and a review camera, plus front and rear parking sensors, OnStar 4G LTE with built-in Wi-Fi, great sounding seven-speaker Bose audio with a sub-woofer and external amplifier, satellite radio, active noise cancellation, powered front seats with driver memory, heated front and rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, a household-style 110-volt charger on the backside of the front centre console, a hands-free powered liftgate, larger rear disc brakes, active twin clutch enhanced all-wheel drive, a 3.17 final drive ratio instead of 3.50, dual stainless steel exhaust, and a more powerful engine.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
Rear seat spaciousness is excellent, the Envision delivering superb rear legroom. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
base engine is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that provides a decently robust 197 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque plus start/stop technology that temporarily shuts off the engine when it would otherwise be idling and then automatically restarts it when ready to go, helpful for both improving fuel economy and reducing emissions. I haven’t tested this engine so I can’t comment on performance, but there are certainly less potent offerings in the class. The smaller displacement 2.0-litre four-cylinder is the better choice due to turbocharging, the result being 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque for V6-like acceleration without V6-like fuel consumption.

Transport Canada claims 11.8 L/100km city, 9.1 highway, and 10.6 combined for the more formidable engine, which measures up pretty well against the larger but less powerful, the 2.5 achieving an estimated 11.1 L/100km city,
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
This is a handy underfloor cargo compartment. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
8.4 highway, and 9.9 combined. Just for interest, the Acura RDX I compared it to earlier does pretty well at 12.4 city, 8.7 highway, and 10.7 combined despite its standard 279 horsepower 3.5-litre V6 and torque-vectoring AWD.

The more powerful Envision gets a torque-vectoring rear differential too, but both SUVs offer up somewhat uninspiring six-speed automatic transmissions with manual mode in a market mostly made up of smoother, quicker shifting eight-speed autos, and unlike the Acura this Buick doesn’t offer paddle shifters. Still, the Envision’s suspension did a good job of keeping up with the engine’s surprisingly quick straight-line performance, really impressing me through fast-paced tight corners, staying solidly in its lane and not leaning as much as I expected it to, especially considering its compliant ride. The way Buick has managed
2017 Buick Envision Premium II
The cargo area finishing is good and seats fold into a flat load floor, but it comes up short on space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
to balance handling and ride quality might be this SUV’s most endearing attribute. It planted itself well on the highway too, and kept quiet enough other than a bit too much wind noise around the front pillars.

Another surprise was how nicely finished the cargo compartment was, with upscale carpeting, chromed tie-down rings, and a chromed handle for lifting the load floor up and accessing a removable divided compartment and the spare tire below. Even better, chromed levers on the cargo sidewalls lowered each portion of the 60/40-split rear seatbacks automatically. On that note, GM hasn’t learned how convenient it is to live with 40/20/40-split seatbacks and doesn’t offer a centre pass-through either, so someone in back will no doubt be complaining about not getting to use the outboard seat heaters when heading home from the ski hill.

2017 Buick Envision Premium II
GM should be proud of their new turbo-four engines as they measure up well against Euro competitors. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
both seats are lowered cargo volume is reasonably accommodating at 1,622 litres, although the RDX provides 2,178 litres (76.9 cubic feet) of total luggage space. Buick beats this Acura by a smidge with the seats upright, however, at 762 litres (26.9 cubic feet) to 739 (26.1). The roomiest behind the rear seats in this class is the Land Rover Discovery Sport at 981 litres, incidentally, and that SUV also offers class-exclusive third-row seating.

At the end of my test week it was abundantly clear the new Envision is not the best available in its ever-growing compact luxury SUV class, but as noted earlier it’s third most affordable and still plenty impressive. Hence why it’s selling quite well. Well, that along with Canada’s large population of Chinese immigrants who have a special affinity for all things Buick. This market niche is a significant opportunity GM Canada will want to cater to, but I don’t see the brand attracting as many up and coming Canadians from alternative backgrounds despite offering what is now a truly imported model.
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