Drive: Buick's 2021 Envision Avenir checks all the luxury boxes

The Buick Envision is a compact sport-utility vehicle that someone had to build. It fills the substantial void between models like the Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape, and high-end SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Lexus NX. General Motors’ Buick division, with solid name recognition in the near-luxury segment, does the job effectively.

The base Envision starts at $32,995, well below the price point common among the best European, American, Japanese and South Korean competitors. Its substantial Asian influence— the Envision is assembled in China; its smaller Buick stablemate, the Encore, in South Korea —is reflected in its strong standard-equipment list. The base Envision Preferred comes with such desirable features as forward pedestrian braking, 8-way power driver’s seat, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, lane change alert with blind-spot monitor, and lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning. And all Envisions come with the same engine-transmission combination —a 230-horsepower turbocharged inline Four, with a 9-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

Our test car was a top-of-the-line Envision Avenir, and its standard equipment nudged it from the near-luxury to the full-on luxury category. Base-priced at $40,200, our Envision came in at $45,305 with options. Its many luxury features included heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, driver’s seat massage function, heated steering wheel, navigation system, perforated leather upholstery and a surround-view camera system. The panoramic sunroof was a $1,450 option.

To wear the Buick logo, the Envision and other SUVs must maintain the brand’s traditions of strong performance, luxurious accommodations and smooth ride. The Envision checks all of those boxes. We were impressed with the quiet of the cabin, even at highway speeds, and riding qualities that were more soft and compliant than we expected, since the test car was shod with 20-inch tires. The brakes inspired confidence, stopping the car quickly and smoothly. Like the big Buick sedans of the past, the Envision had a very light steering touch that reduced road feel, but the car’s cornering capabilities were acceptable.

The Envision is competently designed, with plenty of space for small items in the front seats and easy conversion from 5-passenger SUV to cargo carrier. Climate, audio and other interior controls are well marked and intuitively designed. Head room and knee room are sufficient, front and back. That hasn’t always been our experience with compact SUVs.

Our Envision, with front-wheel drive, was rated at 24 mpg city, 31 highway, using premium unleaded gasoline. We averaged about 25 mpg in mostly urban driving.

Equipped with all-wheel drive, the Envision’s fuel economy declines to 22/29. Those are acceptable numbers for this segment, though some, including the Lexus NX hybrid, offers higher mpg levels.

2021 Buick Envision Avenir FWD

Price: $45,305

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 230 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 9-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, 5-link rear

Ground clearance: 6.7 in.

Curb weight: 3,759 lb.

Wheels: 20-in. aluminum Avenir Pearl Nickel

Tires: P245/45R20, all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 25.2 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 52.7 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 15.9 gal.

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 31 highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)

The 2021 Envision received 5-star ratings in government crash tests for overall, frontal and side-crash protection. Rollover risk was rated at 4 stars.

In addition to the Envision and Encore, Buick builds a midsize SUV, the Enclave. Of the three, the Enclave —built in Lansing, Mich. —is Buick's only U.S.-built SUV.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.