The Envision competes with the Acura RDX, Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC (see them compared).
Exterior & Styling
The Envision doesn't break any new ground in the styling department. It's got a conventional SUV/crossover body shape that's more rounded and soft than the angular features of the RDX. There are holes in the hood that echo past Buick models, as well as a grille with a very large Buick badge.
It's a good thing those styling features were there, though, because in a crowded parking lot it would have been otherwise hard to find the Envision. If blending into the background is your thing, the Envision is right up your alley.
How It Drives
Its ride is the Envision's best feature. It's comfortable. It was never designed to be sporty, and that shows, with a luxury-class ride that's good over rough roads and potholes. At the same time, it doesn't feel too soft at highway speeds. That's a tough thing to get right, and Buick nailed it with the Envision.
The rest of the driving isn't as great. There's a mushy brake pedal and acceleration that is, at best, on par with the rest of the class. Overall, the RDX is the most agile of the comparison group, with the Q5 somewhat behind in terms of driving enjoyment. The MKC and Envision are at the other, cushier end of the spectrum.
If blending into the background is your thing, the Envision is right up your alley.
There's a few available drivetrains, and your choice affects mileage. We tested an Envision Essence front-wheel-drive model with a 197-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that got an EPA-estimated 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined. That same engine is available with all-wheel drive, which earns a 21/28/24 mpg rating. All-wheel drive can also be had with a 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's rated 20/26/22 mpg.
The Envision's materials and overall build quality are good, but at this price and against its competitors, there's really no excuse for it not to be. The available wood trim and leather seating surfaces all look good and the panel gaps are consistent. Overall, it looks like time and care went into building the Envision, but a few generic/holdover GM switches in a few key places dampen the mood. In a luxury car, the last thing you want to think is, "I believe I've seen those climate controls on a non-luxury brand I drove recently... ."
The Q5 has the best interior of the group both in terms of materials and in terms of quality. While all the Envision's switches and buttons feel substantial and nice, I can't rank it significantly better than the rest of the group.
Setting that aside, the Envision is roomy both front and back. For such a small SUV, backseat room in particular is quite good.
However, I personally could not find a comfortable driving position in the Envision. The steering wheel does telescope, but it didn't telescope close enough for my needs. So I could either sit close enough to the wheel and have my legs crammed in tight, or have my legs comfortable but feel like I was reaching too far with my arms.
It also didn't help that I didn't find the seats supportive at all. I always felt like I was sitting on top of them as if I were sitting on a board rather than something sculpted, like a car seat usually is.
Finally, outward visibility is good in all directions. That's surprising because the windshield pillars rake back toward the driver at a shallow angle, yet it was never hard for me to see out the Envision, either when parking or while driving on the highway.
What's interesting is that the Envision is built in China, making it the first China-built car from an American brand sold in the U.S. Despite my discomfort and the climate switches, overall it's a good, but not spectacular, effort.
Ergonomics & Electronics
This is one area where the Envision stands head and shoulders above the competition. It's not that the controls are revolutionary, they just do what they do very well. They make your life easier.
An easy example is the powered rear hatch on our test model. It's got a height adjustment, as many do, but unlike others that bury that adjustment in a submenu on the multimedia screen, this one is a simple knob you turn. It's a small thing, but it makes that small thing so much easier to do, you might actually use it.
It's the same for the multimedia system. Our test model came with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the standard GM system for switching from radio to a different audio input and so forth worked well.
The only odd thing — though it was something I liked — was the touch-sensitive adjustment for both the interior temperature and the heated seats. It seemed out-of-place considering the amount of physical buttons throughout the cabin, but it was easy and intuitive to use, so it was fine for me.
Cargo & Storage
The Envision is a compact SUV, and you'll be reminded of that when you see the cargo area. I used the Envision for a camping trip and found it to be tighter than comparable SUVs I've tested lately. If you're the sort of person who's a heavy packer and/or usually carries people in the backseat, you'll want to look at the cargo area. Especially with the rear seats slid back to offer the most legroom, the cargo area is tight.
The rest of the cabin is OK but not great. There's a medium-sized center console, but that's it for interior storage. It was large enough for my iPhone 6 and several other items, so the lack of other storage options wasn't as problematic, but there certainly wasn't a lot of room to spare.
The Buick Envision received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick Plus rating for earning the highest rating of good (out of a possible good, acceptable, fair and poor) in all crashworthiness tests and a score of advanced (out of a possible not available, basic, advanced and superior) in front crash prevention with optional equipment.
Our test vehicle didn't include the available front crash prevention equipment but did include a backup camera, a rear cross-traffic alert system and blind spot monitoring.
Value in Its Class
The more I drove the Envision the more I thought it was a worthy competitor to other small SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and others in our 2016 Compact SUV Challenge. What's bad for the Envision is that our test model cost roughly $8,000 more than those competitors — and even at that, I'm not convinced the Envision would win the Challenge.
Consider the Envision against comparably priced models — MDX, Q5 and MKC — and it starts to look worse for the Buick. While it does have a very good ride, it just can't measure up to the interior quality of the Acura or Audi. The MKC and Envision are close, but in terms of materials and quality, I still give the edge to the Lincoln.
It's a shame, because the Envision is a comfortable little SUV. Buick just needs to figure out a way to bring the price down, or spruce up the interior, to make it competitive.