Buick has consistently sold more than 200,000 cars and SUVs in the U.S. each year for the past five years. That’s stronger performance than either of its closest rivals, Acura or Lincoln. However, the company sells more than a million Buicks every year in China. That’s huge. It’s good for Buick’s bottom line, but it also means that more than a few of the company’s vehicles are engineered and produced for the needs and desires of the Chinese market first. The Envision is just such a product. Last year, Buick sold just over 40,000 of them here but more than 236,000 of them in China. And while the Envision was first imported to our shores in the 2016 model year, it’s been on sale in China since 2014, so it was clearly time for an update.
The mechanical makeup of the 2019 Buick Envision doesn’t stray too far from the current model. And that’s especially true for the roughly 70 percent of Envision buyers who stay with the standard powertrain. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic, as well as its optional all-wheel-drive system, are unchanged for 2019. However, those willing to step up and spend more to have the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will be rewarded with a 35 lb-ft of torque bump, to 295. Buick was able to increase that torque output because the engine is now paired to GM’s excellent nine-speed automatic. The horsepower remains at 252, just like last year.
All turbocharged Envisions receive GM’s smart active twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system which can send torque across the rear axle. This turbo powertrain is available as an option on the $41,695 Premium trim and standard on the $44,594 Premium II models. Other mechanical upgrades include a new brake booster which provides more brake fluid sooner for improved stopping power and a deactivation switch for the engine stop/start function. One of our favorite new features is Tire Fill Alert, which does away with the need for a tire pressure gauge when filling a low tire. Simply air-up and the Envision will alert you when the tire hits the correct pressure.
The modifications to the outside of the 2019 Envision are subtle. The grille and front fascia have been redesigned to more closely align the Envision with other Buick cars and SUVs in the lineup. The most noticeable changes are apparent at the rear of the vehicle where Buick has fitted new taillights and sculpted fenders. It creates a look that’s a little more distinctive and sets the Envision apart from the sea of crossovers on the road. The lighting package is improved on all models with new high-intensity discharge (HID) units on 2.5-liter models and LEDs on turbos. Finally, every Envision receives a new wheel design.
On the inside, Buick has installed a standard air ionizer for the climate control system to help eliminate odors. You can thank the pollution-choked conditions in many Chinese cities for that one. Buick also redesigned the seat heaters to warm more quickly and upgraded the rear camera system to switch from light to dark conditions more smoothly. And Buick now allows the driver to choose between conventional cruise control or adaptive cruise on models so-equipped. If you’re like us, these mods don’t exactly have you jumping out of your skin with excitement. But these changes, particularly in the powertrain department, do make for an improved Envision.
The Envision may be imported from China, but on the inside it feels every bit like an American Buick. And that’s most obvious in the choice of leather. On our $44,595 Premium II tester, the heated and cooled leather seats were smooth, softly padded and felt upscale. Perhaps less impressive was the tiny clock on the dash and the questionable authenticity of the dark gray grained “wood.” And we found the touch controls for the climate control required a frustratingly firm push to change temperature.
This top-level trim also includes forward collision alert, lane keep assist, a heads-up display system, navigation, wireless charging for the latest phones and more. The Envision is known for its roomy rear seat thanks to the long 108.3-inch wheelbase. And that helps the Buick carve out more rear-seat legroom and cargo space than its close competitor, the Lincoln MKC. My 6-foot frame had plenty of room to cross my legs and get comfy in the reclining back seat. Plus, there’s enough room that parents should find an easy time fitting rear-facing child seats without crowding front seat passengers.
We didn’t get a chance to sample the 2.5-liter Envision, but the upgraded turbocharged four-cylinder and new nine-speed automatic are excellent. Acceleration is brisk and would certainly break the front tires into a haze of smoke if it weren’t for the all-wheel-drive system. Buick says the powertrain modifications drop almost a half-second from the 0-60-mph times. That said, the standard engine in Lincoln’s MKC is turbocharged and makes almost as much horsepower and torque. Lincoln’s optional turbo motor exceeds the Envision’s numbers by 33 hp and 10 lb-ft of torque. That stuff is important to you and me — but probably less so to the average Envision owner. They want a roomy interior, quietness and a comfortable ride. And the Envision certainly delivers all three.
The isolation from the outside world is impressive. And the nine-speed helps the engine shuffle along at a calm 1,800 rpm at 70 mph. From the smooth highways outside Atlanta on up through the mountain roads that eventually lead to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, the Envision’s ride was supple. On the tightest roads, at moderate speeds, the Envision felt planted thanks to the 19-inch tires and that smart all-wheel-drive system. But when pushed harder on this terrain, we noticed the Envision could use a sport mode in that transmission.
If there’s one thing crossover buyers today have plenty of, it’s choices. And the Envision has strong competitors in its size and price class from every continent. The case for the Envision is strongest in the lower, less expensive trim levels. This is a solid vehicle in that low-$30,000 price class. But as much as we liked our Envision and its strong turbo, the near-$45K sticker is pricey. After all, you can slide into a base Mercedes-Benz GLC300 for $40,050 or the Audi Q5 for $41,500. And those are both machines we’d enjoy piloting more on our morning commute.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $32,990
As Tested Price: $44,595
Powertrain: 2.5-liter I4 or 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, FWD/AWD, 6-speed or 9-speed automatic
Output: 197 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 192 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm; 252 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,755 lbs (FWD); 4,083 lbs (AWD)
Fuel Economy: 21/28/23(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Soft leather; comfortable, roomy back seat
Cons: Pricey performance and tech, snoozy styling