Buick elevates sights for all-new 2021 Envision premium-compact crossover

2021 Buick Envision

by Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff

What changes will make the 2021 Buick Envision different?

This premium compact crossover will be fully redesigned, going upscale with svelte new styling over an all-new architecture. The 2021 Envision helps introduce a new visual theme for Buick and will for the first time be available in the brand’s opulent Avenir trim.

The 2021 Envision will remain a five-seater with a four-cylinder engine and choice of front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). It’ll again slot into Buick’s crossover lineup between the subcompact-class Encore GX and the midsize seven-seat Enclave. And like its 2016-2020 predecessor, this second-generation Encore will be built by General Motors in China.

As an “entry-level” premium-compact crossover starting around $33,000, the original Envision competed most directly with the likes of the Lincoln Corsair, Acura RDX, and Infiniti QX50. It’ll almost certainly be more expensive, but the new look and the Avenir trim should strengthen this second-generation Envision’s hand against those sorts of rivals, while Cadillac’s similarly sized XT5 remains General Motors’ answer to costlier premium-compact crossovers with more prestigious pedigrees, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, and BMW X3.

Should I wait for the 2021 Envision or buy a 2020?

2021 Buick Envision

Wait for the ’21 to see how the redesign plays out once it hits the road in late 2020. Buick released only general information about the second-generation Envision in time for this review; it’s detailed below. Overall, expect a welcome enlargement of the cabin, a needed advancement in luxury and refinement, and an appropriate step forward in style.

Wait a little longer and you’ll probably be able to score a seven-passenger version of this second-generation Envision. Not offically confirmed but likely due in calendar 2021 as a ’22 model, the Evnision GX would add a small third-row seat. It would reportedly share the five-passenger Envision’s wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) but have a slightly longer body with a boxier roofline to accommodate third-row headroom. It would also share the five-seater’s powertrain.

Buy a 2020 Envision if you’re looking for a great deal on a surprisingly rewarding premium-compact crossover. It lacks the athleticism of the top European-brand competitors but acquits itself well against comfort-minded rivals like the Corsair, QX50, even the Volvo XC60. And the attractive discounts and incentives employed to buoy sales during the Covid-19 crisis may not be in place once the 2021 Envision arrives.

The 2020 Envision model lineup consisted of Base, Preferred, and Essence trims with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and Premium and Premium II grades with a more powerful turbocharged four. The second-gen roster could divide along similar lines, although Buick hasn’t said there will be two engines, confirming only a turbocharged four-cylinder. And the only verified trim level is the Avenir, which would be the new flagship.

In any event, we see little need to be apprehensive about Envision’s China assembly affecting its build quality or reliability. Our first-generation review samples exhibited good workmanship with class-appropriate materials. And in independent surveys, customer evaluations have been almost universally positive, with no unusual quality or reliability issues.

Is 2021 Buick Envision styling different?

2021 Buick Envision

Yes, with graceful proportions and tailored sheet-metal creases that create a far more premium appearance. Most distinctive is the new front end’s integration of grille, headlamps, and vents that promotes a fresh Buick identity without exaggerating any one element. In profile and from the rear, the ’21 Envision suggests a host of other premium-compact crossovers, but at least it’s fully contemporary.

Expect all ‘21 Envisions to come with LED exterior lighting and for higher trims to get more exterior brightwork and 19-inch alloy wheels versus 18s. Introduced on select Buick cars and on the Enclave, Avenir is positioned as a virtual subbrand. Envision’s version would likely dress up with an exclusive three-dimensional mesh grille, extra chrome, and 20-inch alloys in a pearl nickel finish.

Buick hadn’t released specifications for the redesigned model, but the outgoing Envision’s 108.3-inch wheelbase was a couple inches shy of the class norm. That contributed to less overall interior volume than most competitors, even if it didn’t really make passengers feel cramped. Expect the ’21 to have a longer wheelbase — reports say it’ll be 109.4 inches — for increased legroom front and rear. It should also retain seats built for comfort, not body-hugging support, with plush padding that leaves you unfatigued after a long road trip.

In keeping with new proportions that push the wheels further toward the corners of the body, don’t anticipate the redesigned five-passenger Envision to grow much longer overall. Chances are cargo volume will remain toward the bottom of the competitive set. Still, the rear seats should again slide fore and aft to favor passenger or luggage space.

2021 Envision Avenir

Any Envision GX would likely market its third-row seat as a part-time proposition sized to accommodate preteens. It’s longer, boxier body, however, probably would provide more cargo space behind the second-row seat. Either way, we’d trust Buick to continue generous interior storage via a large center console and big door pockets.

The all-new dashboard should be far more of-the-moment, emphasizing configurable digital instrumentation and introducing Buick’s first 10-inch infotainment touchscreen. Lower-trim models may well return with an 8-inch screen. Both should be higher-definition displays, but whether either would continue within the bounds of the dashboard or become tablet-like panels is unknown.

Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto would continue as standard, and Buick says support for Amazon Alexa, Spotify, Pandora, and Fox Sports will also be available. Expect imbedded navigation that doesn’t rely on cellular signal to be available with the 10-inch system.

On the 2020 Envision, leather upholstery was standard starting with the Essence trim; expect a similar arrangement for ’21, with the Avenir distinguished by such standard amenities as a Chestnut-leather interior with Ebony piping and contrast stitching, heated and ventilated front seats, and a power tilt and telescope steering column with an automatic heated steering wheel.

Any 2021 Buick Envision mechanical changes?

2021 Buick Envision

Yes, beginning with a more advance substructure that should not only improve packaging but be more ridged, to the benefit of ride, handling, and refinement. Buick may, however, carryover powertrains largely unaltered. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission it has confirmed for the redesigned crossover is likely the same setup from the 2020 Envision Premium models. Expect a similar 252 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

In our tests, first-generation Envisions equipped with the turbo 2.0-liter delivered power smoothly, with little perceptible turbo lag (a delay in throttle response before the turbo kicks in). They had more than enough punch for confident high-speed passing and merging. Even if the ’21 Envision is larger than the ’20, advances in design and materials may mean it isn’t much heavier, so expect similar performance.

The same performance metric should hold for any base-engine offering. The outgoing Envision Base, Preferred, and Essence models came with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder of 197 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. It linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. This was the least powerful base engine in the premium-compact-crossover segment. Buick could make a similar powertrain standard on lower-trim 2021 Envisions Expect. But unless it increases output, expect acceleration to be no better than adequate and strained when attempting highway-speed merging or overtaking. Buick could probably improve performance by substituting the nine-speed automatic for the six-speed.

2020 Buick Envision

For ’20, turbo Envisions came standard with all-wheel drive. On 2.5-liter models, front-wheel drive was standard and AWD optional with the Preferred and Essence trims. The ’21 Envision would again offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, though availability based on engine and trim had not been revealed in time for this review. In any event, the AWD system will remain calibrated not for off-roading but as a snow and slick-pavement traction aid. It’ll normally operate in front-drive and shuffle power rearward when sensors detect front-tire slip.

We hope Buick takes advantage of the all-new substructure to upgrade handling, retaining the outgoing Envision’s stability on straightaways but imbuing the steering with more road feel and reducing nose plow and body lean in fast turns. It would do well to retain the smooth ride and maintain the cabin as among the quietest in the class. The turbocharged engine should again produce a refined growl when accelerating and recede into silence at cruising speeds.

Will 2021 Buick Envision fuel economy improve?

Probably, given advances in engineering and design. The outgoing Envision was among the more fuel-efficient crossovers in the class, and the redesign should maintain that standing. For reference, EPA ratings for the 2020 Envision Base, Preferred and Essence were 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 21/27/24 with AWD. With AWD only, the turbo Premium and Premium II rated 20/25/22 mpg. A 2019 Premium II review sample averaged 22.5 mpg in our suburban test loop.

Any seven-passenger Envision GX would likely be marginally heavier, which could reduce fuel efficiency slightly.

All ’21 Envisions should again employ engine idle stop/start capability. Buick to recommend but not require premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for the turbocharged engine while specifying 87-octane regular for any non-turbo base engine.

Will there be new 2021 Buick Envision features?

2021 Buick Envision

Yes, and the most important advance is a host of safety features as standard equipment. This corrects an unseemly situation in which key driver assists, such as autonomous emergency braking, were available only on the most expensive Envision, the Premium II model, and then only as part of a $1,545 Driver Confidence Package.

Buick says every 2021 Envision will come standard with autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the crossover to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Also standard will be lane-maintaining automatic steering correction, rear-seat occupancy reminder, and sensors that warn if you’re following too closely.

Buick says blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection will be available, which suggests standard or optional, depending on model. We’d urge it to make this important safety adjunct standard on all Envisions, as appropriate for a premium-segment vehicle. Under the “available” heading, the automaker also lists a surround-vision camera, head-up instrument display, hands-free automatic parking, and a rearview mirror that uses video to “see through” passengers or cargo blocking the normal mirror view.

Returning as standard equipment for all models should be active noise cancellation, GM’s excellent OnStar telematics with built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, multiple USB charging ports, heated power-adjustable front seats, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a hands-free programmable power rear liftgate. Standard or optional depending on model grade would be such features as three-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, driver-seat memory function, heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Buick Marketplace, an app that enables on-the-go Yelp reservations at a variety of restaurants though the infotainment touchscreen, should also be availble. It lets users search searches for restaurants in a 25-mile radius of the vehicle location and reserve a table for up to 10 people. Users can segment their search by types of cuisine, such as Seafood or Mexican, and view the restaurant’s rating and general price range. The app also lets drivers call a restaurant directly.

Will 2021 Buick Envision prices be different?

2021 Buick Envision

They’ll almost certainly increase — how much hinges on a variety of factors, including GM’s plan to recover sales lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the confirmed turbo engine, expect base prices to start around $42,000 with front-wheel drive, or around $44,000 if AWD is standard. (These estimates include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which as $4,195 for the 2020 Envision). With the turbo engine, AWD, and few if any available options, the loaded 2021 Envision Avenir flagship would likely be priced around $51,000.

If Buick offers a non-turbo base engine, look for a base-price range of around $34,000 for an entry-level model to some $38,000 for an upper-trim version. AWD would add around $2,000 to these models.

When does the 2021 Buick Envision come out?

Barring a pandemic-related delay, look for 2021 Buick Envision release date in summer 2020.

Best 2021 Buick Envision competitors

Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discover Sport, Lincoln Corsair, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]