Topping the 2018 Buick Envision wish list: better styling, broader access to safety features

2018 Buick Envision

2018 Buick Envision

What changes will make the 2018 Buick Envision different?

Updated styling and, if Buick’s generous, wider availability of key safety features, including autonomous emergency braking. If the styling facelift feels a bit fast-tracked it’s because this five-passenger compact crossover was just recently launched, as a late 2016 model. And sales have been healthy, helped by the surging popularity of smallish SUVs and particularly upscale ones like this. Envision does play in the premium-compact crossover segment, and while some versions are priced like the Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benz’s of the class, Buick acknowledges the “entry-luxury” Acura RDX and Lincoln MKC are more direct rivals.

Being a Buick, ride comfort and a quiet cabin take precedence over driving dynamics. The styling is decidedly unsporting, too. The grille wears the brand’s trademark “waterfall” vertical-bar theme. But body lines that manage to look both awkward and generic may well reflect the tastes of Envision’s Chinese audience. Indeed, this is the first domestic-brand vehicle built in China and imported to the U.S. Whether the facelift results in a more graceful and distinctive Envision awaits the 2018 model’s arrival.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To evaluate the updates. They won’t be drastic, but should help Envision look more contemporary and perhaps more distinctive. Waiting isn’t apt to give you access to more power. The 2017 model’s two four-cylinder engine choices should return virtually unchanged. So should a model line built around those engines. Three trim levels — Base, Preferred and Essence – will return with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter, and two – Premium I and Premium II – with a turbocharged 2.0-liter.

Sharing an underskin structure with the Chevrolet Equinox, Envision will again slot in Buick’s crossover lineup between the subcompact Encore and the larger, three-seating-row Enclave. Don’t anticipate notable additions to its praiseworthy range of features. Even the Base version, for example, should again come with heated front seats and a hands-free power liftgate. A host of other upscale amenities will return, as outlined below.

However, we urge Buick to expand availability of the Driver Confidence Package beyond the flagship Premium II model. Offering this $1,545 option on lesser models would equip them with autonomous emergency braking designed to bring the vehicle to a stop automatically to avoid a frontal collision. Driver Confidence Packaged-equipped 2017 Envision Premium II models merited the coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Buick would do well to extend that eligibility to ’18 Envisions purchased by families that can’t afford the flagship trim.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Only if you have a pressing need for an entry-luxury compact crossover, this one lights your fire, and you get a great deal. There are fine alternatives in the $41,000-$44,000 base-price range of Envision’s core Essence and Premium I models. We’d begin with the RDX. For that money, we’d also seriously consider the redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia. It’s technically not a premium-class crossover, but it’s roomier and better-looking than the Buick, and it’s available with a smooth V-6 and plenty of luxury features.

As noted earlier, though, lots of crossover shoppers have found the ’17 Envision to their liking. It’s Buick’s fastest-selling vehicle and ranks about midpack in the segment, behind such models as the Cadillac XT5 and Audi Q5 (and RDX), but ahead of the MKC, Infiniti QX50, and Volvo XC60. Great deals may have something to do with that. Transaction prices are well below sticker prices and factory incentives are plentiful. In March 2017, for example, GM was offering up to $2,000 in cash back on ’17 Envisions, and financing as low as 2.9 percent.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but don’t expect more than fractional changes to Envision’s exterior dimensions. Bumper-to-bumper, it will likely remain among the longer crossovers in the class, while the wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles – will remain among the shortest. The relationship of those measurements, combined with a relatively narrow body, may well continue to contribute to this crossover’s ungainly proportions.

Some version of the waterfall grille will undoubtedly return, perhaps bracketed by slimmer headlamps. We hope stylists seize the ripest opportunity for an appearance upgrade by ridding the body sides and especially the front fenders of discordant lines, creases, bulges, and curves.

There’s not much designers can do about a cabin too narrow to comfortably fit three adults in the back seat (in fairness, most rivals aren’t dramatically more accommodating). The rear seat does slide fore and aft and its backrest reclines. Four grownups get ample legroom front and rear, the seating itself is cushy if not overly supportive in turns or under your thighs.

Gauges and controls are well-marked and nicely laid out. Richer interior materials would help the ’18 Envision justify its premium-class billing. For ’17, leather upholstery is standard on the Essence and Premium trims, but no model features real wood or genuine metal accents, and most cabin plastics are run-of-the-mill GM. Interior storage space is ample, and at 26.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 57.3 with them folded, cargo volume is nothing special for a crossover this size.

Any mechanical changes?

Nothing likely. Expect Base, Preferred and Essence models to return with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’ll again make around 197 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. That trails the output of virtually every rival and results in acceleration that’s leisurely at best and subpar for the class.

The Premium I and II will reprise a far more appropriate turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That’s comparable with the base engine of most premium-compact-crossover competitors and results in good all-around pickup. Both engines should again link with a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth operator, but a little behind the curve in a class rife with seven-, eight-, and even nine-speed automatics. Most rivals also offer steering-wheel paddle shifters for manual-type gear control; Envision does not.

Front-wheel drive probably will again be mandatory on the 2018 Envision Base model. Preferred and Essence trims would again be available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Expect a more sophisticated AWD system to remain standard on Premium I and II models. Called Twin Clutch AWD and similar to the system featured on the XT5 and the Acadia All Terrain model, it can direct full power to the front or rear wheels and split it laterally at the rear axle. That improves handling and, along with the Premium models’ tauter suspension and steering calibrations and their 19-inch wheels and tires, makes for capable, enjoyable handling. Road manners still don’t match European-brand rivals, but they’re sharper than those of the Base, Preferred and Essence models. Those lower-trim Envisions do absorb bumps better than the Premiums, however, thanks in part to their more compliant 18-inch tires. Overall, though, expect ride comfort to remain a selling point for any 2018 version of this Buick.

Will fuel economy improve?

Absent mechanical changes, highly unlikely. Expect 2018 EPA ratings to mirror the 2017 numbers. For Base, Preferred, and Essence models, that means ratings of 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/28/24 mpg with AWD. That should again be among best in class and be some compensation for the 2.5-liter engine’s middling acceleration. Look for Premium I and II to again rate 20/26/22 mpg, placing them on par with turbo-2.0-liter competitors of similar power.

Buick likely will continue to recommended premium-octane gas for the turbo Envisions.

It’ll also continue to equip all models with an idle stop-start system designed to save gas in city driving by turning off the engine when the vehicle is stationary and restarting it automatically when the driver releases the brake pedal. Unlike most such systems, this one doesn’t give the driver a button to disable it, although restarts are prompt enough and relatively free of judder.

Will it have new features?

Probably no new ones, but we’d welcome more liberal distribution of safety features. A good start would be making the Driver Confidence Package standard on the Premium models and at least available on other Envision trims. Besides autonomous emergency braking, the package includes two other useful helpers: adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and surround-view video to aid close-quarters maneuvering.

Buick should also reconsider its decision to make other driver assists exclusive to the Premium I and II. These include lane-maintaining automatic steering and forward-collision and rear-cross-traffic alerts. Similarly, blind-spot warning shouldn’t continue to be limited to Essence and Premium trims.

Otherwise, the 2018 Envision will again draw on GM’s vast parts bin for what Buick, um, envisions, as appropriate premium-compact-crossover kit. Expect Base and Preferred versions to return with the standard heated power front seats and with alloy wheels; combination cloth-and-leatherette upholstery; keyless entry with pushbutton start; Bluetooth and USB connectivity; and a generously sized 8-inch dashboard touchscreen with infotainment support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Essence and the Premium models would again include all that, plus a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and tri-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat controls The Premium II should return with cooled front seats and both Premium models with a head up instrument display. An imbedded navigation system should return as standard on the Premium II and a reasonably priced $496 option for Essence and Premium I.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly increase, but not radically. Relative affordability will remain a calling card. Even if a well-optioned 2018 Premium II stickers for $51,000, that’ll still undercut similarly equipped Euro rivals by thousands of dollars. Estimated base prices here include Buick’s destination fee, which was $925 on the ’17 Envision.

Barring major adjustments to equipment levels, estimated ’18 Envision starting prices are $35,300 for the Base model, $37,200 for the Preferred, and $39,100 for the Essence. Expect AWD to again add $1,850 to a Preferred or Essence. Estimated 2018 base prices for models with the turbo engine and standard AWD are $43,600 for the Premium I and $46,300 for the Premium II.

Noteworthy factory options should again include bright 19-inch alloy wheels with midnight-silver pockets as a $3,095 option for AWD Preferred or Essence models and a $1,995 upgrade to a Premium I or II. Expect a panoramic moonroof to return as a $1,495 option for the Essence and Premium models.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2018 Buick Envision release date in the third quarter 2017.

Best competitors

Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadilla ST5, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Volvo XC60

What change would make it better?

Cleaner styling, better interior materials, more supportive seats, a stronger base engine, and wider availability of top safety features.

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]