Safety-feature generosity tops list of needs for 2020 Buick Envision

2020 Buick Envision

2020 Buick Envision

What changes will make the 2020 Buick Envision different?

Probably not much. Expect little more than some new paint-color choices — and higher asking prices – following the model-year-2019 refresh of Buick’s premium compact crossover SUV. The midcycle changes updated Envision’s exterior and interior styling, added features, and refined the driving experience. The ’19 updates should carry the Envision to its next full redesign, likely for the 2022 model year, with few if any additional changes.

Envision launched in the U.S. market for model-year 2016 and was one of the first vehicles built in China to be imported to North America. This five-seater fills the gap in Buick’s crossover lineup between the smaller, subcompact Encore (Buick’s best-selling vehicle) and the larger Enclave, which can seat up to eight.

After a strong start, Envision sales cooled considerably and were down more than 25 percent through the first half of 2018. By contrast, sales of Encore and Enclave are each up about 15 percent. Further, the premium-compact crossover segment enjoyed a 15 percent jump in sales through June 2018. Have shoppers somehow grown wary of Envision’s China origin and perhaps unsure about long-term reliability? Or is competition just too strong?

We can say confidently that our experiences with the Envision in short-term testing have largely been positive: it’s a smooth, quiet, and refined compact crossover priced to undercut the more prestigious nameplates in this class, including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and Acura RDX, as well as the XT5 from General Motors sibling-brand, Cadillac.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Consider a ’19. It’s styling and features won’t change for 2020, and buying one helps you sidestep year-over-year price inflation for what’ll basically be a repeat model. The 2020 Envision model lineup is almost certain to repeat the ’19 roster: Base, Preferred, Essence, Premium, and Premium II.

One reason to wait for the 2020 Envision, though, would be to see if Buick expands availability of key safety features. On the ’19, for example, lane-departure warning with lane maintaining automatic steering is offered only on the top-line Premium and Premium II grades.

All 2020 Envisions would carry over with a four-cylinder engine – naturally aspirated on the Base, Preferred and Essence models and turbocharged for more power in the Premium and Premium II versions. Front-wheel drive would remain standard on the Base, Preferred, and Essence. Optional on Preferred and Essence and standard on Premium and Premium II would be all-wheel drive (AWD).

Will the styling be different?

No, because Buick updated it for 2019. The ’20 will carry over the freshened Envision’s new front fascia and revised grille with a horizonal chrome bar that brought the look in line with that of the Encore and Enclave. Base, Preferred, and Essence trims gained standard xenon headlamps while Premium and Premium II will return with full LED front lighting. New wheel designs contributed to a more contemporary look, and the rear end received a nip/tuck for a cleaner overall appearance. LED taillights became standard.

The interior changed little for 2019 and expect the same functional control layout for 2020. All grades will again use a variant of Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system with built-in support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. The climate controls will retain large buttons that are easy to use, even if they’ll remain be mounted quite low on the center of the dashboard.

Envision is actually a smidge smaller than most premium-compact-crossover rivals, but four adults are by no means cramped and the cabin exudes a sense of comfort and tranquility. Pillow-soft seats make road trips a delight, even if they don’t do a great job locking you in place if you’re driving fast on twisting roads. Cargo capacity will remain slightly below the class average, at 26.9 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks raised and 57.3 with them folded. The second-row seat can slide fore and aft to benefit passenger or luggage space.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely. Expect Base, Preferred, and Essence models to retain a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine of 197 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. It’ll almost certainly again link to a 6-speed automatic transmission. This is the least powerful engine in the segment and acceleration is adequate at best. You’ll benefit from advanced planning before attempting high-speed passing or merging maneuvers.

The 2020 Envision Premium and Premium II models will reprise a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 252 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. For 2019, Buick increased this engine’s torque by a substantial 35 pound-feet and wisely swapped a 6-speed automatic transmission for a 9-speed automatic. The changes brought this 2.0 in line with the output of most direct rivals and improved throttle response and fuel-economy ratings, making one of the ’20 Premium models your best bet for drama-free driving in an Envision.

Any 2020 Envision should remain among the segment’s quietest, best-riding vehicles. Few SUVs of any stripe are more hushed on the road. Still, no Envision is a corner-carver, but road manners are confident and free of surprises.

The Premium models do best in spirited driving. Credit three advantages over the Base, Preferred and Essence models. First, they have 19-inch wheels and tires for more contact with the road, versus the other models’ 18s. Second, Buick fits them with its HiPer Strut front suspension. Essentially an evolution of the traditional MacPherson-strut suspension system, HiPer Strut is designed to reduce noise and vibration transmitted to the cabin, improve steering response, and maximize grip and stability during rapid acceleration off the line or out of slow corners. It works remarkably well but is complex to engineer and expensive to produce, which is why you don’t see it on more vehicles.

Third, Premium grades get Buick’s Active Twin Clutch AWD system. Like the more basic AWD system on the other Envisions, it quells tire slip by shuffling power between the front and rear wheels automatically; in the Twin Clutch’s case, up to 100 percent. But unlike the basic system, it can dynamically split the available torque between the individual rear wheels, helping power the Envision out of turns. Though they’re not as sporty-driving as class standouts like the RDX, Q5, X3 – or certainly the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Porsche Macan, or Jaguar F-Pace –Premium-grade Envisions more than hold their own against similarly powered versions of the GLC or Lincoln MKC.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no likely powertrain changes, expect the 2020 Envision to repeat its 2019 EPA ratings. That would leave it no better than midpack for fuel economy in this segment.

Expect Base, Preferred and Essence models to again rate a slightly below average 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 21/27/24 with AWD. Preferred versions with their 2.0-liter turbo and mandatory AWD would again rate 20/25/22 mpg.

Both engines are equipped with a fuel-saving function that shuts them off when the vehicle is stopped (retaining power to accessories) and automatically restarts them when the driver releases the brake pedal. For 2019, GM added a dashboard switch to disable this feature. The 2.5-liter engine would again use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline while Buick will continue to recommend premium-grade 91 octane for the 2.0 turbo.

Will there be new features?

New features are unlikely, but we would urge Buick to extent important driver-assistance items to the entirety of the 2020 Envision lineup. That would correct the model-year 2019 situation in which only the Premium and Premium II versions, which start at more than $43,000, have autonomous emergency braking, adaptive radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, and lane-maintaining automatic steering. Further, Base and Preferred models were unavailable with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection for 2019.

Those features are standard on most competitors, and even on many non-premium-class crossovers. Buick’s parsimonious approach is lamentable because Envision is otherwise rather well-equipped. All versions should again come standard with heated power front seats, pushbutton ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, power rear liftgate, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment, onboard Wi-Fi hotspot capability, dual front USB ports, LED daytime running lights, and active noise cancellation.

For 2020, expect the Preferred grade to again add rear-obstacle detection and hands-free operation for the power liftgate. Essence should continue to build on that with three-zone automatic climate control, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, genuine leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, and heated outboard rear seats.

In addition to the upgraded engine and AWD, expect the ’20 Envision Premium to again include all the above, plus a Bose-brand audio system. The Premium II would get all that, plus hands-free parallel park assist, cooled front seats, and a head-up instrument display. Expect imbedded navigation to remain standard on the Premium II and return as a reasonable $495 option for the Essence and Premium.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Bet on some increase but nothing drastic, given falling sales, hotter competition, and little change for 2020. Base-price estimates include manufacturer destination fee, which was $995 for the 2019 Envision.

Expect the 2020 Envision Base grade to be priced from about $33,500. With front-wheel drive, estimated base price is $35,000 for the ’20 Envision Preferred and $37,000 for the Essence. Expect AWD to add $1,750 to these base prices.

Estimated base prices are $42,000 for the ’20 Envision Premium and $45,000 for the Premium II. The Premium would be our pick for best value since it has the more desirable engine, better AWD system, HiPer Strut suspension, and the most available driver-assistance features.

When does it come out?

Release date for the 2020 Buick Envision will likely be in the third quarter of 2019.

Best competitors

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

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to 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, 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]