In a segment where Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are the undisputed kings of the segment, the 2021 Buick Envision Avenir lies in a very interesting place in the pecking order. On the one hand, it’s expected to compete with these makes, but at the same time, it also has to appeal to a wider pool of mainstream luxury SUV buyers. That’s an unenviable position for any model, but Buick is confident that it can maximize Envision’s potential with buyers. The first generation model scratched the surface, but it lacked some of the precision needed to make the Envision a proper luxury contender. Buick aims to fix this with the 2021 Envision, but can an injection of new styling and technology make the Envision a true world-beater?
Envision’s Finely Tailored Suit Comes Loaded With Charm
A big part of the Envision’s transformation lies in the sheer amount of changes Buick made to the Envision’s design. What was once bland, uninspired, and as spineless as Jerry Smith from Rick and Morty has matured into a chiseled physique that comes with a slight degree of aggression. The front fascia takes its inspiration from recent Buick concepts and features honed headlights, a reworked front grille, and a tweaked hood that has more character in its lines. Avenir models also get a trim exclusive mesh design for the front grille and strategically placed badging.
The side profile is a typical SUV in basic practice, but two prominent character lines work together with the toned roofline and shiny 20-inch wheels to create a vibrant design that does a good job of working with what it has. This sleekness leads the eye to the rear, which is arguably the blandest part of the whole presentation. Avenir models like our tester have clear taillights, but the rest of the rear feels like an overdone cliche. The rear bumper, for example, does not have integrated exhaust tips and from some angles it seems a bit bloated. With Buick ditching all of its car models and going all-in on SUVs, the Envision is aiming to lure in skeptical buyers that might not consider an SUV their ideal styling choice and having a unified design language from end to end will help the Envision shine in this role. Here’s hoping that Buick designers are taking notes.
Envision’s Interior Has Potential That’s Marred By Poor Material Choices And Ergonomics
Slip inside the 2021 Envision and you are greeted with a very interesting interior. The outgoing model felt like a hodgepodge of themes were inserted in with all of them fighting for control of the design. This time, the cabin has a more unified front, with the design doing a better job of embracing its core identity. The dashboard is richer and actually ripples and flows towards the driver. As for the front passenger, you might feel like you got left out in the cold with your eyes only seeing a large swath of dark-colored trim, a glovebox, and an air vent.
The idea here is to try and make the Envision into more of a driver’s special with the strong canting towards the driver being reminiscent of a Corvette. While it does make the Envision stands out from other rivals, the strong angle to the driver does make reaching some of the controls a bit awkward with the volume control knob being one of the more prominent offenders.
However, the biggest gripe we had with the interior was some of Buick’s questionable material choices. In the Avenir, they stand out a lot more when you consider that the Avenir is not only the trim that’s supposed to represent a higher rung for Buick buyers to climb, but that a fully optioned version can go for just over $45,000. At that price point, you would expect things to be taken up a notch, but we discovered some cheap plastics, wood trim that was obviously collected from a plastic-derived species of plant, and odd button placement.
It’s a shame too since there are some hidden gems that try their hardest to make up for the quirks. The front 12-way power-adjustable front leather seats are very comfortable, and Avenir models even add a massaging seat for the drive to go along with the heated and cooled cushions. The 10.2-inch infotainment system is really easy to use and it even comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability coming standard. We even liked the nifty push-pull gear selector for the transmission, which opens up storage space in the center console and has a relatively short learning curve.
Serenity And Quiet Take Priority Over Performance And Sharp Handling In Envision
When you look at the Envision’s performance credentials you would naturally assume that the Envision has some pep to back up its claims. In theory, it seems like it has a lot of the essentials with the shapely utility being powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 228 hp and is mated to a nine-speed automatic. The new engine is an attempt to simplify the lineup, with the 252 hp version of the 2.0 liter and the old 197 hp 2.5-liter base engine all being dropped for 2021.
With this seemingly sporty combination in place, it’s somewhat surprising to see that the Envision is actually slower to 60 mph, with the 2021 model doing the deed in 7.3 seconds. That’s 0.3 slower than the outgoing model, and the handling prefers to show off its cruising manners versus navigating a set of tight corners. The steering feel in the Envision is about as muted as it can get with even the seemingly risque “Sport Mode” doing little to filter out the muted vibes of the steering rack.
But allow the Envision to do what it does naturally and you are rewarded with a very serene driving experience. Ride quality is very smooth, and the sound deadening does a good job of silencing the bulk of wind and tire noise. The extra amounts of silence allowed us to fully appreciate the tunes from the premium stereo and focus on the fat gobs of low-end torque that helped give our tester an edge in city and freeway driving.
Pricing for the 2021 Buick Envision starts at $34,795 for a base Preferred model, which is a touch lower than the $36,105 Lincoln Corsair and the $38,400 Acura MDX. Range-topping Avenir models like our tester start at $43,395, with our lightly optioned example having a final price of $45,305. This pricing puts the Avenir in a bizarre spot with that figure putting it in contention with the mid-range Corsair Reserve (versus the Black Label Model) and is only a few thousand less than a $48,700 RDX with all-wheel-drive and the Advance Package. The Avenir does have a price advantage when compared with the $50,295 Volvo XC60 Inscription.
The Avenir also has a noticeable edge over the German big three in this category too, but like a double-edged sword, the Avenir does come up short when it comes to certain equipment.
As a whole, the 2021 Buick Envision is a much-improved package even in range-topping Avenir trim. The amount of value baked into its newly refined exterior design is hard to ignore, and the interior (despite a few of its quirks) is a notable upgrade over the outgoing model. That said, having the complete package is a key requisite in the hotly contested utility market, and the Envision’s laid-back driving demeanor and some of the material choices GM made do hold it back from reaching its full potential. It’s a shame too since the 2021 Envision has plenty of good things going for it, and we look forward to seeing what the Envision is truly capable of once it polishes up the finer details.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.