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Most Improved Player: The 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD

2021 Buick Envision front 3/4 view

As we've said many times, compact crossover SUVs are a hot spot in the automotive market right now. Staying fresh and relevant is critical. And so, the second-generation Buick Envision has arrived.

2021 Buick Envision rear 3/4 view

Despite being introduced at mid-model year, the new Envision is a 2021, not a 2022. The styling is, to my eyes, a major improvement, dumping the overly rounded first-gen lines for something more squared, purposeful and muscular---an effect heightened by the sinister looking triple-black treatment of our tester---extra-cost Ebony Twilight metallic paint, an Ebony interior with Ebony accents and the optional Sport Touring Package, which takes any brightwork and turns it to body color, along with dark-finish 20-inch aluminum wheels.

2021 Buick Envision hood up

2021 Buick Envision engine

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder making 228 horsepower---a decent jump from the standard 197 in the 2020 Envision. There's also been a transmission upgrade---from a six-speed automatic to a nine-speed with selectable drive modes. That pays off at the pump, with EPA estimates showing city mileage for front-wheel drive models improving from 22 miles per gallon city to 24 and highway from 29 to 31 (it's 22/29 for the new AWD model---our tester was FWD).

2021 Buick Envision liftgate open

2021 Buick Envision cargo area

2021 Buick Envision interior

2021 Buick Envision rear seat

2021 Buick Envision front seats

There's room for five people and their belongings and the rear seat does fold down, making for some serious space if you need it. Materials and fit and finish are on par for the size and price class, and the layout up front has a much more contemporary feel than last year's model.

The base price for the 2021 Buick Envision Essence, the middle of three trim levels, in front-wheel drive, is $35,800. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are active noise cancellation, a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated driver and front passenger seats and a dual-zone automatic climate control with air ionizer and air quality indicator.

2021 Buick Envision instrument panel

2021 Buick Envision steering wheel and gauge cluster

2021 Buick Envision gauge cluster

2021 Buick Envision infotainment and HVAC

Our tester had $4,320 in extra-cost options, including $2,500 for Technology Package I (HD surround vision, head-up display, nine-speaker Bose premium audio system, front park assist, memory card receptacle, 10-inch display touchscreen with navigation); $1,325 for the Sport Touring Package (body color door handles, rear cargo compartment cover, black roof rails, 20-inch aluminum wheels with dark finish, moldings with dark gloss finish, unique ST badging, dark grille surround and mesh inserts) and $495 for the Ebony Twilight Metallic paint. With $1,195 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD is $41,315.

2021 Buick Envision front view

2021 Buick Envision side view

2021 Buick Envision rear view

That is a reasonable price for a well-equipped compact crossover SUV these days. The only complaint I have---and GM has heard this from me before---there is NO excuse to make adaptive cruise control (which maintains a set distance between you and the car ahead of you) an extra-cost option, much less making it available only on the top-of-the line Avenir trim, (a $4,400 increase over our tester's base price) and then only with the $1,965 Technology Package II.

In other words, if you want adaptive cruise on an Envision, you have to pay $6,365 more than the base price of a mid-line Essence base price to get it, and a whopping $10,365 more than the base price of the base model Preferred.

In my driveway the same week as the Envision was a $22,000 Toyota Corolla, which had full-speed radar cruise control as standard equipment. It's a critical safety feature and if other automakers can make it standard in cars costing half this much, so can GM.

That said, the 2021 Buick Envision is a major leap forward for the nameplate, possibly the most improved vehicle of the year---and GM deserves applause for it.


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