First drive: 2019 Buick Envision [Review]

Buick\'s new mainstay gets some updates.

For the better part of a decade, Buick has been pushing to modernize and overhaul its image. Over the past two years, it has doubled-down on that strategy by shifting its focus from sedans (long its bread-and-butter) to crossovers.

While that may seem like an odd generalization given Buick's move to diversify its Regal into three different models, consider for a moment that it simultaneously eliminated the Verano (its entry-level four-door) entirely. In fact, part of the reason why the new Regal Sportback is so cheap is that it needs to fill the void previously occupied by more-expensive trims of the departed Verano. Thanks to cheap Regals (and even cheaper Encores), the Verano will soon be forgotten.

Buick knows, however, that simply nudging down the price of its midsize sedan isn't going to do the trick entirely in the face of shifting tastes. Buick's "E" line (Encore, Envision, Enclave) was fully established when the second was introduced for the 2017 model year. The Envision is the price-tier equivalent of the Regal. With the Regal coming down in price, it only makes sense to do the same for Envision, ensuring that Buick isn't losing customers to other brands in the highly-competitive compact crossover space.

With all of that in mind, Buick decided to consolidate some much-needed mechanical updates and a slight price cut into a very early-cycle refresh. Say hello to the 2019 Buick Envision.

Re-envisionedYou'll have to forgive us a little flourish in the introduction. For all that talk, the updates to the 2019 Envision really aren't earth-shattering. The most significant changes are found under the hood, where turbocharged models get a good thump of extra torque thanks to the shift to GM's nine-speed automatic transmission (which is built to handle it). 2018 models had 252 horsepower and 260lb-ft on tap. For 2019, the horsepower figure remains, but the torque bumps to 295lb-ft. That's grunt you can feel.

Outside, the updated Envision gets a new nose incorporating the now-ubiquitous two-bar grille and a new hatch with a sculpted protrusion beneath the rear glass. The Buick logo adorns the salient central portion, standing proud of the license plate recess below it.

Inside, essentially nothing has changed. Some hardware updates have been made and some new features are available, but there are no obvious tell-tales. The biggest give-away is the presence of a disabling feature for the engine auto-stop/start. This is a unique (and welcome) feature in the Buick lineup for the time being.

Other new features include faster-heating heated seats, a cruise control toggle for adaptive or normal behavior, a better viewing angle for the rear-vision camera, an updated microphone for the hands-free system and a next-generation wireless charging system which is compatible with newer iPhones (in addition to previously supported Android models).

Re-calibratedSince the real story here is the hardware under the hood, Buick wanted us to spend time driving the car so that we could experience the added torque and the performance of the new nine-speed automatic. To that end, we hit the roads of northeastern Georgia in both the Envision and the all-new Buick Regal GS (look for that review later this week) to see just how much of a difference the extra oomph makes.

The available 2.0L turbo engine is already a point in the Envision's favor. Keep in mind, though, that at the price point where it becomes available, a large engine is basically a necessity. At $32,000, the 2.5L models compare favorably with the loaded-up CR-Vs and CX-5s of the world, but when you're talking about $40,000-plus price tags, it's either go big or go home. It's also worth noting that the 2.5L is still paired with the older, six-speed automatic; the nine-speed is reserved for the turbo.

We're happy to report that the 2.0L's 252 horses make it plenty big enough, and the extra torque is welcome. The nine-speed isn't lightning-quick, but it does its job without being noticed, which is the sort of thing you expect (and appreciate) in a Buick.

Unlike the larger, more-expensive Enclave, the Envision lacks niceties like the multi-mode suspension which gives the former its uncannily sublime ride. Fortunately, though, the QuietTuning system is alive and well even at this price point, and it works perfectly. Cruising in the Envision is about as relaxed as it gets.

When the roads get twisty, the Envision is willing enough. The lack of bolstering in the seats is a bigger limitation than the crossover's road-holding capability. Its quiet, relaxed character doesn't help either. Think of it as the boyfriend you had who never wanted to dance at weddings, even though he never embarrassed himself once you got him on the floor.

Dynamics aside, we found ourselves thankful for the ability to turn off the auto-stop/start feature and we hope this will carry over to other Buick models (and the rest of GM, for that matter), as new updates come along. We also made use of the wireless charger with an older Samsung Galaxy S7, and it worked as advertised.

The Envision will likely be updated again in a couple years. That should be a true mid-cycle refresh, and we expect it might also mark the introduction of Buick's Avenir trim package--something we expect to continue to trickle down from the brand's more expensive models.

Leftlane's bottom lineSo, what is the 2019 Buick Envision? Essentially, it's the car that should have launched for 2017. It's better, more convenient and more capable--all for less money. Buick expects the Envision to become its volume model over the course of the next several model years, and this is a big step in realizing that goal.

2019 Buick Envision base price, $32,990A-tested, (2019 Buick Envision Premium II), $44,595

Photos by Byron Hurd.

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