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The first-generation Buick Envision was... fine, like how you might describe a movie you didn't really want to see. The 2021 Buick Envision changes that up, however. Through some careful nips and tucks, this midsize premium crossover is far more worthy of your time.
Style takes a big step forward in the 2021 Envision. The outgoing crossover had the wide eyes of a cat you snuck up on and a mishmash of forms on the side. The new generation is, by comparison, far fancier looking, with thinner headlights and taillights above more expressive bumpers, as well as a front grille that looks like it was designed in this decade and side lines that no longer compete with one another. A longer wheelbase and a lower, wider body give the Envision more adult proportions, too. That comes with a tradeoff, though -- the 25.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row is less than what came on the last generation, which beats the Volvo XC60 (17.8) but lags behind the Acura RDX (29.5) and the Lincoln Corsair (27.6).
The 2021 Envision's interior is vastly improved, and Old GM's myriad buttons are gone. The infotainment screen is nicely integrated into the dashboard, although it's tilted oddly skyward. The climate control buttons live in a swath of piano-black trim which, on my Avenir tester, continues rearward to the center console armrest. There are some decently fancy cues around, from the dimpled wood on the door panels to the diamond ventilation pattern on the leather seats. There's a little more vinyl-soft plastic than I'd prefer to see in a top-tier trim with an out-the-door price north of $45,000, but that's GM for you. On the whole, it's a spacious, attractive interior that's a quantum leap ahead of what came before.
Even though cargo space is a little dear, storage on the whole isn't bad at all. There's a convenient purse-sized tray hidden underneath the transmission controls, and the clamshell armrest is deep enough to hold a couple of clutches. If so equipped, there's also a wireless charging tray ahead of the cup holders that can double as more junk storage. The door-panel cubbies are deep, but the opening is surprisingly small, so little tchotchkes can wander rearward, requiring some complicated wrist acrobatics to retrieve.
Under the hood lies a compromise. The 2021 Envision lineup utilizes just one engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 good for 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which splits the difference between the two engines offered on pre-2021 Envisions, a 197-hp 2.5-liter I4 and a 252-hp 2.0-liter I4. Front-wheel drive variants are EPA-rated at 24 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway, with optional AWD reducing each figure by 2 mpg. My experience doesn't quite match the EPA's; even with my AWD Envision Avenir locked in FWD mode, 27 mpg is the best I can muster on Michigan highways, while city mileage hovers closer to 20.
The remainder of the 2021 Envision's driving experience is quite pleasant. The engine note, uh, exists, but its mediocre muted growl fades into the background once anything starts playing on the speakers. Acceleration is adequate, losing a lot of the perkiness that the outgoing model's optional turbo four packed, but it's more than enough for on-ramps and such, and its nine-speed automatic swaps cogs so smoothly you'll barely even notice. The steering is a little overboosted, but it's nothing most buyers will notice or care about, and the pedals are dead simple to modulate smoothly. My tester wears Buick's adaptive dampers, which can change damping strength while driving to soak up nasty bits in the road. While the ride is definitely on the smoother side for compact crossovers, it's almost too much so, leading to a bit of a floaty feeling. Wind and road noise are pretty well muted, too.
Oh, and the turn signal is no longer loud enough to be mistaken for a cherry bomb. That's nice.
GM has never been shy about loading its latest vehicles with all manner of tech, both standard and optional, and that's still the story with the 2021 Envision. As the top trim on offer, the Avenir sports a sufficiently large 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen running the latest Buick-skinned version of GM's corporate software. Like every other car it's in, this getup is lovely, with menus that are quick to load and easy to navigate. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board, which is a nice touch. The infotainment also packs a number of built-in apps that work with the 4G LTE antenna, so you can use Alexa integration to control your house's lights or listen to the latest podcast or recommendation from Reese Witherspoon's book club. If your phone doesn't accept wireless charging, there are both USB-A and USB-C ports on offer to juice up.
Buick and its family of adjacent brands have sometimes scrimped on standard safety features, but the 2021 Envision has plenty of 'em. All Envision trims include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and rear parking sensors. My tester's $1,670 Technology Package II upgrades that kit with a rear-camera mirror, adaptive cruise control, improved automatic emergency braking and automatic parking assist, so you'll still have to shell out extra coin for some stuff that comes standard on other vehicles at this price point.
Now, you don't have to push toward $50,000 to rock a 2021 Buick Envision. The base Preferred trim starts at $32,995 including destination for a front-wheel-drive model with an 8-inch touchscreen and surfaces covered in a mix of cloth and leatherette. The middle-child Essence raises the price to $36,995, with the Avenir starting at $41,395. All-wheel drive is a $1,800 option no matter the trim, and unlike previous iterations, all three trims can be had with or without it.
The outgoing Buick Envision, which was built with the Chinese market in mind from the get-go, never really felt fully tuned to the US customers, but that changes with the 2021 model. It's better looking, it's still nice to drive and it's appointed with the features that buyers in this segment are after.