Ann Arbor, MI - Automakers are constantly looking for new ways to sell more metal. Think of Chrysler's 1984 Autobeaucoup, which launched the minivan category, or the arrival of the Nissan Juke, a curious vehicle that started the very small SUV category. Buick is counting on the Encore GX to reel in slightly younger buyers who don't necessarily need a roomy vehicle for a family. The Encore "without the GX" has only just retired, and already Buick is (sort of) coming back with its own version of the Chevrolet Trax, the 2024 Buick Envista 2024.
The 2024 Envista was designed to lend a hand to the Encore GX, but will also be the brand’s first coupe SUV. But unlike other brands (notably German), which charge more for a less practical coupe variant than the original, Buick sells the Envista for a few hundred dollars less than the Encore GX.
A More Affordable Buick
The Envista is the last Buick to be powered exclusively by an internal combustion engine. The next model, scheduled to be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show next September, will be a 100% electric crossover. And in order to achieve a low price point, Buick strategists had no choice but to cut on standard equipment in the Envista. That's why it is limited to front-wheel drive exclusively, powered by a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine rated at 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque.
What's more, the old continuously variable transmission that was paired with this unit (in the early days of the Buick Encore GX/Chevrolet Trailblazer) has given way to a six-speed automatic unit. So, on paper, the Buick Envista isn't exactly exciting in terms of performance, and even though it belongs in the crossover category, the Envista (really) isn’t made for rough terrain. Think of it as Buick sedan (such as the Verano for instance), with a slightly higher ground clearance. The most affordable trim level, the Preferred, starts at $28,999. Next comes the ST (Sport Touring) at $30,299, while the Avenir livery, which served as our guinea pig for this first test drive, costs $33,899.
In Canada, the Convenience 1 package is standard on all liveries, and includes electric driver's seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, passive entry and remote starter. The optional Advanced Safety package is standard on Preferred and ST, with rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning with lane-change assist and intelligent cruise control. The Avenir model gets an advanced variant of this same package, with the addition of automatic windshield wipers and a left-hand exterior mirror with automatic dimming function. Finally, the sunroof is included with the Avenir livery and optional with the ST badge.
Suited for the City and...
The Buick Envista was a great fit for the urban portion of our test. Torque proved sufficient for staring off the line, and the automatic transmission worked well with the 3-cylinder, whose primary mandate is to be easy on the wallet. There is, however, lack of delivery at higher revs, when one wants more oomph.
However, the Envista showed us it could handle itself on twistier routes around Detroit. Admittedly, the steering isn't very communicative, but the lower centre of gravity and Watt's link rear suspension (optional on the ST and standard on the Avenir livery) give the vehicle efficient handling. The Watt's link, thanks to bars installed between the chassis and the axle, reduces lateral movements when cornering. The result: good handling close to that of a sedan. That’s a good thing!
So That’s an Entry-Level Cabin?
Inside, the dashboard resembles that of the latest version of the Encore GX, but there are a few minor distinctions. Note also the 11-inch central touchscreen. On the other hand, designers have retained a number of traditional touches, such as the gearshift lever and the push-button controls for HVAC settings. The small circular knob in the middle of the touchscreen for audio volume control is, well, too small. While the cargo area is impressive for the size of the vehicle, rear visibility can be quite tricky. So much so, in fact, that we would just remove the headrests in the second row as long as no one is sitting there.
The cabin does incorporate a few budget-oriented plastic elements, but fortunately they are positioned away from passengers' eyes and hands. Otherwise, the Buick Envista is a nice surprise at this price level. The curved digital panel is the kind of thing you'd see in vehicles that often sell for two or three times as much, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel adds a nice touch (even if, obviously, the pocket-sized SUV doesn't have a spec sheet that allows it to rub shoulders with the track cars on their preferred terrain).
The Envista should theoretically attract a new clientele to the brand's showrooms, thanks to its very successful design and an aggressive pricing strategy. So, with the Encore GX, the manufacturer now offers two urban crossovers that will appeal to first-time buyers.