To hear Buick executives tell it, the brand is on a roll, saying first quarter sales are up 111% year-over-year, and indeed they are. In fact, year-to-date, sales are up 40.6% compared to a supply-constrained 2022.
But compare 2022 to the year before, and you’ll find last year’s volume plummeted 42.5% compared to 2021. The more important number may be conquest sales, with 65.9% of buyers being new to Buick. That said, it’s unknown how many come from other GM divisions.
Still, this year’s volume should bring the brand closer to its 2021 volume, especially with the addition of its new entry-level model, the Buick Envista, which replaces the niblet-sized Encore in the Buick line-up.
Like its all-wheel-drive sibling, the Encore GX, as well as the Chevrolet Trax and Trailblazer, the Envista is built from the same set of components using the same engine and is built in GM’s plant in South Korea.
And just as the Trax is larger yet less expensive than the smaller Trailblazer, the Envista is larger and less expensive than the smaller Encore GX. Both the Envista and Trax offer front-wheel drive, while the both the Encore GX and Trailblazer offer all-wheel drive as well as front-wheel drive.
Buick is pitching the Envista as a premium product, but it’s decidedly a mixed bag.
Of the bunch, the Envista is not trying to fool no one into believing it’s some kind of small SUV, and to that we say, “bravo.” Instead, its appearance takes its cues from the Buick Wildcat EV concept car, particularly up front, where its wears a distinctive look with a large grille, and slit-like LED lighting.
Base-level Preferred models have a horizontal grille, while Mid-level Sport Touring (or ST) and top-of-the-line Avenir models receive a diamond patterned grille. Of the latter two models, the ST wears blacked-out trim, whereas the Avenir sports more chrome. The ST’s blackout trim helps hide the cluttered, poorly resolved ST’s C-pillar styling, which stands out on the Avenir. Similarly, the Preferred’s horizontal grille treatment lends it a wider stance.
The sloping back is supposed to give it a sporting appearance, but it also imparts a more sophisticated air, one accentuated by its taillamps, which mimic the headlamps. It’s upscale in demeanor no doubt, resembling a tall hatchback more than an SUV. And it wears Buick’s redesigned logo, which is the brand is touting, but isn’t recognizably Buick.
Nevertheless, its look is perhaps its best trait, looking every bit the part of the upscale vehicle it’s intended to be.
Once you climb inside, the design itself appears more premium, if only for the wonderfully fun midcentury modern shape of its horizontal digital display. It endows what would otherwise be a characterless cabin with a dose of personality. Being a fashionista, its design is good enough to allow me to forgive some sins, but not all.
While the interior trim’s brightwork and shiny black plastic enliven the interior, its overall ambience is only marginally more upscale than the Chevrolet Trax, particularly on entry-level Preferred models. Seats are every bit as flat and squishy as on their Chevrolet counterpart. Look closely and you’ll find some small details that would signal this car’s premium positioning, such as an auto up/down driver’s window, are missing.
At least the cabin is roomy enough, with good legroom up front and decent space in the second row. Cargo space seems generous at 20.7 cubic feet, 42 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Lift the hood of the Envista and you’ll find the same diminutive turbocharged 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine generating 136 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque and 6-speed automatic transmission used in the smaller Encore GX, as well as the far less expensive Chevrolet Trax. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is not offered. The Envista’s fuel economy, at 28 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, means it is far from a fuel-sipping champ as engine’s most likely too small for the vehicle.
Meanwhile, Chinese buyers get an Envista powered by a 181-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder. So, why can’t Buick treat American customers as well as it treats the Chinese? Better yet, why not just import this one from China, rather than build a less-desirable one in South Korea?
But it’s not all brickbats for Buick as the Chinese-built Envision will be the first Buick to offer GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving technology as an option.
Safety and Technology
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the 2024 Buick Envista.
Standard driver-assistance safety gear is fairly good for the price, and includes standard lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, forward collision alert, following distance indicator and automatic high beams. Adaptive cruise control, rear parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert with side blind zone alert and rain-sensing front wipers are optional.
When it comes to tech, the Envista comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and optional wireless phone charging. It works seamlessly and is effortless to understand and operate.
There’s little that’s premium about the Envista once it’s underway. In fact, it feels like any underpowered small crossover. Acceleration is adequate around town, but merging onto a highway calls for planning and good luck. Its performance doesn’t match its exterior styling, which suggests speediness this Buick doesn’t possess.
The driving experience isn’t remarkably different from that of the Chevrolet Trax. In other words, this is an economay car, pure and simple. Acceleration is on the slow side of adequate, handling betrays some body lean in corners, fairly good bump absorption for the class and a bit of noise when accelerating or while driving on the highway.
And while most consumers won’t be cross-shopping the two, they might be comparing it to similarly priced vehicles such as the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Toyota Corolla Cross, Subaru Crosstrek and Volkswagen Taos. All offer something more, be it all-wheel drive, a hybrid option, better fuel economy or better interior quality.
While Buick the Envista is being sold as an entry-level premium vehicle, the Envista doesn’t offer a better-quality interior than the Trax, nor better performance or superior fuel economy.
It’s not that the Buick is bad when driven in isolation, but it suffers when driven against its competition.
2024 Buick Envista Specifications
|Dimension||L: 182.6 inches/W: 71.5 inches/H: 61.3 inches/Wheelbase: 106.3 inches|
|Powertrain||1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine; 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive|
|Fuel Economy||28 mpg city/32 mpg highway/30 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $23,495-$29,695, plus $1,295 destination charge|
|On-Sale Date||Late summer|
Using identical platforms to power two different vehicles, such as Toyota did with the 2022 Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 350, is an old automaker trick.
Given that the mechanically identical Chevrolet Trax starts anywhere from $3,095 to $5,795 less than the Buick Envista, GM is gambling that style will rule over substance to lure a slightly better-off buyer. And if you prefer the Envista’s look over that of the Trax, well, there’s a price to pay for fashion. And that’s fine.
The Buick looks slick, no question about it. This is a good-looking trucklet, one that’s far better than the Buick Encore it replaces.
But the jury is out whether the Buick nameplate holds enough sway among younger buyers to warrant the price premium, given its performance feels identical to the Chevy, while its interior is only marginally superior. Then again, for young buyers, the only performance they care about is its tech performance, and that’s arguably as good as any vehicle.
Still, for a brand struggling to rebuild its identity, overall, the Buick Envista doesn’t go far enough to distinguish itself in the marketplace, at least in the U.S. As their old ad slogan goes, when better cars are built, Buick will build them — for China.
2024 Buick Envista — Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Buick Envista comparable to?
Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Toyota Corolla Cross, Subaru Crosstrek and Volkswagen Taos; all start at close to the Buick’s price.
Where will the 2024 Buick Envista be built?
The 2024 Buick Envista is built in GM’s Bupyeong Plant in South Korea.
Is the Buick Envista all-wheel drive?
No. The Envista comes only in with front-wheel drive.