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Test drive: The 2021 Buick Envision is a cushy utility vehicle

Buick is the latest automaker to become an all-SUV brand. You won’t find a sedan, wagon or convertible in the lineup anymore, even though all three were available just two years ago.

Its vehicles aren’t designed to go off-road, of course, they’re all street-smart and dressed to impress. If you’re looking for something rugged, you can head across the showroom floor to check out the makes that the dealer most likely also sells.

The two are a match made in heaven. According to a recent study by IHS Markit, 56.1 percent of Buick customers are women, which is tops in the auto industry, while GMC is dead last on the list at 29 percent. Buick’s less aggressive styling, focus on comfort and female-targeted marketing all playing a role in its success with this demographic.

You know who else likes buying Buicks? Car shoppers in China, where it sells about five times as many vehicles as it does in the U.S. Its latest model bridges both worlds.

(Buick)

The 2021 Buick Envision is the second generation of the compact utility vehicle that became Buick’s first China-made model sold in the U.S. in 2017. It’s a strong seller that has earned J.D. Power’s top reliability award, helping to assuage quality concerns.

It’s about the same size as a GMC Terrain, but its curvaceous style is a contrast to its boxier brethren and it gets more power, tech and luxury to go with it.

The Envision starts at $33,490 while the Envision Avenir trim goes for $41,890. Avenir is a sub-brand Buick uses to denote its top models, similar to how Denali works at GMC.

All of the Envisions are powered by a 228 hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and available with front- or all-wheel-drive, with respective highway fuel economy ratings of 31 mpg and 29 mpg.

(Buick)

The FWD Avenir I tested was fully loaded with diamond-quilt leather upholstery, heated and cooled massaging front seats, 360-degree camera, a rear camera mirror and a wireless smartphone charging pad. My son noted how the dashboard design angles the wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped touchscreen infotainment system toward the driver, which has the unfortunate byproduct of making the volume knob in the top left corner the hardest thing to reach.

It’s well-stocked on the feature front, but the trim materials aren’t much more impressive than what you’ll find in a high-end Honda CR-V. Rear seat legroom is also a little on the snug size compared to some other vehicles in the class and the raked roofline cuts into cargo space.

(Buick)

It is very quiet, however, which is Buick’s thing. The sound insulation and active noise reduction systems taking the edge off of road and wind roar. Telling of its country of origin, where pollution remains a major issue, the Envision’s climate control system has an air quality monitor that can be set to automatically switch it to recirculate the cabin air when it’s too dirty outside and also has an ionizer to help clean it.

The Avenir can be ordered with a computer-controlled damping system that keeps the body under control over bumps and in curves despite the Envision’s otherwise soft and cushy ride. It offers a sport setting that firms things up a bit, but not enough to make the Envision truly sporty. It just puts a little spring in its step. If any compact utility vehicle qualifies as a boulevardier, it’s this.

The Envision doesn’t deliver much of a wow factor, but its mix of comfort and quietude helps it stand apart from the competition in its own way as it straddles that line between mainstream and luxury that’s getting thinner and thinner by the year.

That’s exactly where Buicks live, no matter where they come from.

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2021 Buick Envision

Base price: $33,490

As tested: $45,305

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger front-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder

Power: 228 hp, 258 lb-ft

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

MPG: 24 city/31 hwy

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