2024 Buick Envista First Drive Review: Budget belle


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Want an affordable small crossover that looks and feels good, might even impress your passengers, and won’t make your eyes go cross while configuring one online? Buick’s got a new one for you, and it’s pretty slick. The 2024 Buick Envista starts below $25,000, and in a world of rampant inflation, it actually lives up to what you thought that much money could get you a few years ago. You should be pleasantly surprised with what you get — just don’t ask for all-wheel drive or an engine upgrade.

To these eyes, the Envista looks good from all angles. While the refresh of the Buick Encore GX for the 2024 model year was the first production vehicle to use design elements inspired by the Buick Wildcat EV concept, the Envista marks the “first complete expression” of that new design language, as Buick design boss Bob Boniface put it. No, it’s not a two-door coupe like the Wildcat, and it still doesn’t have the Wildcat’s electric powertrain, but those looks translate even better to a new vehicle designed from the ground up. It has the pointy nose, the high, wing-like headlights and the new tri-shield Buick logo that also made its way onto the Encore. But the Envista has a swept-back profile, with the roofline giving way to a toned-down example of rear shoulders flaring out over the wheels. The nicely tucked rear end is home to lighting that better matches the units up front. It’s lower and sleeker than the Encore, putting itself more visually at the car end of the crossover spectrum, while the GX leans more toward SUV.

And you’ll get a more carlike drive from the Envista, too. There’s only one powertrain: a turbocharged 1.2-liter three-cylinder powering the front wheels. There’s no AWD option here, and no four-cylinder. Not even a 1.3-liter upgrade like in the Encore GX. There is a traditional automatic transmission with only six forward gears, and no dreaded CVT in sight. There’s very little you could do on the order sheet to change the way the Envista drives — pick a version with the upgraded rear suspension that Buick claims provides a more superior ride (a Watts link for those who care) or change up the wheel size, maybe — but certainly not in terms of what drives the wheels. You get 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque in the Envista, figures that are awfully low these days, but that we also found perfectly suited to this mission. Any more, and you’d sacrifice the fuel economy, which is rated at 28 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. Any less, and you wouldn’t be able to joyfully spin the front wheels pulling away from a stop. As in the Chevy Bolt or turbocharged Hyundai Kona, it’s addictive and elicits giggles every time.

That also means the price point stays pretty dang low no matter how you spec it. The base Preferred trim starts at $23,495, including a reasonable $1,095 destination charge. Moving up to the ST (short for Sport Touring) gives you a $25,195 starting price, while the line-topping Avenir begins at $29,695. We’re told the most expensive Envista you can option is but a mere $31,430. The share of the new vehicle market below $30,000 has plummeted since pre-pandemic pricing, but, as Envista marketing manager Jazzy Teen pointed out, the folks being priced out of the marketplace still exist. “As we move towards bigger, more capable, EV vehicles, that leaves a gap in the marketplace for returning buyers.” So instead of moving into a more expensive vehicle or, alternatively, buying out your lease or otherwise buying used, you can now turn to Buick for your new affordable car.

What is impressive about the Envista’s price is not just that it bucks the market’s inflationary trends, but that it also manages to be more refined than the subcompact SUVs it competes with on price — verging on premium. Buick wants to sell you an affordable car, not a “cheap” one. And, at least with the Sport Touring and Avenir models we scoped out, you get a car that feels worthy of the little shine the Buick badge adds over, say, Chevy. Inside our ST tester, we didn’t find the buoyant suppleness of Buick’s range-topping Enclave Avenir, but it still felt like a car designed with forethought and a skilled eye. We like the flat-bottom steering wheel, which is standard in all Envistas. It helps that there’s not a lot of real estate to cover in this smaller crossover, so places where harder plastics and grainy textures live are easy to hide, break up or otherwise manipulate physically or visually. The ST trim we tested, decked in leatherette upholstery, has a pleasant shade of blue in the front seat piping and stitching, as well as the stitching across the soft but interesting rubberized dash material.

The main course of this feast is the sleek, curved monolith that houses both the 11-inch infotainment screen and the 8-inch digital driver’s display — standard across all trims. It gives the cabin a modern feel without being overwhelming with deep, fussy menus and digital “buttons.” There is a physical power/volume knob affixed to the glass just to the left of the infotainment display, and further down on the center stack are physical buttons and dials for climate controls (the Avenir swaps this gear for even tidier piano-black buttons and replaces the dials with toggles). It strikes a good balance of giving you access to the things you need without too much clutter or screen-tapping. Our cursory dive through the menus found them to be straightforward, but we preferred to take advantage of the wireless screen projection via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also an available wireless phone charger below the center stack, in a cubby that houses a USB-A and USB-C port.

Like its price tag, the Envista’s cargo area puts it in line with subcompact SUVs – and on the small side, at that. The Envista offers 20.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the standard 60/40 folding rear seats, and folding both of them down opens that up to 42.0 cubes. That’s a smaller cargo area than the new Chevy Trax (from which the Envista borrows its platform) at 25.6 cubic feet, the 23.5 cubic feet of the Encore GX, Toyota Corolla Cross’s 26.5 and Honda HR-V’s 24.4 — we suppose having one of the smaller cargo capacities in the subcompact segment is a tradeoff for that crossover-coupe roofline. Either way, it provides more versatility than something with a traditional trunk. We’ll have to wait to find out exactly how useful the space is when we get an opportunity to perform one of our luggage tests.

Passenger space is an entirely different matter, however, owing to some rather strange dimensions. The Envista is not only 11 inches longer than the Encore GX, with 4 more inches of wheelbase, it’s actually a bit longer than a compact Toyota RAV4 and has an extra inch of legroom. That translates into a much roomier passenger cabin than you’d find in subcompact SUVs as well as some compact ones. A 6-foot-tall passenger can comfortably ride behind a 6-foot-tall driver, and despite a roofline that’s 3 inches lower than the GX, there’s still ample headroom in the Envista. We didn’t even find that sloping crossover-coupe roofline to impede on rear headroom, though an extraordinarily tall editor like our own James Riswick might have a different experience.

Where the Envista shines, though (apart from value), is in its calmness and comfort going down the road. It’s a quiet vehicle. The three-cylinder engine doesn’t sound rough or grumpy in operation. In fact, you don’t hear much of it at all. The six-speed auto keeps revs in check, and thank goodness there’s no CVT like in many competitors. Buick also includes active noise cancellation that helps keep the outside sounds outside, leaving the inside for easy conversation.

There’s not a lot of chatter coming through the suspension, either. The undulating expansion joints on our battered Michigan highways caused no complaint — just a dulled little bop — keeping noise and harsh motions at bay. Even without the upgraded rear suspension included in the Avenir and optional in the ST, and which we didn’t test, the chassis remains composed. Being low to the ground, it has a carlike character through corners, staying flatter than a taller vehicle with a higher center of gravity would. There’s nothing about the handling that particularly invites spirited driving, but it doesn’t get in the way of it, either.

It’s a simple and straightforward drive. Just like there’s no way to change the drive experience via the order sheet, there’s no way to dial it in from inside the car. There’s no button to select between different drive modes, nor a sport setting for the transmission. There are no paddles on the back of the steering wheel with which to select your own gears, but there is a +/- toggle on the shift lever. There’s something to be said for the simplicity and purity of changing the drive experience specifically through driver inputs. It all depends on how you accelerate, brake and steer.

But this isn’t a sports car; it’s an affordable, comfortable, cool-looking commuter that’s a step up from the mainstream subcompact set. It’s not dull — its looks alone prevent that — but it’ll help elevate driving a sensible purchase beyond mundanity into a place of peace. It’s easy to drive, has space for your friends, and might even impress them with its classy design, comfortable ride and slick-looking tech interface. And, if you ever need a quick chuckle, the Envista will comply with a simple right foot to the floor to get the front tires a-singin’.

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