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2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Buick Envision crossover sport utility vehicle could substitute as an antidote to former President Donald Trump’s ill-fated attempt to blame his coronavirus woes on China. 

Trump seldom failed to speak of our more than one-year-old plague — OK, the pandemic — as the “Chinese virus,” as if that nation was solely responsible for the worldwide affliction, absolving him of any responsibility for combating it. 

On the bright side, we have the redesigned 2021 Envision Essence, tested here, a decent near-luxury contender in the compact crossover class. It is, in fact, a fundamentally Chinese vehicle, though you’d be hard-pressed to recognize it. 

A whopping 94% of its parts come from China. A joint Chinese-U.S. General Motors plant in Yantai, China, builds the Envision. Only 1% of its components come from the United States and Canada.

Yet the Envision crossovers sold here in the U.S. look, feel, and drive as if they were Thoroughly Modern American Buicks. It was designed that way from the get-go, introduced at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It joined two other similar offerings from General Motors—the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain.

Of course, as a Buick, it took a more luxurious tack than its garage mates. At the same time, it became the first Chinese-built GM vehicle sold in the United States. 

Redesigned for 2021, the Envision is slightly smaller and less potent than its predecessor but also delivers better fuel economy and a lower price. Though touted as a luxury crossover competing with the likes of the BMW X3, Lincoln Corsair, and Audi Q5, its relatively bargain price in that company is the tipoff.

The mid-pack Envision Essence trim level tested here came with a base price of $36,995, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,315. That’s more upper-middle-class and near-luxury than most of the machines it seeks to conquer. The BMW X3 starts at $43,995, and the Lincoln Corsair sets up at $44,825, and either can creep up to tens of thousands of dollars more.

Most of the Envision Essence’s $4,320 worth of extras came from two options packages: Technology at $2,500 and Sport Touring at $1,325. Basic equipment included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, following distance indicator, blind-spot warning, Wi-Fi hot spot, active noise cancellation, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking assist.

The options packages added, among others: head-up display, surround vision rear camera, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play, navigation with 10-inch touch screen, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, 20-inch aluminum wheels, roof rails and “Cinnabar Metallic” exterior paint.

The Envision has about the same passenger space as a midsize car—100 cubic feet — but with 25 cubic feet for cargo, almost twice that of a midsize car’s trunk. Fold the rear seatbacks and enjoy a two-passenger vehicle with 53 cubic feet for cargo. If you absolutely must tow something, make sure it’s not more than 1,500 pounds.

Like many modern cars and crossovers, the Envision uses a four-cylinder engine. Modern four-bangers, especially with turbochargers, have replaced their forerunner V8s and even, in some cases, in-line six-cylinder and V6 engines. Thank computer technology for the enhanced power and fuel economy.

The Envision Essence offers only one power plant: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s slightly less than its predecessor’s 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to either the front wheels or all four wheels. The tested Essence came with front-wheel drive.

But unless you live in an area prone to snowstorms and other nasty weather, you’d likely be entirely happy with the front-driver, which can account for itself reasonably well in all but the most challenging weather. 

On the road, the Envision Essence was a capable though not inspiring performer. It cruises mostly quietly with enough power for passing situations on two-lane roads and the cut and thrust of heavy freeway traffic. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour is in the acceptable seven-second range. However, avoid impromptu stoplight drag races. 

Handling is competent though not sporting. The suspension system can deliver a smooth ride in most circumstances, which detracts some from any sharp handling pretensions. But likely, most drivers will not opt to explore cornering limits.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/25 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,732 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $41,315.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Buick

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Shoppers can be forgiven for thinking that the 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence is simply a new trim level, or version, in the Encore lineup of small crossover sport utility vehicles. 

It’s not. Introduced as a 2020 model, the GX Essence is still a small crossover SUV, slightly larger than the original Encore, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But it is a separate vehicle underpinned by a different platform, with its own trim levels.

It has a starting price of $25,195, including the destination charge, for the base Preferred trim. The midlevel Select starts at $26,795, and the GX tops out as tested here, with options, at $35,065 for the Essence — close to the average U.S. price of a new automobile. That was for the front-wheel-drive version; tack on $2,000 if you want all-wheel drive.

Yet despite its relatively low price, the Encore GX competes as a small premium crossover. It looks the part, too, with the tester’s classy brown and black interior, perforated leather upholstery, and rich features.

Among those on the tester: Full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; forward-collision warning; lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and following distance indicator. Also: head-up display, surround-view rear camera, and navigation.

The Encore GX is a bit larger and longer than the Hyundai Kona, another small crossover. But it is smaller than the Subaru Crosstrek, a ‘tweener that slots between the little guys and compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. But any of these deliver the passenger room of a midsize sedan with way better cargo space.

Carved out of the GX’s length of 14 feet 3 inches and height of 5 feet 4 inches is a space of 92 cubic feet for five passengers, enhanced by a flat floor, so the center-rear passenger endures some hard cushion discomfort but not as much as on many cars and crossovers. There are 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, about double compact sedans. The rear seatbacks do not recline for comfort but fold flat to expand the cargo area to 50 cubic feet.

The 2021 GX is essentially the same as the original 2020 model, all-new at the time. But there have been a few changes and additions. SXM satellite radio now is standard on all trims; adaptive cruise control has been included on Preferred models, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on every version. Yet with that and some minor juggling of other features, the price escalated by just $100 across the board.

The tested GX Essence came with Buick’s upgraded engine, a tiny 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 30/32/31 mpg using regular gasoline. 

A side note: Though the Buick name is as American as pizza and Budweiser beer, only 3% of the GX’s parts come from the U.S. and Canada. Engines and transmissions are manufactured in Mexico, and the vehicles are built in South Korea. That’s a recommendation. Vehicles from the southern Korean peninsula’s Hyundai and Kia consistently show up at or near the top of quality ratings. 

On the road, the GX is a pleasant, if leisurely, companion. Thanks to decent insulation and Buick’s noise-canceling technology, it cruises quietly, although the engine makes itself known under hard acceleration. 

Handling is capable around corners and on curving roads as long as the driver eschews aggression in favor of what is generally a smooth ride. The suspension, however, does get upset if the GX is pushed too hard on a road with uneven pockmarks. The supportive front seats absorb many minor shocks. But remember that this is no sports car.

Overall, the Encore GX Essence provides a stable though not outstanding ride and handling with decent fuel economy, good performance and quiet highway cruising, all with a dollop of what — for many people — would be something of a luxury experience at a middle-class price.

The Encore GX was nominated for North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of U.S. and Canadian automotive journalists, of which this reviewer is one.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet (50).
  • Weight: 3,094 pounds. 
  • Towing capability: 1,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/32/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,595.
  • Price as tested: $35,065.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Buick

2020 Lincoln Aviator Black Label: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its all-new 2020 Aviator crossover SUV, it appears that Lincoln has gone all-in to recapture its traditional reputation as a tier-one luxury brand, one vehicle at a time.

Joining the Navigator, Nautilus and upcoming Corsair, this is a noteworthy piece of automotive engineering and styling, as expansive as it is expensive, and fully comfortable and competitive in the rarified world of mid-size, three-row luxury sport utilities named Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Audi, Volvo and BMW.

"Fresh Take" Aviator CampaignThere was a 20th-century era when Lincoln automobiles competed against the most exclusive nameplates, including Packard, Duesenberg, Bentley, Chrysler and Cadillac. Though Lincolns were not the most expensive, its Zephyr models with V-12 engines were among the most beautiful and sought-after by wealthy artistes.

The new Aviator mimics that template, with a range of high-achieving models that somehow manage to undercut competitors on price — not that most of its buyers would worry about that. Some competitors of the priciest Black Label trim level of the Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid, with a sticker of  $90,645, run well into six figures.

2020 Lincoln AviatorFor those who can’t or won’t spend that much but still seek to motor behind an Aviator grille, the base rear-wheel drive model starts at $52,095 — almost reasonable in an era when the average new car goes out the door for somewhere around $36,000.

Though the Aviator starts out with rear-drive, it is not a traditional body-on-frame SUV. Like the vast majority of sport utility vehicles these days, it is a crossover, built with a frameless unit body like an automobile.

Of course, few manufacturers show their entry-level vehicle at the introduction so Lincoln rolled out a bevy of its best in Napa Valley, California. They included three versions of the non-hybrid Aviator: Reserve starting at $57,285, Reserve all-wheel drive at $59,795, and the subject here, the all-wheel drive Black Label with an opening sticker of $78,790 and a tested price of $83,540.

2020 Aviator Grand TouringThere also were two versions of the all-wheel-drive hybrid: Grand Touring at $84,365 with options and the aforementioned Black Label AWD at $90,645.

The plug-in hybrid Grand Touring is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers linked to a 75-kW electric motor. A 13.6-kWh battery pack is stashed under the floor and can deliver up to 18 miles of driving on electricity alone. Altogether, the system delivers 494 hp and a whopping 630 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.

Never mind the Grand Touring’s 5,673-pound curb weight, this hulk is plenty fast, with neck-snapping acceleration off the line and powerful passing on two-lane roads.

2020 Lincoln AviatorBut the non-hybrid Aviator is no slouch. Its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine makes 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, sent through the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the hybrid. There’s a manual-shifting mode operated by paddles mounted on the steering wheel. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 17/24/20 mpg for the all-wheel drive versions.

Driven for this review was the Black Label edition with all-wheel drive. Given its nearly 17-foot length and heft, it handled beautifully and rode serenely on a variety of twisting, hilly roads and high-speed straightaways. Mechanical and wind noises were nearly nonexistent and foam-infused tires helped muffle noise from rough roads.

2020 Lincoln AviatorThe tested Aviator looked the part of a luxury sport utility vehicle, with a sumptuous interior and fashionable appointments of high quality materials and careful workmanship. Among them: a Revel Ultimate 3D audio system with 28 (count ‘em) speakers, panoramic vista glass sunroof with powered shade, acoustic sound-deadening side glass, second-row captain’s chairs separated by a functional center console, and Lincoln’s Phone As a Key technology.

With the optional Air Glide suspension system, the Aviator automatically lowers to ease entry. Owners then can use their smart phones to unlock and unlock doors, start and drive the Aviator, open the tailgate and program settings for seats, mirrors and steering wheel adjustments as well as entertainment preferences.

2020 Lincoln AviatorIf a phone battery dies, a passcode can be entered on an exterior keypad and another code can be entered to start and drive. Extra key fobs also are provided and if a smart phone is lost or stolen, Phone As a Key can be deleted.

The Aviator comes with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking, an adaptive suspension system that reads the road ahead to adjust for irregularities, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alert.

"Fresh Take" Aviator Campaign

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lincoln Aviator Black Label four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 400 hp, 415 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 150/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,673 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $78,790.
  • Price as tested: $83,540.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Photos (c) Lincoln

 

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