At one time, GM’s Buick division was known for selling big cars with big engines that were almost Cadillacs but not as flashy – and a bit less pricey.
Today, Buick doesn’t sell cars at all. It sells a lineup of crossovers, the latest of them powered by one of the smallest engines – just 1.2 liters – ever used to power a vehicle with four (rather than two) wheels.
It’s called the Envista.
What It Is
The Envista is Buick’s newest, smallest – and smallest-engined – crossover. It is several feet shorter than a classic Buick, such as the Electra 225 of the ’70s – which was a car as long as a current Chevy Suburban super-sized SUV.
But it has more space – for cargo – than a ’70 Buick Electra 225.
It also has a small price: $22,400 for the base Preferred trim – which puts this Buick into competition with small crossovers from Honda and Toyota, among others. Italicized because Buick is generally considered to be an almost-Cadillac brand.
This Buick actually costs less to start than a Honda HR-V ($24,100) or a Toyota Corolla Cross ($23,610). It’s just about the least expensive small crossover on the market shy of its Chevy cousin, the Trax ($20,400).
The Preferred comes standard with an “ultrawide” 11 inch diagonal LCD touchscreen that’s integrated with an 8 inch digital-display instrument cluster.
The mid-trim Sport Touring lists for $24,100. This one includes a bundled suite of “Buick Confidence” driver-annoyance (whoops, assistance) technologies, including Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, Forward Collision Alert, Following Distance Indicator, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning. Also IntelliBeam auto high beams.
The top-of-the-line Avenir trim comes standard with upgraded interior trim, a 19 inch wheel/tire package and a power-opening rear liftgate.
It stickers for $28,900.
What’s New for 2024
The Envista is a new addition to Buick’s lineup of crossovers.
One of the least expensive new vehicles you can buy.
Though it’s small, it has as much or more first and second-row legroom as a mid-sized car and much more cargo capacity than a full-sized car.
Standard six-speed automatic transmission is not a continuously variable (CVT) automatic.
What’s Not So Good
Tiny engine does not produce much power.
Mediocre gas mileage (28 city, 32 highway) for such a small (and small-engined) vehicle.
AWD is not available.
All Envistas come standard with an engine so small it’s almost not there. Just 1.2 liters and only three cylinders. It generates 136 horsepower and (via the meerakuhl of turbocharging) 162 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,500 RPM.
A six speed automatic is standard.
Probably because if AWD were available, the Envista would need a larger engine. As it is, the front-drive model already weighs an astounding 3,137 lbs. That is very heavy – by historic standards – for a compact-sized vehicle. To get some sense of just how heavy that is, in both real and relative terms, reflect upon the fact that a 1970 Buick Skylark (essentially a posher version of the Chevy Chevelle of the same era) weighed only 3,435 lbs. The word “only” is italicized to emphasize that the Skylark was an almost full-sized car by modern standards and a V8-powered, rear-drive car with a solid cast iron rear axle and a steel perimeter frame (onto which its body was bolted) just like a truck.
The Envista is a front-drive compact with a welded together body and frame (i.e., a unibody) that is powered by a tiny three cylinder engine made of aluminum (not cast iron, like the Skylark’s V8).
And yet it weighs only 300 pounds less.
Where’s Richard Simmons when you need him?
Anyhow, the little Buick’s weight probably explains why it’s front-drive-only. AWD would add 100 or so pounds to that weight and that would be too much weight for a three cylinder engine to move adequately.
Even without the additional weight, the Envista doesn’t move very quickly. It takes about 9 seconds to get to 60, which means a new Prius hybrid – which does the same run in just over 7 seconds) is much quicker.
One would think the compensation here – in the case of the Buick – would be excellent gas mileage as the Envista’s engine is much smaller than the engine in the Prius, which as 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.
Unfortunately, it’s merely mediocre: 28 city, 32 highway.
Note that the Envista’s highway mileage is hardly better than its city mileage. It is usually the case that a given car’s highway mileage will be significantly higher than its city mileage and the reason for this is that once you’re rolling, it doesn’t take that much energy to keep you rolling. But when you haven’t got much power to begin with – and there’s a lot weight to keep rolling – you end up using most of what’s available just to keep you going.
Some good news, though – especially in the context of this class.
The little Buick’s little engine is not paired up with a CVT automatic. This is also why the little Buick’s mileage is less-than-you’d-expect (CVTs, which vary ranges rather than shift through gears) typically up the mileage of a given car with a given engine by 3-4 MPG. But CVTs are less long-term reliable, because the metal band/belt they use to vary ranges inevitably fatigues – and breaks – and many people just don’t like the weird feeling of a transmission that does not change gears and sometimes makes it seem as though something’s wrong, due to the engine revving and holding high RPM during acceleration.
A conventional automatic will upshift to the next-highest gear and that reduces engine RPM (and noise).
This Buick is very different from the Buicks of the past – and that has its good and its bad points.
Being much smaller than the Buick land yachts of the past, it is much more pleasant to drive in urban settings because it is much easier to slip it into tight curbside parking spots than an Electra 225 – which needs a Chevy Suburban-sized hole. It is nimble in a way a big car never can be and the low-RPM torque made by the little engine makes it feel more responsive in stop-and-go traffic than the engine’s modest stats suggest.
A pretty aggressive 3.5:1 final drive ratio helps, too.
But – unlike the big Buicks of the past – this is not what you’d call a highway car.
It feels small – and small-engined. Even though it has a comparatively long (for a small crossover) wheelbase of 106 inches, which helps (the longer the wheelbase, the bigger – the more “planted” a car usually feels at highway speeds) the Envista’s no land yacht Electra 225. The wake turbulence of passing semis requires both hands on the wheel to keep this Buick in its lane.
And while the Envista could give the old Electra a run for the money from 0-60 (believe it or not) what the old V8 rollers had was not something that can be replicated by 1.2 liters and three cylinders. It may have taken them nine seconds or longer to heave to 60, but once they got to 70 – or 80 – they could hold it effortlessly, with the V8 seemingly half-asleep and you commanding the open road.
The six speed non-CVT helps reduce what would otherwise be the racket of the overtaxed little engine spinning at two-thirds redline just to keep up with ebb and flow of fast-moving traffic. But ask it for more and you’ll see how little is left.
Interestingly, some of the other small crossovers in the class – like the Honda HR-V – have more engine (and power) and so feel more like the Buicks of the past than this one does.
If the Envista had even a little more engine than other small crossovers, it’d be more like a Buick ought to be.
At The Curb
It’s small – but doesn’t look as small as it is. That long (relative to its size) wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles – helps create a visual impression of more length than is actually there and does just that, here.
And it is not small – inside.
There’s 41.9 inches of legroom for the driver and front seat passenger and nearly 39 inches of legroom in back (38.7 inches, to be exact). These figures are better-than-most relative to most of the others in the class, including the slightly smaller (well, shorter overall) Honda HR-V, which has about an inch less backseat legroom (37.7 inches) and the Toyota Corolla Cross, which only has 32 inches of backseat legroom.
That’s six inches less.
Another comparison might be interesting to make – between this new Buick and the biggest Buick ever, the Electra 225, the latter number proudly touting how long it was, in inches. As opposed to the Envista’s 182.6 inches.
But that’s not the comparison that’s most interesting.
You have probably heard people talk about how those old land yachts had trunks big enough to hold a body wrapped in a carpet, Goodfellas style. And it was true. But this little Buick can hold more . . . well, whatever you need to cart around, believe it or not (as Jack Palance used to say).
Better yet, believe the stats.
A 1970 Electra 225 had less room in its trunk than the Envista has available – because the Envista (being a crossover) does not have a trunk. It has a cargo area – and if you maximize the space by folding forward the back seats, you will have 42 cubic feet of total space available. Even with the back seats up you’ll have 20.7 cubic feet to work with, which is still more available space than in a 225’s trunk.
This is why small crossovers have largely replaced big cars. Especially since you cannot get big cars anymore. The biggest ones that are still available are small by 225 standards – and their trunks do not have room for a body rolled up in a carpet.
All Envista trims come standard with a flat-screen instrument cluster integrated with a second flat-screen display for controlling various secondary features, such as climate control AC. It looks fancier – less cheesy – than the more common iPad sprouting from the center stack look that’s typical in many other non-luxury-brand small crossovers.
A better-than-average six (rather the usual four) speaker stereo is also standard but there is no optional system. If you want better-than-that, you’ll have to do the upgrade via Crutchfield or some such.
One other thing is also standard – a truly obnoxious electronic seatbelt fuhrer that “reminds” you to “buckle up” by not allowing you to drive – temporarily – until you do. The system holds the transmission gear selector in Park for several annoying seconds. This can be defeated by “buckling up” the seat – and then sitting on the belt.
Or by waiting it out.
It’s doubtful anyone would want this “feature” – and yet, there it is anyhow.
The Bottom Line
It’s weird (in a good way) to find a Buick that costs less than a Honda or a Toyota which is still big in most of the right places, except one.
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