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Translating a lauded concept car design language to the realities of a full-scale production vehicle is a tricky business. Last year, Buick designers unwrapped a Wildcat EV concept that blended a Jet Age ethos, inside and out, with an electric coupe shape that lit a flickering hope for the often-stodgy brand. Bringing that Wildcat language to a small SUV in the sub-$30K price bracket, was a high-wire act, indeed.
The fruit of those labors is the 2024 Buick Envista, an attractive little thing, to be sure, but perhaps not the mold-breaker I’d hoped for when I first saw Wildcat in the studio last year.
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|Quick Stats||2024 Buick Envista Sport Touring|
|Engine||Turbocharged 1.2-Liter I3|
|Output||137 Horsepower / 162 Pound-Feet|
|Drive Type||Front-Wheel Drive|
|Efficiency||28 City / 32 Highway / 30 Combined (est.)|
|Price As Tested||$29,070 (est.)|
|On Sale Date||Summer 2023|
When I arrived at the launch venue – a coffee shop called Dozer that I adore in my hometown of Ann Arbor – my first response to seeing Envista in the metal was, “Oh, that’s pretty good.” Sleek, unfussy lines drape the Buick’s coupe-like (forgive me) shape, with slim lighting elements and 19-inch wheels doing most of the aesthetic heavy lifting. In spite of sharing its bones with the mechanically identical Chevrolet Trax, the Buick is a genuinely appealing small crossover.
In particular, the Envista in Sport Touring or “ST” trim (how does Ford let that happen?), with a dark-finish, ten-spoke wheel and a skinny line of black body cladding, really worked for me. It’s no Wildcat concept, but Buick designers are earning their keep with much more than just a badge refresh here.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Given my really positive impressions of the Envista’s shape, I was surprised to find that a vocal cohort of my social media followers didn’t agree. After posting a quick photo of the Buick during the drive, several auto pundits pointed out a closeness to the Lamborghini Urus that I can’t now unsee, with one particularly poetic commenter dubbing it the Shambo Lambo. That’s a bridge too far but still, terrific nicknaming.
Derivative or not, I have a sense that the Buick will be a fan favorite amongst normal car-buying folks. Auto writers love to cry about four-door coupes and supersport SUVs, but that doesn’t stop people from buying both in droves. And for those who like the Envista but want a different take on the design, the subcompact Encore GX will oblige with Wildcat inspiration as well.
The Confines Of Value
Now seems like a good time to mention that, unlike the Urus, which starts around $230,000, Buick is pricing the Envista aggressively at $23,495 including the $1,095 delivery and destination charges. The ST model I drove starts at $25,195, and even the top-of-the-line Avenir stays under the $30K mark, at $29,695 all-in.
Unlike the exterior design, which pushes upmarket relative to the price point, the interior is less expressive and a bit more mainstream. The Envista really relies on a big slab of screens in front of the driver to convey any kind of premium feel. The 11.0-inch infotainment screen is married to an 8.0-inch, fully digital instrument cluster behind one stretch of curved glass, an effect that will certainly impress shoppers coming out of older vehicles. Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and device charging are all but table stakes these days but will be appreciated by every driver, nevertheless.
Modernity pauses beyond the instrument panel, however. The Envista’s accessible price point starts to show in neatly surfaced but hard plastics, an unfortunate density of piano-black and cheap-o chromed trim, and a generous helping of stuff you’ve seen in other small Buicks and Chevys.
I’m being picky, for sure. But the reality is that Honda, Kia, and Hyundai still do a nicer interior in this sub-$30K space. They also offer more literal space. Envista offers a useful 20.6 cubic feet of storage under the rear hatch or 42.0 with the seats folded, but both the Honda HR-V (24.4/55.1) and the Kia Seltos (26.6/62.8) shade the sleeker Buick. Such is the price of beauty. Even still, I think there’s less of a trade-off in practice than in theory, here. At 6-foot-5 I still had enough leg and headroom, front and rear, to sit behind myself.
Quiet In A Straight Line
Honestly, I’d be fine sitting in the backseat if someone else is willing to drive. With notable exceptions (the Regal GS comes to mind) Buicks aren’t engineered to be thrilling to toss around winding roads. That’s certainly the case with the front-drive Envista, which proved capable but not captivating on some of the only curvy roads in the vicinity of Ann Arbor.
The powertrain consists of a turbocharged, 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine – making a very respectable 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque – connected to a blandly tuned six-speed automatic transmission and mandatory front-wheel drive. Despite having to motivate a 3030-pound SUV carrying Autoblog’s charming John Beltz Snyder and myself, the three-pot felt punchy at low speeds if far from quick.
Not much about the handling profile enticed me into quick corners, however. Steering feel was down to a quiet whisper about what was happening with the front tires, while response from the MacPherson strut front suspension was leisurely. No one is in danger of confusing the three-cylinder Envista for a civilized GR Corolla. Still, the ride was well-composed and compliant over the mostly bad Michigan roads.
I was hoping for a bit more in-cabin quiet to make up for the lack of sport and to make good on Buick’s best brand attribute, historically. On the highway, the small car was pretty good on that front, with some wind noise off of the side mirrors the most notable distraction.
If The Shape Moves You
The Envista is an interesting lifestyle vehicle from a brand in Buick that hasn’t had one… since Tiger was slinging Rendezvous? The attractive pricing, decent fuel econ (the company is estimating 28 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway), and easy driving nature make it quasi-rational, but any truly practical buyer would likely opt for one of the more upright and capacious small SUVs in this competitive set.
On the other hand, if you, like me, are attracted to the mini-Urus looks, Buick’s newest offering represents something of a segment buster. Not everything, and least of all budget four-door coupe crossovers, must be perfectly rational after all.