What vehicle is built in South Korea, for a brand whose biggest market is China, yet whose badge is linked to more than 100 years of American automotive history? If you’ve been following Buick’s fortunes over the past decade, chances are you were able to guess the company behind the vehicle I’m referring to. The actual model itself, however, is a little more opaque, given that it’s fresh for the 2024 model year, and somewhat of a surprising departure for both Buick and its corporate parent General Motors.
The 2024 Buick Envista feels a lot like an exercise in hope. The crossover-like hatchback aims to prove there’s still a little life left at the lower end of the price pyramid. Surprisingly, that ambition comes without the need to make any significant sacrifices in comfort or capability; what we’re dealing with here is an actual deal on a stylish package that makes more than a token effort towards flirting with an upscale ownership experience.
|2024 Buick Envista
|Price of Model Tested
|1.2-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, 137 hp, 162 lb-ft torque
|28/32/30 mpg (city/highway/combined)
|As of summer 2023
It’s a testament to the top-heavy tenor of the current market that an affordable car that does nearly everything as well as its pricier counterparts feels like cause for celebration. That the Buick Envista might be poised to lead its premium-leaning producer towards a potential plundering of the entry-level, near-luxe buyer base also feels like a warning to more prominent players.
Small Crossover, Big Impression
The smaller side of the high-end automotive market can feel like a battle between bean counters protecting profit margins and product planners wary of stealing sales from the next model up. Shrinking down the size of premium vehicles often leaves the trappings of the larger brethren without retaining much of the substance, making for a hollowed-out ownership experience.
The Buick Envista strikes down that strategy from its very first impression. Despite a starting price of just under $24,000, its striking exterior suggests Euro-influenced design clearly inspired by future-facing electric vehicles as well as more exotic fare from Aston Martin, Lotus and, dare I say it, Lamborghini. Although the looks get a little complicated at the rear, it’s certainly a step above what one would expect from a vehicle whose window sticker counts “value” as a primary feature.
The Envista’s cabin doesn’t attempt to dazzle its occupants with the suggestion of upward mobility, but instead succeeds in its simplicity and clean presentation. Some might miss features like navigation, but Buick is aware of the reality that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are the most common direction finders of today, and the Envista’s clean and uncluttered infotainment screen provides enough real estate to make either app useful.
Modern Cars Cost Too Much. Here Are 5 That Don’t.The best truck, SUV, EV, sports car and off-roader you can buy for under $35,000
I drove the Sport Touring model, which added roughly $1,500 to the starting price but brought with it black rims and exterior trim, a more aggressive grille treatment, and leather-look seat coverings (with blue piping and ST stitching). It also benefited from a full load of options including heated steering wheel and seats, adaptive cruise control and other advanced driver aides, a power liftgate, a power moonroof, and automatic wipers, which pushed its price to $29,000 — or just under what you’d pay for the most expensive Avenir trim, which includes much of the same gear, plus an updated rear suspension. That spicier back axle is available on the Sport Touring trim if you opt for 19-inch wheels, which also come with the Experience Buick package.
All of the above is a fairly long list of gear, and more importantly, it can be added and subtracted a la carte to create the Envista that best fits your needs, meaning you don’t have to spring for the top-tier Avenir if you only want to keep your butt and mitts warm through the winter months. This is another delightful departure from typical maximalist luxury options bundling.
A Smooth Commuter
Stylish on the outside, and decently appointed within (depending on how much you’re comfortable spending), the Buick Envista is also a fitting commuting companion for those whose expectations match its affordable ask. Outfitted with a 1.2-liter turbocharged engine, you’d be hard pressed to guess it was a three-cylinder unit by the respectably smooth performance it provides.
I want to be clear: with 137 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque on tap, there’s nothing about the Envista that challenges you to reign in its performance. Rather, its drivetrain (married to a traditional six-speed automatic instead of the more common continuously variable transmission at this price point) is reasonably quiet, almost always calm, and responsive enough to never feel like a burden in traffic. Likewise, the Buick’s handling tends towards buttoned down rather than exciting, a character trait that serves its daily driving mission well.
For those living in rural areas, the lack of an all-wheel drive option might seem like a deal-breaker, particularly given the suggestive nature of the Envista’s tall ride height and SUV-like shape. For what it’s worth, I had no issue handling a recent unplowed snowfall on a gravel road from behind its wheel, but you’ll need to invest in decent winter tires if you plan to take the Buick into ski country. I did bemoan the lack of a rear wiper, a rare bit of detectable cost-cutting for the otherwise cheerful platform.
Keep ‘Em Coming Back
The Envista occupies an intriguing place in the Buick hierarchy. Larger than the more expensive Encore (which previously held the brand’s bargain position), it leverages its longer wheelbase to deliver better rear passenger room, even if there’s a bit of a haircut included due to its lower roofline.
This vehicle makes no bones about competing with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW at the bottom rung. That being said, looking at more direct rivals like Acura, Lexus and Lincoln, it’s impossible to find a direct competitor that doesn’t ask for significantly more money. In fact, the Buick Envista is the only premium-like player to be found for under $30,000.
Where the Envista truly shines is as a Trojan horse for Buick. By dropping onto the radar of legitimate first-time shoppers, and then over-delivering on their expectations of what an affordable, practical hatch has to offer, it’s setting up a buying pattern that should guide repeat customers into more profitable Buick fare further down the road — provided the rest of the automaker’s lineup can keep pace with the unexpected tempo set by its most modest member.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.