Buick’s premium crossover isn’t Mercedes-grade
At first glance, the new Buick Envision doesn’t look particularly notable. This compact crossover blends quietly into traffic, without dramatic styling cues or a badge that screams luxury.
But there’s more to it than meets the eye. The Envision, first introduced as a 2016 model, boasts a posh, feature-laden interior and wears a price tag that starts at $34,990 and can surpass $50,000. And it’s notable as the first model line to be fully imported to the U.S. from a factory in China.
Buick is big in China, where car buyers still remember the brand’s glory days – from the luxurious models sold there before the nation’s 1949 Communist revolution. Consumer tastes there favor conservative styling, and the Envision therefore doesn’t call attention to itself like a Lexus NX or Mercedes-Benz GLC. And with many well-heeled Chinese Buick buyers preferring to be chauffeured, General Motors ensured that this crossover has a roomy, comfortable rear seat. The tested model also had its own rear-seat automatic climate controls.
From the driver’s seat – where most American owners will sit – the Envision impresses with its well-finished cabin and comfortable chairs. On the road, the car stays quiet; the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine on the tested model delivers peppy acceleration; and handling is decently agile. Generous cargo space and a tight turning radius also stand out; a number of premium-brand competitors don’t excel at those basic practical focuses.
However, the Envision rarely feels like an all-out luxury car – despite being priced like one. The suspension can jolt and jostle the occupants, without the serenity Buick is known for. And the famous vault-like solidity of a similarly priced Mercedes-Benz just isn’t there in the Envision.
This Buick fills a unique niche in the market as a premium compact crossover that hides behind a mainstream, unpretentious exterior appearance, but too much of the substance also feels mainstream-grade to justify a $50,000 price point. Meanwhile, the base $35,000 model – new for 2017 – comes with a relatively basic four-cylinder engine without the power and smoothness you’d expect for the money.
Leading small luxury crossovers include the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5 and Lincoln MKC. And if you’re open to a slightly larger vehicle with a mainstream badge, the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano offer high levels of comfort and style at a similar or lower price than the Envision.
Honda Accord ages well as a sensible family sedan – but not a luxury one
For decades, the Honda Accord has attracted loyal fans both from the automotive marketplace and from the automotive press – racking up critical acclaim along with strong sales.
A recent test drive of a 2017 Accord sedan from Sport Honda in Silver Spring pointed to the car’s appeal. Even though the current Accord dates to the 2013 model year, which is fairly old in car years, it still blends outstanding interior room with great gas mileage and engaging driving dynamics. The Accord is also widely available with advanced safety features, and comes competitively priced from $23,330. The tested decently equipped EX hit $27,365.
The Accord isn’t perfect. A 2016 update brought an annoying dashboard interface that replaces all audio buttons and knobs – even stereo volume – with touchscreen controls. Some drivers will prefer a cushier ride quality, too, or flashier styling. But this EX four-cylinder is a highly sensible family car that still has some hidden spice to its steering and handling, a compelling combination.
However, a high-end EX-L tested last year, with the optional V6, was somehow less appealing. There’s quicker acceleration and a richer engine note, but leather seats and a powerful engine don’t make the Accord feel like a luxury car despite a price of $33,465 as tested. The heavier Accord also gave up some of the the four-cylinder’s handling verve, and EPA fuel economy ratings fall from 30 mpg in mixed driving in the four-cylinder to 25 mpg in the V6.
Honda’s luxury brand, Acura, sells an Accord variant called the TLX that has a notably higher-grade feel to both its interior and its driving dynamics. Meanwhile, among mainstream sedans, the stylish, sporty Ford Fusion and Mazda6 also stand out for their premium ambiance more than the Accord, though they don’t have the Honda’s excellent interior room and rear visibility.
The 2017 Accord is also offered as a two-door coupe and as a highly fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid.