DETROIT -- General Motors has greenlighted a summer 2016 U.S. launch for the Buick Envision compact crossover, which should provide a much-needed lift for the brand’s lineup by taking aim at one of the industry’s largest segments.
Buick chief Duncan Aldred on Thursday informed members of the Buick National Dealer Council of the move and was scheduled to announce it to the rest of the brand’s U.S. retailers today.
Dealers have been clamoring for GM to bring the Envision stateside since even before the vehicle’s August 2014 launch in China. GM will import the vehicle from China, which Automotive News reported in August as a likely outcome once the automaker had inked a new four-year labor contract with the UAW.
Aldred confirmed the decision in an interview today.
“Talk about a catalyst for the Buick brand and for volume growth,” Aldred said. “We’re putting in what I believe is a class-leading vehicle in the heart of the U.S. auto industry. This is massive for Buick.”
Aldred said Buick benchmarked the Audi Q5 during the development of the Envision, which was designed and engineered primarily at GM’s main technical center near Detroit.
“Dynamically, from a ride-and-handling standpoint, it’s very comparable to the Q5. I’d say better,” Aldred said.
For the U.S., the Envision will be launched with a 252-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and stop-start system. It won’t be sold with the 1.5-liter turbo that serves as the base motor in China.
The crossover will be sold with an all-wheel-drive model only to start, although a two-wheel-drive variant with an alternative engine is being considered for the future, Aldred said. The awd system is the same one that will be available in the redesigned 2017 LaCrosse that goes on sale around the same time -- a “twin clutch” setup from GKN Driveline that can control the amount of torque sent to each rear wheel, improving grip and control in bad weather.
The Envision will come with plenty of premium content, Aldred said, including a 360-degree panoramic camera, automatic park assist and sliding, heated rear seats that recline. He said the feedback on the interior from customer focus groups was “the best we’ve ever tested before.”
With Buick’s positioning as a near-luxury brand, the Envision will compete across the spectrum of compact crossovers, from the Lincoln MKC and Acura RDX to higher trim levels of the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.
The crossover will fill the sizable gap in Buick’s lineup between the subcompact Encore and the full-size Enclave. At 183.7 inches, it’s about 15 inches longer than the Encore and 18 inches shorter than the Enclave.
Buick’s sales performance this year underscores how badly the lineup could use another crossover. Encore sales surged 33 percent, and Enclave was up 2.3 percent, while sales of Buick’s three sedans have sagged (Verano down 28 percent, Regal down 18 percent and LaCrosse off 16 percent).
Sales of the Envision -- named Motor Trend’s SUV of the year in China -- have been on a tear there, on pace to hit around 140,000 in its first full year. Aldred said it has fast become Buick’s “most important” vehicle in China.
The crossover is made by Shanghai GM, a joint venture between GM and SAIC Motor Corp., at a 3-year-old assembly plant in northeastern Shandong province.
It’s the first vehicle to be built on GM’s new global compact platform, which also will underpin the next generation of the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, expected to go on sale sometime in 2017.
AutoPacific Inc. analyst Dave Sullivan, who recently test drove a U.S. version of the Envision at GM’s proving grounds, said the crossover should fare well against the RDX, Infiniti QX5 and other premium crossovers.
“It’s extremely quiet inside, really nicely equipped with top-notch materials,” Sullivan said. He called the drive “engaging” with “a good blend of comfort and precise steering.”
He expects the price to be on the higher side for Buick because of its premium content and features.
Aldred said Envision pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date. He said it would be below that of an Audi Q5 and in the ballpark of an RDX, which starts in the mid $30,000s.
The Encore ranges from $24,990 to $32,310, including destination fee but before any options. The Enclave spans from $39,990 to $50,440.