Buick finds its mojo. For a minute there, we were wondering what was going on with Buick. First, they discontinued the Regal lineup, including the quietly excellent TourX wagon, a classy alternative to the Subaru Outback. Then the original Encore was refreshed – and looked a bit too much like the awkward original. A more stylish Encore GX appeared, but was hampered by a standard 137-horsepower three-cylinder.

But then they trotted out the all-new 2021 Envision. The new model replaced what may have been the most generic vehicle available in the U.S. market, and the two generations couldn't have been more different. While the old model was as forgettable as a can of store-brand vegetables, the new one hit you in the kisser with its sporty proportions, long hood, wide stance, and sculpted body. It had an aggressive, menacing demeanor – the likes of which we haven't seen from Buick since the last Grand National rolled off the line.

The Envision rolled out late in the 2021 model year, so 2022 only brings minor changes. There's a new paint color or two, and the sporty ST trim (not to be confused with Ford's ST trim) gets upgraded stitching. What stays the same? The svelte styling and the newfound attitude.

Smooth ride, composed powertrain. Every Envision is powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Output stands at 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is on the lower end among premium compact crossovers but still competitive. The turbo helps bring about that full dollop of torque by 1,500 rpm and makes it available through 5,000 rpm; the result is an excellent response that's almost always on tap.

A nine-speed automatic shifts gears. For the most part, we were happy with the consistent, clean shifts it snapped off. We did encounter the infrequent judder, but this was an anomaly for the otherwise imperturbable gearbox.

Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional on every trim. Various drive modes, including Snow/Ice and Sport, help make the most of the available traction in specific scenarios regardless of which wheels are driven. All-wheel drive models have an Off-Road mode, but don't get too optimistic – the middling ground clearance and road-oriented tires mean that this crossover isn't down to get too dirty.

Buick has long been known for its quiet and composed rides, and the Envision doesn't disappoint in that sense. The crossover glides over railroad tracks, expansion joints, and other abrupt impacts without much fuss. You'll want the adaptive dampers for the best available ride quality.

Elegant, modern cabin. The Envision's interior adheres to the traditional Buick philosophy of subtle elegance. The organic shape of the dash mildly orients the touchscreen and climate controls towards the driver. A button-operated shifter, recalling the design used in modern Acuras, keeps the center console flat and sleek. Materials and build quality are up to the task of convincing buyers who may otherwise be shopping for the more popular luxury brands.

Five seatbelts come with every Envision, though we don't imagine the rear-middle belt being used all that often. This is the sort of crossover where four is the perfect number. We recommend getting something bigger if you need to regularly haul around your Jazz quintet.

With large windows and generous headroom, the Envision is never claustrophobic. Coupled with the competitive 39.3 inches of rear legroom, even your tallest friends won't feel cramped in the back seat.

Cargo space is about par for the class: 25.2 cubes behind the rear seats and a little over 52 cubes with the seatbacks folded. That's more than the Volvo XC40 but less than the Lincoln Corsair and Acura RDX.

Fancy features, good tech. Buick's latest top trim is the Avenir, and we can say with confidence the trim has the substance to back up the fancy-sounding name. Besides plenty of attractively quilted leather, you'll get features like navigation, 20-inch wheels, heated rear seats, and a surround-view camera. Unfortunately, it doesn't get the most desirable standard active-safety kit – you'll still have to pay extra for things like adaptive cruise control and a rear camera mirror.

Embedded into the stylish dashboard is a 8.0-inch touchscreen that gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The upper two trims swap out this screen for a larger unit that measures 10.2 inches. Again, smartphone compatibility is standard. These upper trims also boast a nine-speaker Bose audio system.

Other features are also available, such as a panoramic roof and head-up display. In all, the Envision offers the right mix of desirable luxury features in line with the expectations of today's buyers.

Final thoughts. On the cheapest end, the Envision rings in at about $35,000; the priciest models cost more than $43,000. We think the sweet spot is on the lower end of that scale.

Crossing beyond the $40,000 barrier invites comparisons to the luxury establishment, and as good as the Envision is, we don't think it's quite ready to compete in that arena. Against names like Volvo, Lincoln, and Acura, though, the Envision makes a strong case for itself. That sort of competency – which was, frankly, unexpected – has us excited for whatever follow-up acts Buick has in the wings.

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