I drove a Chinese-made Buick through the heart of Trump’s America to the Detroit auto show

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A Chinese-made Buick — in Canada!
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Matthew DeBord/BI

I love a long drive, preferring to hit the road every year to journey from suburban New Jersey, where I live, to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show.

It ends up being two days of driving to cover the roughly 1,200 miles round trip. However, with the right vehicle, the experience is bliss, even in January when the weather can be anything but cooperative. A flight takes only about two hours, but I like to get behind the wheel and see America.

In 2016, I made the trek in a Ford Escape, a popular compact crossover SUV. Just to spread the love around the Detroit automakers, I went with the competition this year and asked Buick, a General Motors brand, if I could borrow an Envision, also a compact crossover, and slightly more luxurious than the Escape.

An added wrinkle: the Envision is made in China. And I would be driving it along the I-80 corridor, right through the heart of made-in-USA Trump country.

There are no actual Chinese-branded vehicles for sale in the US, but there are two Chinese-made vehicles that are imported: the Envision and the Volvo S60 Inscription, a sedan that we drove and liked. Thus far, the BI Transportation team has been impressed with the Chinese-built cars that we’ve driven.

But clearly, with the new administration in the White House, it remains to be seen whether more Chinese cars and trucks bearing US and European badges will make it into the country.

The Envision I tested was priced slightly higher than $45,000, which means that it wasn’t a cheap choice. And because it was fully tricked out, it came packed with luxurious and high-tech features.

Here’s how the trip went:


My chariot for this arduous jaunt was a 2017 Buick Envision, a compact crossover SUV manufactured in … China! General Motors imported it from the Middle Kingdom to plug a glaring hole in the Buick lineup. It’s one of just two Chinese-made vehicles on sale in the US. The other is the Volvo S60 Inscription.

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You can read our review of the Volvo here.


The design of the Envision is nothing too snazzy. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t stand out. Our tester was the Premier II trim level, with all-wheel-drive and plenty of techie features.

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There’s the familiar Buick “waterfall” grille and tri-shield badge.

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You get LED daytime running lights and three ventiports per side.

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The Envision is on par with the Ford Escape I drove to Detroit in 2016 (I made a stop on the way back at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland), but the the Envision gets a slight edge in the luxury department.

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Read about last year’s trip here.


In 2016, the Escape and I negotiated some very wintry weather.

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In 2017, the snow hit before I left home. In fact, the weather got better as I drove to the Midwest.

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As in 2016, my journey would cover over 600 miles each way. But unlike in 2016, I would be driving through a newly charged political landscape: Trump country. The I-80 corridor runs right through the heart of Pennsylvania and Ohio, manufacturing counties that Trump carried in the presidential election.

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Screenshot via Google Maps

The cargo area and rear seats have the typical 60-40 split. With both rear seats down, capacity is a generous 57 cubic feet. The Envision swallowed up all my stuff with ease.

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It was sunny when I departed, but not warm enough to have melted all the snow and ice on the Envision.

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A quick stop for gas did give me the chance to rid the vehicle of some of the snow and slush, however.

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Fuel economy is fair: 20 mpg city, 26 highway. Because almost all of my trip would be on the highway, I enjoyed the upper end of the range. Notice that there’s no gas cap, by the way!

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The rear seats would have provided plenty of room if I had passengers.

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Adults and kids should be reasonably comfortable. The black leather seats are classic Buick, although they have been stiffened up a tad, in response to current tastes.

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There was a decent amount of storage space in the front, with a pair of cupholders and the usual USB and AUX ports for devices. Note the old-school shifter, with its simple P-N-R-D configuration, a welcome throwback after too many vehicles with hard-to-use modern joystick shifters. The Envision’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine serves up 252 turbocharged horses and pipes them through a very nice six-speed automatic transmission.

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The infotainment is Buick’s IntelliLink system — in my opinion, the best in the business, coupled with GM’s fleet wide 4GLTE connectivity that provides reliable wifi, as well as OnStar, which provided me with navigation. Bluetooth pairing was a breeze.

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I enjoyed a lot of Underground Garage on SiriusXM satellite radio …

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… lots and lots …

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… all of it emanating from the Envisions excellent Bose audio system. You need good quality audio on a long trip.

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The center touchscreen is large, and the features are easy to use. A modest array of knobs and buttons provides backup.

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Nothing too exotic here. I spent something like 24 hours staring at this steering wheel and instrument cluster. However, I didn’t let me down. The Envision’s steering isn’t exactly sharp, but it isn’t supposed to be. And the driver’s seat was an exceptionally comfortable place to spend many, many hours on the open road.

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For what it’s worth, the Envision lacks paddle shifters for semi-manual action, which is fine by me. The Buick also has an automatic stop-start function to enhance fuel economy, a feature that will annoy some drivers because it can’t be turned off. Once I got used to it, I barely noticed.


Along my route, I encountered some moderately nasty weather, but the AWD system was completely surefooted, and the turbo four-banger had ample pep for passing what seemed like an endless supply of semis. Interstate 80 is a major east-west trucking route. In conditions like this, passing power is critical.

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I craved Taco Bell for the entire journey. Don’t ask me why.

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I haven’t eaten this many Burrito Supremes since I was 17 years old. I washed it down with Dr. Pepper, of course.

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But there were other dining options …

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… conveniently located at rest stops along my route.

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At last, I arrived in Detroit. That’s the Renaissance, GM’s — and Buick’s — world HQ.

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The next two days would find me at Cobo Hall for the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

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You can check out all the cool stuff I saw at the show here.


No Trump showing, but Vice-President Joe Biden did make an appearance to check out the Corvette Grand Sport, the greatest Corvette in human history.

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Read the Grand Sport review here.


We had a great time. And to add insult to injury, I didn’t just drive a Chinese-made Buick to Motown through Trump-held territory — I stayed in CANADA! Windsor, Ontario, to be exact, which sits directly across the river from Detroit. I guess you could say I escaped the US every night.

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In fact, when it was time to head back home, I took the famous Ambassador Bridge (I also used the tunnel that connects Canada and Detroit), connecting American and Canada since 1929. Don’t forget your passport!

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Pulling over to refuel on I-80 means truck stops galore.

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Even in the age of GPS navigation, it’s still nice to see paper road maps. They give you the big picture, where you’ve been … where you’re going.

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Honestly, after over 1,000 miles, the Envision looked better than when it began the trip.

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Back home, safe and sound. She was a good ship!

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So how did the Envision do?

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Buick desperately needed a compact crossover to slot in between the mid-size Enclave and the sub-compact Encore. The Envision fit the bill, and luckily the Chinese-made vehicle was there to be pressed into duty at the end of 2016.

The crossover market is hot in the US and while the Envision might not be for everybody, particularly drivers who want a sporty SUV or need hardcore off-road capability, the Buick is solid.

For me, a long road trip is the acid test for any car, and the Envision passed with flying colors. When you put the entire package together – comfort, power, cargo capacity, infotainment – the upshot is a road-trip mobile extraordinaire. Fuel economy could be better, and the Envision’s looks could be bolder, but neither is a deal killer.

The suite of driver-assist features is superb: adaptive cruise control, automatic front braking, forward collision alert, lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning, and blind-spot alerts. I used the adaptive cruise control a lot, and it made the journey far more relaxing than it would have been without it.

But taking over and doing the actual driving myself was also delightful. The Envision has that Buick thing – it drives well without making a big deal out of it. This isn’t a car that you ever fell compelled to push. And that’s good because it makes you a safer driver. The available heated-and-cooled seats and the steering wheel heater are icing on the cake.

Crossovers saved Buick after the financial crisis when the brand was on the brink of extinction. Ironically, Buick made it through because GM needed a strong brand in China, where Buick has always been popular. With the Envision, China paid Buick back when Buick needed it most.

Buick now has a very competitive crossover lineup to see it through the next few years, with Envision right at the heart of it. The question obviously is whether President Trump’s politics will complicate the US-China trading relationship and force and adjustment to where and how automakers build cars.

But for now, one of my favorite long-haul SUVs is the Buick Envision, and I don’t care where it was bolted together – because whoever did the bolting did a great job.