Mountain Wheels: Chinese Buicks and Hemingway’s grave: An unusual weekend in Sun Valley
2017 Buick Envision AWD Premium
MSRP: $42,320; as tested, $44,135
Powertrain: 252-HP 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 22 combined (20 city, 26 highway)
I was trying very hard to not feel nervous as my counterpart tried very hard to see exactly at what point the new Buick Envision’s futuristic front automatic braking system would actually kick in, as we hovered ominously close to the rear end of a convoy of vehicles rolling through Hailey, Idaho.
But given that she was Catherine Coleman, the retired NASA astronaut who’d served on two space shuttle missions and spent 159 days aboard the International Space Station after launching from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz space capsule — and just happened to provide a lot of the technical details to Sandra Bullock for the movie “Gravity” — I figured I would let an actual rocket scientist do the driving.
Lucky for both of us, this newest member of the Buick SUV family, and verifiably the first mass-market, fully Chinese-made automobile to hit the domestic auto scene, has a pretty sophisticated mix of bits in its Driver Confidence Package, including a forward collision alert and very active lane-keep assist. All, as we discussed, technologies ultimately passed down through much of the scientific research done over several generations of space flight.
Coleman and I were in Sun Valley to join Buick at the DENT Conference, a localized, TED Talks-styled confab of entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and the like, now in its fifth year. In addition to cruising around in the Envision and Buick’s other newer products (the Encore, which has sucked up an entire quarter of the small SUV market, for instance), the weekend was also a celebration of the life and Ketchum-area legacy of Ernest Hemingway, who lived in the area for many years and notably ended his life there in 1961.
And just to make things even stranger, actress Geena Davis, “Girls” star Allison Williams and at least one of the Farrelly brothers were also in town for the Sun Valley Film Festival. It was not a boring time.
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How do all these disparate elements fit together in an automotive event? Hemingway, when making the very long commute between Key West, Florida, and the very off-the-map surroundings of a 1950s Sun Valley, was apparently a Buick kind of guy, with a blue Roadmaster that he very much admired.
The GM brand’s heavy emphasis on quiet tuning and upscale (but not Cadillac audacious) style also seemed like a reasonably good fit with Idaho’s laid-back style — although I noted Aspen Skiing Company has partnered to build an ultra-hipster hotel in the middle of Ketchum, so we Coloradoans do live up to our reputation for ruining everything, everywhere in the Rocky Mountain West.
Coleman and I did enjoy our time in the Envision — she’s used to a few more Gs on launches than I am, but was certainly impressed by the vehicle’s 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo and the absolutely seamless way that Apple Car Play syncs up with the Buick’s Intellilink audio and navigation system, allowing hands-free composition of text messages and more.
Envision serves as a nice middle spot between the attractive but small Encore and the big Enclave, with 57.3 cubic feet of cargo room and a 183.7-inch wheelbase, meaning more space than the similarly sized Lincoln MKC and the Acura RDX.
Finishings are, of course, upscale but not screamingly fancy, with a beautifully sculpted cockpit, comfortable seating and tons of brown leather if you want to go the traditional Buick route; I would suggest the Chili Red Metallic paint job as a way of sexing things up.
As for the China factor, build quality is exactly on par with what you’d find in any of Buick’s products (the Encore comes from South Korea, after all), and the only issue I noticed when driving the car a few weeks earlier in Colorado was a slightly over-aggressive automatic stop-start feature. Otherwise, unless you check the window sticker, you’d be hard-pressed to know the Envision hadn’t been bolted together in Ohio.
More than just driving, we got to spend some time listening to tales from Jed Gray, a local realtor who was a teenager when Hemingway lived next door and got to grow up hunting with “Mr. Papa.” We also paid tribute to the master of American fiction by visiting his grave, as well as checking out the room at the Sun Valley Lodge where he wrote much of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
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