A red 2021 Buick Envision is driving through a puddle after winning a 2021 Buick Envision vs 2021 Acura RDX comparison.

Standout Compact SUVs: the 2021 Buick Envision and 2021 Acura RDX

Compact SUVs are all the rage today, so much so that many auto brands are dropping their sedans and large SUVs in favor of a more diverse compact SUV lineup. While these lightweight, two-row, four-door cars handle nicely, especially now that most auto engineers have solved the top-heavy/rollover dilemma, compact SUVs are often overpriced for the level of style they offer. And ultimately, style is what you’re looking for in a car too small for towing but too large for high-octane, performance driving. Compare two popular options this year, the 2021 Buick Envision vs the 2021 Acura RDX, for case studies in compact style for less.

We’re taking a look at these two options because they’re popular compact SUVs from two top names in I-didn’t-know-I-could-afford-that automobiles. Here are the ins, outs, and around of these SUVs, followed by our opinion on why any supposed drawbacks of each may not be so relevant after all.

A Nice Look-Over

Check out both the new Buick Envision and this year’s Acura RDX for fine examples of luxury looks for less. Each one is nicely tailored to turn heads, even if one may steal more attention. The Enclave has notably undulating sheet metal curves, with sharp-angled headlights, that signature Buick diamond grille, and a sleek silhouette that suggests luxury driving. This redesigned edition for 2021 is clearly a refined city car, although it still has those performance looks that imply an adventurous side. Lean into a more rugged Buick aesthetic with the Sport Touring package, which adds 20-inch wheels and dark exterior trim detailing, among other more athletic-looking details.

Meanwhile, the Acura RDX has a sportier look than before, with blacked-out features in contrast to its hot paint color options like Performance Red Pearl and Lunar Silver Metallic. It does appear to be longer than its cabin actually is, but it nonetheless feels like a more sophisticated version of the discount offerings from brands like Chevy and Ford. We can’t deny that is has a striking aesthetic, but so does the Envision, so it all comes down to preference here.

A blue 2021 Acura RDX is driving through a city.

Power and Flair

The 2021 Buick Envision drives like a compact SUV should, carefully riding the line between good, responsive activity and fuel economy. All models come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 228 horsepower. That’s more than enough to stroll through city streets, zoom onto the highway, and take to the open road. The engine is paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission that helps the Envision feel peppy and smooth to drive, and optional all-wheel drive enhances traction and handling in a variety of driving conditions. While there are higher-performance SUVs out there, the Envision comes through with up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway, a money-saving fuel economy rating that shouldn’t be discounted, especially because it’s better than that of the 2021 Acura RDX.

As for the RDX, every model includes the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that offers 272 horsepower. While it seems to accelerate quicker than the Envision does, truthfully, the effectiveness of the horsepower difference between the two models is minimal. Unfortunately, there have been a few complaints about inconsistent brake performance, as well as difficulty downshifting from higher speeds. In stop-and-go city traffic, this can definitely be a hindrance.

Clearly, neither the Envision nor the RDX are speedsters with aggressive horsepower and torque ratings, but they get you where you need to go. Thankfully, the strengths of each compact SUV lies in other areas, namely, the cabin. Both are designed to deliver comfort and affordable luxury above all.

Where It Counts

The 2021 Buick Envision has a beautifully designed cabin, a refined aesthetic dominated by attractive curvature, smooth lines, and soft-touch materials stitched to perfection. Adjust the highly flexible seating and multiple storage compartments to cater to your comforts. Load up the cargo bay and take advantage of the generous 52.7 cubic feet of storage space, a figure that competes with larger SUVs.

The Envision’s infotainment device is your gateway to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, built-in Amazon Alexa, and the HD external camera display that keeps an eye out for obstacles. Upgrade to the Essence trim for a host of luxury features, including heated and ventilated seats that stay comfortable in all climate conditions. You’ll also get the larger, 10.2-inch infotainment screen. In addition, you’ll get some exterior upgrades like 18-inch wheels.

For the pinnacle of luxury SUV driving, choose the 2021 Envision in the Avenir trim, which competes with the priciest imported luxury brands at a fraction of the cost. Quilted leather seating in a gorgeously refined design, a massaging driver’s seat that caters to every driver’s distinct body shape, an enhanced infotainment center, and a 9-speaker Bose audio system make every drive feel like a trip in first class, even when you’re taking a trip to the bank. The Avenir model of any Buick is always a standout, and the Envision is no exception here.

The Envision delivers on passenger safety as well, with hordes of standard active safety features in the Buick Driver Confidence Plus suite. These include Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, and more. Upgrade for even more safety tech like HD Surround Vision, Enhanced Parking Assist, and Adaptive Cruise Control that monitors spacing from surrounding vehicles to keep you at a safe distance.

Inside the RDX

The RDX has a comfortable cabin, too, with cool optional features like a dynamic touchpad to cycle through driver controls and a supersized panoramic sunroof. Upgrade the standard edition with the Technology package to get an enhanced speaker system, leather seats, and navigation in the infotainment device. You’ll also get more active safety tech like the Collision Mitigation Braking System and Road Departure Mitigation. The infotainment device has all the staples like smartphone compatibility, but it’s oddly jammed into the top of the dashboard, partially obscured, and slightly out of reach.

We prefer the Buick Envision for its more clean and refined aesthetic, against which the RDX feels busy and cramped despite it having ample cargo space. Also, some of the optional upgrades like the A-Spec trim’s bright red upholstery, contrast-color stitching, and gaudy ambient lights are decidedly tacky. Acura may have attempted to go sporty in an attempt to betray the RDX’s actual performance ratings. However, the cabin is certainly where the RDX shines, especially for those looking for a compact SUV with a slightly more athletic ambiance.

A grey 2021 Buick Envision is driving through an intersection.

Our Take

Ultimately, some picky reviewers may take unnecessary issue with how both the 2021 Buick Envision and 2021 Acura RDX perform in driving tests. However, these complaints just don’t matter much to the compact SUV’s target audience. There are body styles that are designed to compromise nearly all in favor of outstanding thrill rides, but this selection isn’t it. The Envision and the RDX both provide an excellent and capable SUV that is packed with that bit of luxury you always wanted but didn’t think you could afford.

However, in the qualities of the Envision and RDX that actually matter, including safety, tech, appealing looks, and overall value, the Buick takes the cake. This SUV features are simply a little bit better than the Acura’s, and they come at a more affordable price. Of course, you’re getting tip-top luxury from these brands’ compact SUVs, but you’re also paying more exorbitant sticker prices and maintenance fees. Overall, the 2021 Buick Envision and 2021 Acura RDX satisfy where it counts, but the Buick is the better-value compact SUV overall. It wins out in just about every category that would inspire someone to shop for a compact SUV, to begin with, so we expect it to have mass appeal.