With more and more car manufacturers starting to introduce support for wireless CarPlay, the convenience of having easy access to some of your iPhone's functionality in a dashboard-friendly interface without needing to deal with cables is becoming accessible to an increasing number of car buyers.
GM is one of those manufacturers that has started to embrace wireless CarPlay, and I recently spent some time in a 2021 Buick Envision to check out how it fares and how it compares to the infotainment experience I tested a couple of years ago in a 2019 Buick Regal TourX.
Overall, the latest version of the Buick Infotainment System is quite similar to the previous generation, carrying over the same simple and clean design with round icons on the home screen and a dashboard view with widgets for audio, phone, and navigation functions all on one screen.
A strip along the bottom of the display while on any of the home screens or in the system's apps offers quick access to main functions like music, phone, navigation, and vehicle comfort controls, as well as the time and outdoor temperature. My Envision was also equipped with an ionizing air filter, and the status bar offers a glanceable air quality reading.
Something new on the infotainment system compared to the 2019 system I previously tested is a thin status bar at the top of the screen offering audio information like station, song name, and artist, along with a signal strength indicator for the vehicle's cellular connection.
The infotainment system's screen has a bit of a matte finish to help reduce glare and fingerprints, while a fairly significant dashboard overhang also helps minimize glare from potential direct sun exposure. The screen is also tilted toward the driver and back a bit under the overhang, another design choice that helps reduce the potential for glare.
In addition to the generously sized touchscreen, the Envision includes three hard controls to the left of the display within convenient reach of the driver: a power button that doubles as a volume knob, a home button for quickly jumping out of an app, and a select button that doubles as a scroll knob which can be used to navigate the system's interface, even in CarPlay.
Speaking of CarPlay, setup is incredibly simple as it on most vehicles, involving just a few steps to pair the phone via Bluetooth and then grant appropriate permissions for CarPlay.
As I noted in my previous look at the 2019 model, I found the colors in CarPlay in particular on the 2021 Envision to look a little washed out. It's not bad, but definitely noticeable compared to other systems I've used.
The system is responsive in both native and CarPlay modes, and the 10-inch display offers plenty of room for the CarPlay interface without any elements feeling cramped.
While in CarPlay mode, the top status bar from the native infotainment system remains visible, which is a nice improvement over earlier versions where CarPlay took over the entire screen. Having song and artist information from SiriusXM, for example, conveniently visible even while in CarPlay is handy, although I wish the status bar had a bit more polished look and was a bit bigger to include more information or some icons to easily jump to other infotainment functions.
As with many other vehicles, audio information can also optionally be viewed in the center digital portion of the instrument cluster, although that means you won't be able to see other available screen options in that space.
As I've noted before, one of the key features to pair with wireless CarPlay is wireless phone charging, as that combination makes it super easy to stay connected even on longer trips where you don't want to run your battery down. Unfortunately, my test Envision in the Essence trim did not come equipped with a wireless charger. The feature is standard on the top-end Avenir trim, but isn't available even as an option or part of a package on the entry-level Preferred and mid-level Essence trims.
There's a convenient cubby at the front of the center console that's just about the perfect size for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, and that's where the wireless charger would be located on the Avenir trim. It's a shame that you have to move all the way up to the top trim in order to get the wireless charging, so hopefully that's something GM reconsiders in future model years.
When it comes to wired connectivity, the Envision includes a variety of options, including one USB-C port and one USB-A port up front at the base of the center stack for maximum compatibility. There are also USB-C and USB-A ports on the rear of the console for rear passengers, although these are charge-only ports that don't offer data connectivity to the infotainment system.
Overall, I like the infotainment and CarPlay experience in the 2021 Buick Envision. Wireless CarPlay connectivity is super convenient and I'm glad to see it becoming more and more common. The large 10-inch screen makes everything easy to see and interact with, although I do wish it was a bit easier to see information from both CarPlay and the Buick system simultaneously, whether it be through a split-screen widescreen format or more screen real estate devoted to the native infotainment system while in CarPlay such as a fatter top status bar or a persistent dock strip along the bottom.
The Buick Infotainment System itself is easy to use with a relatively clean look that's heavy on black backgrounds and a few bits of bright color scattered around to help make the system very glanceable.
As I mentioned, it's a shame that wireless phone charging is limited to the top-end Avenir trim on the Envision, as that's a feature I think many users would consider taking advantage of regardless of trim, presuming it was reasonably priced. The rapid shift to wireless CarPlay and Android Auto will only increase customer interest in wireless charging due to the convenience of combining those two features.