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2002 GMC Envoy

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SAN FRANCISCO: After years of looking at the rear end of Ford’s Explorer in the midsize SUV sales race, GM seems primed to move ahead (or at least alongside) with the introduction of its new trio of trail tamers. The 2002 GMC Envoy, the Chevy Trailblazer and the Oldsmobile Bravada.

For the off-roading and sporty crowd Chevy offers the TrailBlazer. For those who prefer their leather and wood on the inside of the vehicle versus in pastures or forests, Oldsmobile offers the line-topping Bravada. For those who like a little of both—and in my opinion the best of both worlds—GMC’s Envoy is just the ticket.

The all-new Envoy is eight inches longer, four inches wider, and seven inches taller than its predecessor the Jimmy. In addition to offering more interior room, more features and better performance in just about every important category than the trucklet it replaces, the Envoy also gets a much better name.

Nomenclature aside, the new Envoy and its siblings really are new. In fact, they are so new that they require a new way of thinking about what makes SUVs desirable: General Motors is betting on the fact that buyers will come around to the fact that a six-cylinder motor can be better than a V-8.

Anyone can understand that GM’s all-new 4.2-liter in-line six uses advanced technology like four-valve heads and variable exhaust timing to easily out-power the standard V-6 engines found in competitors like the Explorer, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Toyota 4Runner. But getting your mind around the fact that this jewel of a power plant also outguns the eight-cylinder motors available as extra-cost options in the Ford and Jeep, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Let’s put it in perspective: The General’s trio of troops offers 270 horsepower (and 275 lb. ft. of torque). Their next closest competitor, the Explorer, weighs in at 210 hp for its 4.0L V-6 and 240 hp for its optional 4.6L V-8. The Grand Cherokee’s 4.0L I-6 comes next at 195 hp with its optional 4.7L V-8 (the largest engine in this class) putting out just 235 hp.

Surprisingly, GM’s engine does this He-Man routine without hitting its owner in the pocketbook. With an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway (2WD) and 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway (4WD), this motor is dead-on in terms of efficiency compared to its six-cylinder equipped competition. The Explorer’s V-6 returned 16/22 (2WD) and 15/19 (4WD), the Jeep’s came in at 16/21 (2WD) and 16/20 (4WD) and the frugal 4Runner did a little better at 17/21 (2WD) and 17/20 (4WD).

Smooth and tractable, this engine pulls with gusto from just about all rev ranges, and gives a four-wheel-drive Envoy like my test vehicle a 6,000-pound towing capacity. And thanks to numerous suspension and driveline improvements, it does so—even off-road—without punishing the driver.

All three SUVs are built up from a new steel frame, hydroformed for added rigidity. The siblings also share independent front suspension with coil springs and double wishbones, with the Trailblazer and the Envoy featuring five-link live rear axles with steel coil springs. For added load-handling aplomb, an electronically adjustable air suspension is available as an option on the Envoy (it’s included on the higher-priced Bravada).

The air suspension, in concert with the rubber isolators that mate the frame with the body, keep the Envoy planted on windy roads and its passengers insulated from road (or trail) irregularities. But other than its ability to compensate for extra weight in the cargo area (thus maintaining a level ride height), it is difficult to positively point to any differences in ride or handling between air and steel sprung versions.

My test Envoy featured the system as part of its $1,350 SLE Premium Package. Also included was a locking differential, and a handful of luxury amenities, including a power passenger seat, a content theft alarm and polished aluminum wheels.

Though the General’s three new SUV’s share dimensions and underpinnings, it is easy to tell them apart. Stylistically they are quite different (the only body pieces shared by the three are the hood, the roof, and the tailgate). As I mentioned before, they have decidedly different "feels" thanks to different lists of amenities and equipment.

The mid-level Envoy’s base prices range from the $29,420 2WD SLE to the $34,420 4WD SLT. My Pewter Metallic SLE 4x4 test vehicle had just about every feature a buyer could want as standard, despite its reasonable price. Included are items like a dual-zone climate control system, 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, fog lamps, OnStar (with GPS and a cellular telephone package), side air bags, remote keyless entry, Homelink and 17" aluminum wheels.

In comparison, of the above list of features, only the Ford offers side air bags and keyless entry as standard, with the rest of the list not even available. The Jeep and Toyota let you opt for fog lights and keyless entry, but only the Jeep features the Homelink system and 17" wheels as options.

Once you’ve entered an Envoy through any of its four wide-opening doors, the interior is a comfortable place to be. All controls fall easily to hand, and though the interior still suffers from GM’s liberal use cheap-looking plastics, overall the interior materials strike a nice balance between truck-like ruggedness and car-like luxury.

That’s the perfect way to sum up the appeal of GMC’s Envoy. Unlike car-based sport-utes that act rugged or rock-bashing trucks that aspire to be luxurious, the Envoy and its stable mates combine the best aspects of both worlds: They’re trail tackling tough while powerful, polite and plush. Think of them as brawny sport-utes freshly arrived from finishing school. By Andrew W. Davis AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  GM's Mid-Size SUV's Go to Finishing School
Topic:  2002 GMC Envoy SLE 4x4
Word Count:   1017
Photo Caption:  2002 GMC Envoy
Photo Credits:  GM Internet Media
Series #:   2001 - 31

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