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 bothand in my opinion the best of both
worldsGMCs 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 GMs 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, thats another matter entirely.
Lets put it in perspective: The Generals 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 Cherokees 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, GMs 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 Explorers
V-6 returned 16/22 (2WD) and 15/19 (4WD), the Jeeps 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
soeven off-roadwithout 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 (its included on the higher-priced
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
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 Generals three new SUVs 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 Envoys 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 youve 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 GMs liberal use cheap-looking plastics,
overall the interior materials strike a nice balance between truck-like ruggedness and
Thats the perfect way to sum up the appeal of GMCs 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: Theyre trail tackling
tough while powerful, polite and plush. Think of them as brawny sport-utes freshly arrived
from finishing school.