2002 GMC Envoy SLT 4WDNew from the ground up, GMC's Envoy is a great midsize luxury SUV alternative.
As sport-utility vehicles have grown in sales over the last 10 years from minor curiosity to major market segment, General Motors has been something of an also-ran in the midsize SUV market. With the Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy/Olds Bravada platform, GM found itself up against the larger and roomier Ford Explorer; America chose the Explorer decisively, buying significantly more copies of it than of all three GM utes combined. It turns out that to American midsize SUV buyers, size matters, and the extra room the Explorer has traditionally offered over its GM counterparts was a significant factor in its favor.
With the arrival of the early-release 2002 GMC Envoy, Ford's size advantage has evaporated. The Envoy replaces the now-discontinued Jimmy, and is joined by the closely related Chevrolet TrailBlazer (goodbye Blazer) and the Oldsmobile Bravada. Now longer overall than the newly redesigned 2002 Explorer, the Envoy is also wider and offers up to a 6,300 pound towing rating (greater than the Ford). Inside, the GMC has more front legroom and hiproom, as well as greater headroom than the Ford front and rear. The Explorer, however, holds at least one interior advantage-an optional third-row bench seat that raises the passenger capacity to a total of seven. (The longer-wheelbase Envoy XL will offer a third seat within a few months after this two-row-seater is released.)
Essentially a clean-sheet design for 2002, the Envoy (and its siblings from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile) has nothing of note in common with its predecessor. Besides the fresh sheetmetal and interior, the Envoy rides on a new hydroformed frame with upper- and lower control-arm front suspension and a new five-link rear suspension system. There's a very big change under the hood, where a brand-new Vortec 4200 inline six-cylinder engine takes the place of the old 4.3-liter V-6. It can be paired with either rear- or four-wheel-drive. As the first new gasoline-burning inline six from GM in many product generations, the Vortec represents a fresh direction in the company's powertrain development. For use in other vehicles, five- and four-cylinder versions of this engine are also in development.
The phrase "state-of-the-art" gets tossed around a bit too easily at times in the car business, but the Envoy's powerplant is worthy of that well-worn descriptor. Based on an aluminum block, the new Vortec engine has four valves in each cylinder, actuated by roller followers and dual overhead cams with variable exhaust valve timing. As the first truck powerplant to achieve the NLEV (National Low Emissions Vehicle) standard, this engine is exceptionally clean. It is also impressively powerful, hitting a peak of 270 horses at 6,000 rpm. Torque crests at 275 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm. More important from a drivability standpoint, the Envoy delivers over 90 percent of its maximum torque from 1,600 to 5,600 rpm. These power figures align favorably with a lot of V-8 engines (the Envoy's engine is up a significant 31 horsepower over the optional Explorer V-8), so it's little surprise that this strong-running six is the only engine offered in the Envoy/TrailBlazer/Bravada family.
From the driver's seat, the six runs sweetly, with a smooth and quiet idle. Underway, the subdued engine whir is mostly lost in the rush of the wind, and the vibration is well subdued. Power is accessible with a minimum of downshifting, lending the Envoy a capable feel. Fast it's not, however. With a curb weight of over 4,600 pounds, the Envoy is about 300 pounds heavier than the comparable V-6 Ford Explorer. And unlike the Explorer with its standard five-speed automatic transmission, the Envoy has a four-speed automatic with necessarily wider-ratio staging. The net effect is that even though the Envoy holds a whopping 60-horsepower advantage over the V-6 Explorer, it's not significantly quicker in acceleration.
When it comes to delivering on the promise of true SUV capability, the four-wheel-drive Envoy SLT definitely produces the goods. The AutoTrac pushbutton system performs beautifully in automatic mode, distributing power front to rear, moment to moment without driver intervention. The Envoy is up to the rigors of genuine off-road use, provided you are mindful of the modest 8-inch ground clearance and the only-average front and rear departure angles.
Even on rough off-road terrain, the Envoy's spacious cabin remains quietly composed. Upscale appointments and comprehensive interior features make it clear that the new Envoy is much farther up the luxury ladder than the old Jimmy it replaces. The luxury message is further bolstered by a plush ride that makes the Envoy one of the most comfortable vehicles in its class. True, the Explorer has slightly crisper handling and stops a bit shorter, but for the way most SUV owners normally drive, the Envoy's accommodating comfort will prove to be an appealing asset.
Given its newfound size, power, comfort and luxury, the GMC Envoy at last gives General Motors a mid-sized SUV that goes head-to-head with the Ford Explorer. Handsome style and competitive pricing leave the Envoy poised to take a significantly larger bite out of Explorer sales than the old Jimmy ever could. (www.gmc.com)
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