GMC’s latest sport utility vehicle illustrates the maxim that many “new” automotive ideas can be traced back to a place in the past. In the case of the Envoy XUV, its most compelling feature is a retractable rear roof — a convenience that was available in the early 1960s on the Studebaker Wagonaire station wagon.
Not too many of those sliding-roof Studebakers were sold, but GMC has bigger hopes for its new Envoy XUV, which is an elaboration of its line of midsize Envoy models. Chevrolet markets related TrailBlazer SUVs, but a sliding-roof version is not expected. Even though the Envoy XUV seats only five occupants, it’s built on General Motors’ extended-wheelbase midsize chassis, which is used for the TrailBlazer EXT and Envoy XL.
Touching a button converts the Envoy XUV’s cargo area from fully enclosed to open-air. When the rear roof is fully retracted, a 32-by-32-inch opening permits carrying tall objects upright. The sliding rear roof does not impair operation of the XUV’s conventional front sunroof.
Inside is a next-generation midgate with a powered glass panel that raises or lowers via a push-button. When the glass is raised, the passenger compartment is sealed off from the cargo section. When the glass is lowered, the rear seats can tumble down and the midgate flips down, which provides an extended cargo bed with 95.2 cubic feet of space.
The cargo area is weather resistant and incorporates a QuickDrain system that can channel out as much as 35 gallons of water per minute. Wet or dirty messes from hauling such items as topsoil can simply be hosed away.
Built with body-on-frame construction on the same platform as the extended-length Envoy XL, the Envoy XUV looks very similar to its GMC counterparts, except for the power-sliding rear roof. GMC claims that the suspension incorporates a “sporty element” compared to other Envoys. An electronically controlled air suspension is optional.
Mounted on a 129-inch wheelbase, the XUV measures 208.4 inches long overall and stands 77 inches tall. Minimum ground clearance is 8 inches. Cast-aluminum wheels hold 17-inch tires.
A dual-function tailgate permits two-tier loading, and the cargo area holds 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets. A push-button raises and lowers the tailgate’s power window. With the window fully down, the tailgate can be dropped for ease of loading. The tailgate also swings to the right, allowing bumper access to the cargo area. With a prop rod, the tailgate can hold 400 pounds.
Despite the long wheelbase, only five occupants fit into the Envoy XUV. The versatile, all-weather cargo space, with its QuickDrain cleaning system, is a primary attraction. According to GMC, the seats and midgate can be reconfigured in seconds without tools. Four tie-down hooks in the cargo area may be moved to any of 12 locations. Four fixed rings are installed on the roof.
Two engines are available. GM’s 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder produces 275 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque. The optional 5.3-liter V-8 makes 290 hp and 325 pounds-feet of torque. A four-speed-automatic transmission serves both engines, which run on regular-grade gasoline. Rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are available. Traction assist is standard on the rear-drive models. The Envoy XUV can tow as much as 6,500 pounds with the V-8 engine or 5,800 pounds with the six-cylinder.
Safety features are similar to those on regular Envoys. Vented, all-disc antilock brakes are standard.
The Envoy XUV steers with a light touch and is enjoyable to drive. Even though it seems somewhat lightly suspended, the ride is good. You feel all the rough spots on lumpy pavement, but few become bothersome. The XUV also handles nicely for a truck, and it feels more carlike than some SUVs.
Acceleration with the six-cylinder engine is eager enough for most drivers. With this power plant, the XUV responds fairly quickly at higher speeds, if less so at lower velocities. Hard downshifts at lower speeds can also produce engine blare.
Comfortable seats offer adequate support but not much side bolstering to keep occupants in a lateral position. Fully calibrated gauges are excellent, and the controls are easy to locate. With the exception of limited knee space in the second row, the XUV has a roomy interior. Still, it’s that retracting rear roof that makes this vehicle special. As demonstrated during a test drive, it’s even possible to haul a small tree in that space, with considerable room left over.