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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Mateja
May 17, 1998
Don't call it Jimmy. Not even Jim or James. Simply call the newest member of the GMC family, the Envoy. Envoy is built on the same platform as the Jimmy sport-utility vehicle, a direct descendant of the compact Chevrolet Blazer. Envoy
shares the same engine, transmission, brakes, carpeting, steering wheel, windshield . . . you get the picture. But Envoy is designer jeans, Jimmy is coveralls. Envoy is workout, Jimmy is workhorse. "The Jimmy name has too much `aw, shucks'
country flavor. Envoy is a diplomat and more of an international name," said Jeff Cohen, brand manager of Jimmy/Envoy compact sport-utes for Pontiac/ GMC. Simply stated, GMC is committed to being the luxury-truck division for General Motors Corp.
and Envoy is more in keeping with that image than Jimmy. Envoy represents "the strength and capabilities of a truck without the truck ride and handling," Cohen says. It is lush and plush. No shoes, no shirt, no Envoy, thank you. The compact
Envoy, along with the full-size Yukon Denali (Cartalk, April 26), was designed to give GM some class sport-utes to attract luxury buyers because the Cadillac division had chosen to stick with sedans and leave the sport-utes to others. However,
before Envoy and Denali hit showrooms, Cadillac had a change of heart --prompted by bean counters who read reports of Ford earning $5,000 and more on the sale of each luxury Lincoln Navigator-- and said it would unveil a dolled up Cadillac version of the
Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon named Escalade this fall as a '99. So with Denali/Envoy/Escalade, GM will have a trio of luxury sport-utes. Could have been worse: could have had none. GMC might still end up as the only division with a luxury
sport-utility if Cadillac drops Escalade when its new hybrid sport-ute that's half car-half SUV comes out in roughly the 2000-2001 time frame. But we digress. If the Jimmy name stays, Cohen said, it probably would be on a two-door
limited-edition price leader. Envoy is a spruced-up vehicle that proves you not only can take the boy out of the country, but you can take the country out of the boy if you give him leather seats, an upgraded sound system, a power sunroof and
several pounds of decorative plastic rocker panels and wheel lip covers. Envoy is aimed at the 35- to 49-year-old with household income of $100,000, whereas Jimmy is aimed at the 30- to 44-year-old with a $55,000 to $70,000 household income.
Cohen wouldn't say how many Envoys will be built other than, "we won't flood or starve dealers with them." But GMC hopes to sell 70,000 to 80,000 Jimmys a year and a good guesstimate would be 25,000 Envoys. Envoy, like Jimmy, is offered with a
4.3-liter, V-6 engine, no V-8, though most luxury SUVs boast V-8 power for added towing. To get a V-8 in the Jimmy/Blazer engine compartment, however, would be asking a lot--of the e
ngine compartment. Besides, the industry doesn't need another V-8-powered SUV that consumes fuel faster than the Arabs can put it on the boat and ship it here. "We studied having a V-8, but it didn't make sense for the amount of the investment,"
Cohen said. Thank you. A couple of minutes behind the wheel and you realize this isn't a Jimmy. The suspension with its revalved shocks transmits little harshness back into the cabin. Load leveling keeps you on an even keel for optimum
handling. But after 70 miles behind the wheel, the back feels a tad weary because the seat backs are a bit stiff. The leather-covered cushions could use an added shot of foam. We've driven Envoy here and through the mountains of Arizona and found
the 4.3-liter V-6 has ample potency on the Illinois flatlands but could use a bit more beef to go with its beauty in the desert or on--any--hills. There's a telltale engine growl at off-the-line starts that's not in keeping
with the luxury image. Envoy comes as a complete package. Only options are a sunroof for $750 (every SUV should have one, though maybe GMC and the consumer would save some money without the one-touch express-open feature and simply have you press
the button until the glass is open as far as you want) and GM's OnStar emergency communications/safety system for about $1,000 (dealer installed so prices will vary), which links motorists to mechanical or medical help via a phone call and pinpoints your
location via satellite so help can find you. How complete is an Envoy? There's electronic four-wheel-drive. Just push the button, and it engages. And there's the luxury-ride whisper-smooth, whisper-quiet suspension to cushion your tush. Plus an
automatic load-leveling suspension adjusts on its own to keep you flat for optimum handling though a boat or barge is strapped to the rear bumper. Other goodies include cast-aluminum wheels; a spare tire hidden under the body so no one has to look
at a 40-pound blob of steel-belted Latex hanging onto the hatch; high-intensity discharge headlamps, penetrating silver blue lights so powerful they seem to prolong sunset by about 12 hours and sometimes prompt oncoming motorists to give you the "You're
No. 1" salute; daytime running lamps so you are not without light even in the day; foglamps so you are not without light even in the fog; automatic on/off headlamps and neon center-mounted rear stop lamp so you are never without light moving or standing
still; four-wheel anti-lock brakes and dual depowered air bags in case the lights don't work; keyless entry with panic alarm; rear compartment compressed-air port with hose to inflate a flat or blow up a beach ball to play with when taking a break from
trying to figure out how to turn out the lights; power brakes/steering/locks/windows/heated mirrors; Bose AM-FM stereo with cassette, six speakers and CD player; electronic climate control; and leather seats. There are two items that the larger
Denali has that the smaller Envoy doesn't. The Envoy sports only 15-inch tires, not 16-inch treads for better road grip, and there's no reversible floor mat in the rear cargo hold with cloth on one side, rubber on the other that you can flip when having
to carry wet items such as swimsuits. "I'd like to have had the mats and the 16-inch tires, but I would have had to wait until 1999 to get Envoy, and I didn't want to wait another 12 months," Cohen said. And the Envoy's 4WD system isn't as
sophisticated as Denali's. Denali will engage 4WD on its own when it detects wheel slippage. Envoy's requires you push a button to engage it. It looks like Envoy will get the Denali system but not for at least another year. Some nice touches
include a hole in the rear bumper to insert the jack handle and release the spare; rear side windows that power down all the way; hatch-release button in the instru
ment panel; large easy-to-see-and-use controls as well as digital clock, compass and outside temp readings in the roof console; rear cargo net to hold luggage and groceries in place with plans to soon offer a plastic cargo tray for wet items; and cargo
shade to hide stowed items; both cup and juice-box holders in the rear side doors; cupholders in the front doors; headphones and separate radio controls for rear-seat passengers; a power plug in the back of the center console to serve rear-seat
passengers; fold away side mirrors; heated seats; roof rack; tinted glass; integrated front-end tow hooks; plastic bumper/fender/rocker panel extensions that not only look good but also protect the metal body from dents and dings; and an integrated step
in the rear bumper with class II (5,000-pound) towing hitch. But the neatest feature is that, when you fold the rear seats to increase cargo room, the headrests automatically fold so you don't have to remove them. How
ever, a few gripes include stiff seat backs front and rear (perforated leather might make the seats softer), a shortage of legroom in back that makes long-distance travel tiring and no stowage compartment under the front passenger seat to store Mom's
purse out of view because the glove box isn't big enough for it. >> 1998 GMC Envoy 4WD Wheelbase: 107 inches Length: 183.8 inches Engine: 4.3-liter, 190-h.p. V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 16 m.p.g.
city/20 m.p.g. highway Base price: $34,135 Price as tested: $34,830. Includes $695 for power sunroof. Add $515 for freight. Pluses: Don't call it Jimmy though it's a J . . . (don't say it) dolled up with leather. Push-button 4WD control. Dual depowered
air bags. Four-wheel ABS. Available sunroof. Integrated step bumper and tow package. Self-folding rear-seat headrests. Load-leveling suspension. Minuses: $34,135. Still can't hide converter bulge on passenger floor. Could use a bit more beef as well as