GMC offered an Envoy prior to 2001, and the current model serves as the top-of-the-line member of its now-departed Jimmy sport utility vehicle family. The Envoy designation disappeared for a season but returned again for 2002 on a brand-new midsize model. It serves as part of a trio of General Motors midsize SUVs that includes the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Oldsmobile Bravada. GMCs version occupies the middle ground of the group.
A five-passenger Envoy arrived first, as an early 2002 model. In the spring of 2002, GMC added an extended-length seven-passenger Envoy XL with three rows of seats. Although Chevrolet will keep its prior Blazer around for at least one more season, GMC immediately shelved the long-lived Jimmy nameplate.
Instead of a V-6 or V-8 engine, as in competitive SUVs, GMC and its cousins offered a 4.2-liter, all-aluminum inline-six-cylinder that developed 270 horsepower. GM claimed that the engines torsional rigidity increased by 260 percent. Motor Trend magazine named the Envoy its 2002 Sport/Utility of the Year.
For 2003, the six-cylinder engine gains 5 hp. More notable yet is the new 5.3-liter V-8, which may be equipped as optional equipment in the Envoy XL. GMC promises increased value and simplified option packaging for its base SLE edition. A new four-position headlight switch sits on the dashboard. For 2004, GMC intends to introduce an Envoy XUV that will be equipped with a power-sliding rear roof, a drop-down or swing-out tailgate, an all-weather cargo area, a QuickDrain water-management system and a next-generation midgate with a power window.
The four-door Envoy is available in SLE and SLT trim levels. The SUV displays a trapezoidal bodyside shape and a shield-shaped grille that help give it a distinct identity, but its overall appearance is similar to its GM companions. The five-passenger Envoy rides on a 113-inch wheelbase, measures 191.6 inches long overall and stands 71.9 inches tall.
The extended-wheelbase Envoy XL rides a 129-inch wheelbase and stretches to 207.6 inches long overall thats 16 inches longer than the regular Envoy. The extended-length models are also 3 inches taller.
All three GM models share the same design in their roofs, tailgates and front doors, but most other body components are unique to GMC. All Envoy models are equipped with 17-inch Michelin tires. Rear coil springs are standard, and an air suspension is optional. A rack-and-pinion steering system delivers a 36.4-foot turning circle, which the automaker claims is the tightest in the midsize SUV league.
Five occupants fit inside the standard Envoy. It is equipped with reclining bucket seats in the front and a split, folding rear seat that holds three. The Envoy XL seats seven people and comes with an additional two-place fold-down rear seat. GMC promises 6 additional inches of shoulder room in the Envoy XL than in the third-row seat of the Ford Explorer. The XLs maximum cargo volume is 100.2 cubic feet, vs. 80.1 cubic feet in the shorter Envoy. A rear cargo shelf in the Envoy XL has adjustable height levels.
A rear-seat entertainment system with a DVD player is available. GMs OnStar communication system, a luggage rack, fog lamps, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, heated mirrors and a theft-deterrent system are standard. The SLT edition adds leather upholstery, a memory drivers seat and mirrors, rear-seat radio controls, headlight washers and light-sensitive outside mirrors. A driver information center monitors up to 13 different functions, including fuel availability, transmission fluid temperature, engine coolant and oil level.
Under the Hood
A four-speed-automatic transmission teams with the 275-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. With the optional 290-hp, 5.3-liter V-8, the Envoy XL can tow as much as 7,200 pounds. The Envoy comes with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and the latter incorporates a two-speed transfer case and a provision for automatic operation. An IntelliStart feature prevents the starter from engaging unless the engine is stopped.
All-disc antilock brakes, seat-mounted side-impact airbags and dual-stage front airbags are standard. The bumpers are positioned 2 inches lower than usual in order to make the Envoy more level with passenger cars in the event of a collision. Each bumper can withstand a 5-mph impact.
Like the hard-working TrailBlazer, the Envoy seems eager to compete against the Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer in terms of passing power, ride comfort and handling prowess. The Envoys performance is a definite plus. While tromping on the gas to pass or merge, few drivers are likely to realize that the source of power is an inline-six rather than a V-8. Even on mountain grades, the six-cylinder engine exudes confidence. Not only is engine sound barely discernible except when pushed really hard but road noise is also virtually absent. Acceleration is stronger with the new V-8 in the Envoy XL, but its not overpowering.
The regular-suspension Envoy rides similar to a car on smooth surfaces. The ride softens with the optional air suspension, but its not a dramatic change. Handling is a bit on the slow side, which is hardly uncommon among midsize SUVs. Despite the sensation of being slightly disconnected from the road, the driver benefits from a satisfying steering feel. An extra-smooth ride is part of the XLs attraction, but quite a bit of body roll is evident.