As expected, Oldsmobile occupies the luxury end of GMs trio of new midsize sport utility vehicles, each of which debuted in spring 2001 as early 2002 models. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy are the other two family members. Although the Oldsmobile brand is leaving the GM fold, corporate executives insist that the new Bravada will run the usual production cycle, marketed for the next few years. Still, it will be the last new Oldsmobile model before the oldest name in the American auto industry bites the dust.
Rivals include the Mercury Mountaineer, Infiniti QX4 and Nissan Pathfinder. All three new GM midsize SUVs result from a ground-up build rather than a mere restyling, according to Tom Wallace, GMs vehicle line executive for its Midsize Truck Group. Among the highlights is a surprisingly different engine not a V-6 or V-8 as in competitive SUVs, but rather a 4.2-liter, all-aluminum inline-six-cylinder that cranks out 270 horsepower. GM claims it is the strongest engine in its class, developed because an inline-six is inherently balanced, said Ron Koctoa, chief engineer for GMs Inline Engines group.
GM claims a 260 percent increase in the engines torsional rigidity. Unlike Chevrolets TrailBlazer, which has conventional coil springs, the Bravada has an electronically controlled air suspension that aims toward a cushier ride. New rack-and-pinion steering yields a 36.4-foot turning circle, claimed to be the tightest in the midsize SUV league.
Borrowing its basic styling theme from the Aurora sedan, the Bravada has a characteristic flute shape that spans the SUVs bodyside. At 113 inches, the wheelbase is 6 inches longer than that of the prior Bravada. Its track width (the distance between wheels) also has grown. All three GM models share roofs, tailgates and front doors, but most body components are unique to the Bravada. Both 16- and 17-inch tires are available.
Seating for five occupants is standard. Luxury appointments include leather upholstery and GMs OnStar communication system. Standard equipment includes a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, automatic programmable power locks, pulse-type wipers, CD and cassette players, remote keyless entry and a theft-deterrent system. A backseat entertainment system with a DVD player is available, and a TravelNote recorder and rain-sensing wipers are among the few other available options.
Under the Hood
A four-speed automatic is the sole transmission, which teams with the new 270-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. This is the first Bravada to be offered with two-wheel drive, but SmartTrak automatic all-wheel drive also is available. A new 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. Bumpers sit 2 inches lower than usual, which makes the Bravada more equally level with passenger cars in a collision. Each bumper can withstand a 5-mph collision, whereas many light trucks are rated for only 2.5-mph impacts.
Whether youre looking at passing power, cushioned ride comfort or competent handling prowess, the Bravada looks like a strong challenger for the Mountaineer and other upscale midsize SUVs. Thanks to its air suspension, the ride is noticeably softer in the Bravada than in the coil-sprung TrailBlazer, without a significant sacrifice in handling quality. Seats are less firm than those in the TrailBlazer, which contributes to a more luxurious ride experience. Despite short bottoms, the seats are quite comfortable, with ample legroom for all occupants. The driver information center makes it easy to change preferences for automatic door locking and other conveniences.
Performance also is a serious strong point. When tromping on the gas, few drivers are likely to realize that the source of power is an inline-six rather than a V-8. Even when motoring up mountain grades, little strain is evident as the 270-hp engine takes its task in stride. Engine sounds are barely discernible, except when pushed really hard, and road noise also is minimal.