The Oldsmobile Bravada occupies the luxury end of GMs trio of midsize sport utility vehicles, each of which debuted in the spring of 2001 as early 2002 models. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy are the other two family members. Even though the Oldsmobile brand is leaving the GM fold, the Bravada will run the usual production cycle; it will be produced into 2004. The Bravada will be the last new Oldsmobile model before the oldest name in the American auto industry bites the dust completely.
All three midsize SUVs resulted 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 was a surprisingly different engine. Its 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 275 horsepower. Oldsmobile says it is the strongest engine in its class.
Unlike Chevrolets TrailBlazer, which has conventional coil springs, the Bravada is equipped with an electronically controlled air suspension that aims toward a softer ride. Rack-and-pinion steering yields a 36.4-foot turning circle, which the manufacturer claims is the tightest in the midsize SUV league.
Chevrolet and GMC added extended-length models after the SUVs initial debut. They come with an available V-8 engine, but Oldsmobile is sticking with the five-passenger body style and six-cylinder power. A DVD backseat entertainment system became optional during the 2002 model year. A coil-spring suspension is available on all-wheel-drive (AWD) Bravadas for 2003. Traction assist with a locking rear axle is standard on two-wheel-drive (2WD) models.
Bravada sales in 2001 were modest compared to the TrailBlazer. According to Automotive News, 23,867 Bravadas were sold, vs. 115,103 units of Chevrolets SUV. Competitors include the Acura MDX, Ford Explorer Limited, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited and Nissan Pathfinder.
Borrowing its basic styling theme from the Aurora sedan, the Bravada has a characteristic flute shape that spans the SUVs bodyside. Riding a 113-inch wheelbase, the Bravada measures 191.8 inches long overall and 74.5 inches tall. Its ground clearance is 8 inches.
All three GM models share roofs, tailgates and front doors, but most body components are unique to the Bravada. Cast-aluminum wheels hold 17-inch tires. A power sunroof is optional.
Seating for five occupants in the Bravada is standard. Luxury appointments include leather upholstery and GMs OnStar communication system. Cargo capacity is 80.1 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down.
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. Heated front seats and a six-CD changer are also optional. A TravelNote recorder and rain-sensing wipers are offered in option groups.
Under the Hood
A four-speed automatic is the sole transmission, and it teams with the 275-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. This was the first Bravada to be offered with 2WD, but SmartTrak automatic AWD is also available. 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 Bravadas bumpers sit 2 inches lower than usual, which makes it more level with passenger cars in the event of a collision. Each bumper can withstand a 5-mph impact, 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 Mercury 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, and there isnt a significant sacrifice in handling quality.
The Bravadas seats arent as firm as those in the TrailBlazer, and this contributes to a more luxurious ride experience. Despite short bottoms, the seats are quite comfortable, and theres ample legroom for all occupants. The driver information center makes it easy to change preferences for automatic door locking and other conveniences.
The Bravadas performance is also a 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 six-cylinder engine takes its task in stride. Engine sounds are barely discernible, except when the SUV is pushed really hard, and road noise is also minimal. Because most mechanical components are shared with the TrailBlazer and Envoy, the possibility that the Bravada may cease production sooner than its mates does not suggest that replacement parts will be unavailable at a later date.