Versus the competiton:
Options? Who needs more options when it comes to buying a sport utility vehicle?
Glut wouldn’t begin to characterize the market these days. Gobs of competition might fit.
Turn a corner and you run into SUVs. Turn around and you back into them. So what did General Motors do when it unveiled its latest round of enhancements on its Envoy?
Why, it provided more options. And it’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. GMC didn’t revamp its Envoy when it rolled it out for a new year, it gave you a few more choices. In that way, the automaker’s best mid-size ride just got a whole lot better. Tons of family coming to town? Midway through last year GM introduced the possibility of seven-passenger seating. Looking to trim costs? To help buyers, there now are more options available individually, rather than as part of an equipment package, adding flexibility in the showroom. And the best option of all, a new Vortec 5300 V-8 engine that gives the Envoy one of the most powerful powerplants in its class.
Motor Trend’s 2002 Sport/Utility of the Year was already a decent ride when it rolled up in our driveway. Its six or eight cylinder power, clean interior design and plenty of cargo and passenger room made it a strong contender when compared to the Ford Explorers of the world.
But where the new Envoy one-ups the competition is in one area that matters to most SUV buyers: Comfort, cargo and … did we mention cargo? That means people and things. And with a wheelbase stretched 16 inches, the Envoy XL, our ride for a week, provides the opportunity for all that in spades by adding a third-row seat. Not just any third row, mind you. A comfortable third row.
In this SUV-mad world, the idea of having the ability to seat as many as seven is a popular one. The only problem was that it wasn’t always that comfortable. Inevitably, someone would have to sit on someone else’s lap, and someone else would have to sit pressed to the side window. Not good.
The Envoy XL is true seven-passenger capability in a mid-size ride. GM says it can comfortably accommodate two 6-foot-2, 190-pound male riders. We could only round up a 6-foot guy and his 5-foot-10, 200-pound friend, but they found the third row a treat – not a squeeze.
But then there’s the best option of all: Remove that third row and you’re really in business. Suddenly, the Envoy becomes the ambassador for better hauling – as much as 100 cubic feet of room, or almost 20 more than a seven-passenger Explorer.
Other than the extension in length, the Envoy XL is pretty much still an Envoy. Which means, if you’re like us, you’ll like it just fine. Serious horsepower, or that push you get from your right foot, flows through its veins from a 4.2-liter, 24-valve inline six-cylinder, or the powerful 5.3-liter V-8 . Rated at 275 horsepower, the V-6 engine flexes against the best, out muscling most of the competition’s V-6’s and V-8’s. In the Envoy’s V-8 it gets even more massive. Hit the gas and watch the real options fly by: Should we take the highway or the back roads?
With the Envoy, you’ll enjoy the view.
Available in rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, it has the tug of a vehicle serious about getting somewhere with authority even if things are a little mushy around the corners. With a reworked suspension, we did find things a touch too smooth, maybe a little too pleasing. Not quite the road feel of the Explorer’s fully independent suspension – more numb than we’d like – but if you’re looking for pure comfort, it probably can’t be beat.
Still, it is a vehicle that travels better than it looks. And in the XL model, it looks large. Available in two trim levels, base SLE and upscale SLT, the Envoy comes dressed to impress. Lots of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, OnStar communications system, dual front and side air bag and a jazzy stereo setup. In SLT versions, you add on a driver information center, automatic climate control and lots of leather.
On safety, the Envoy XL gets air bags from nearly every angle as well as standard disc brakes with ABS.
On style, the interior of the Envoy will turn a few heads. The cabin is spacious and filled with less plastic than the GM rides we’ve had in the past. Brushed nickel accents are all over the place – console, instrument panel – and wood accents give the SLT a bit of class. Headsets are fully adjustable and front seats have lumbar and power options for getting comfortable.
One interesting addition and one warning: This year the Envoy and Envoy XL even received larger fuel tanks for longer driving range between fills. But be prepared to spend the cash.
Like a lot of other SUVs, the Envoy goes 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway, although our experience had us more in the 13/17 range. GM even estimates the fuel cost on the Envoy at $1,367 per year. That’s a few tanks.
And on price, the Envoy falls right in line with the competition. A little higher in the base price ($30,370 in the XL 2WD) but right there in the top end ($37,375).
But, as we said, that can be raised or lowered depending on what you’d like. Third row? No third row? Bigger engine? Smaller engine?
2003 GMC Envoy XL
High Gear: A strong six- or eight-cylinder engine gives power at the push of a pedal. Serious cargo space and a third-row seat that’s actually comfortable give the Envoy an edge on the competition.
Low gear: A new suspension has made the ride more comfortable but maybe too mushy in the corners. Gasoline mileage, as in any SUV, is a lose-lose proposition.
Vehicle type (XL 2WD): Rear-wheel drive, front-engine, four-door, seven-passenger mid-size sport utility vehicle.
Key standard equipment (XL): Tilt steering; cruise control; dual front air bags; four-wheel antilock brakes; daytime running lights; theft-deterrent system; adjustable lumbar front seats; dual-zone heat and air conditioning; AM/FM stereo with six speakers; power windows, doors and locks; split-folding rear seats; heavy-duty tailoring equipment; integral fog lamps.
Competition: Ford Explorer, Buick Rendezvous, Acura MDX, Honda Pilot
Engine (XL): 290 horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8
Torque: 325 foot-lbs. @ 3,600 rpm
Wheelbase: 129 inches
Length: 207.6 inches
MPG rating (city/highway): 15/19
Manufactured: Oklahoma City, OK.
Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles; powertrain warranty is three years/36,000 miles; rust pe rforation warranty is six years/100,000 miles; roadside warranty is three years/36,000 miles.
Base price (XL 2WD): $30,370
Price as tested (XL, includes options, destination and delivery charges): $34,630