With snow often flying faster than presidential campaign rhetoric, it’s no surprise that sport utility vehicles (or SUVs for short) are in such demand.
Of course, they’re also suburbia’s latest automotive fashion statement, just as wood-paneled station wagons or tail fins once were when there were only three TV networks.
Since so few of these beasts ever actually go off-road, auto companies have been making them more and more carlike.
So it’s no surprise that GMC’s Jimmy feels more like a car than a truck.
Certainly, you can see that this is a true American vehicle. Not just in character, but in freedom of choice: There are a lot of decisions when it comes to equipping your Jimmy (or it’s corporate sibling, the Chevrolet Blazer).
First, chose a two-door or four-door body style. The two-door is sporty, with a shorter wheelbase (100.5 inches) than the sensible citizen four-door (107 inches). Then, chose rear-wheel drive, part-time four-wheel drive, or full-time four-wheel drive.
There’s only one engine choice, a 4.3-liter V-6 attached to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission — but buyers can chose an optional five-speed manual on the two-door.
Next, choose a suspension. There are five options: Smooth-ride, Euro-ride, Off-road, Highrider, and Euro-ride/Luxury-ride.
Finally, choose your equipment level: SL, SLS, SLE or SLT. Needless to say, you can equip this vehicle so many different ways that its character can vary greatly.
No matter which iteration you chose, you’ll get a very modern-looking truck. Unlike some trucks that look backward for styling inspiration, GM has gone ahead, neatly rounding off the corners while still keep the beefy stance demanded in this class. The front end is chromed and aggressive, but the overall look is petite.
The 4.3-liter V-6 grunts out 190 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 250 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,800 rpm. There’s plenty of power here across a broad range. There’s some engine roar and it doesn’t sprint from a stop, but if you want a sports car, buy one. This is a truck.
The same attitude applies to the handling. It’s actually quite good. You won’t want to auto-cross with it, but body lean is well-controlled, no worse than in many family sedans.
The ride is better than some GM cars, and quieter too. Yet there’s enough height to avoid running over your neighbor’s poodle. Suspension is independent up front, with rear leaf springs out back. Trailer towing capacity is 5,500 pounds. Payload capacity is 1,293 pounds on the four-door. The full-time four-wheel-drive means there’s no need to fuss with shifting in and out of four-wheel drive. The part-time system is standard.
The dash is new, shared with the S-series pickup. It’s convenient, with most controls up high where you can reach them. The climate control is easy to understand and operate; the lights, somewhat less so. There are extra o utlets provided to power small items, and a roof-mounted console with space for glasses, radar detectors and such stuff. Gauges are complete, big and easy to read. The only real complaint is GM’s refusal to abandon its combination windshield wiper-washer/turn signal/cruise control stalk. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s tacky feel and confusing operation is becoming the butt of jokes.
The seats were covered in leather of average quality. The rear seats are mounted a little too low, but comfortable enough. They’re split folding affairs, so loading long items like bookcases is as easy as any wagon. The seven-way power driver’s seat was supportive and comfortable for long drives in the Poconos. There is good room for four — five in a pinch.
The spare tire is located underneath, so there’s plenty of cargo space. There’s a shade provided to hide valuables in the cargo area, as well as a cargo net.
Anti-lock brakes are provided — front disc, rear drum. The seat belts are height adjustable. Only a driver’s side airbag is available.
In sum, what we have here is a comfortable, attractive SUV that coddles you with its confident ability to go anywhere. The new look and refinement make this truck one to check out if you’re shopping in this class. Base price on a rear-wheel-drive two-door is $19,573. Adding four-wheel drive bumps that up to $21,456. Our four-door, four-wheel drive had a base price of $23,504. Watch the options and you can have a go-anywhere vehicle for the same price as a well-equipped family car.
The only thing is, unlike your parents’ station wagon, there’s no wood-grain option for the side.
1996 GMC JIMMY 4WD 4-DOOR SLT Standard: 4.3-liter V-6, four-speed automatic transmission, power steering, four-wheel anti-lock power brakes, air conditioning, AM-FM stereo with clock, smooth-ride suspension, tinted glass, reclining bucket seats, intermittent wipers, folding rear seats. Options: SLT touring decor, power windows, power door locks, dual power mirrors, tilt wheel, cruise control, roof mounted luggage carrier, P235/70R15 tires, CD player, locking rear differential, heavy duty trailering equipment, all-wheel-drive transfer case, leather bucket seats. Base price: $23,504 Total price: $29,455 EPA rating: 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway Observed mileage: 17 mpg Warranty: Three-years, 36,000 miles