Like manna from heaven, GMC's compact Jimmy sport-utility vehicle (SUV) dropped into my driveway just two days before our heaviest snowstorm of the year smacked us with about eight inches, and its presence was a blessing.

When other folks were slipping, sliding and struggling just to get out of their driveways, the Jimmy delivered me to work as easily as if the streets were dry. Although plows piled snow knee-high in front of my drive, the Jimmy waltzed through with hardly a whimper. As other test cars sat idle in my drive under a blanket of snow, the Jimmy and I were constant companions. Punching the four-wheel drive button on the dash gave me instant mobility as I traversed streets littered with cars that couldn't slither any farther uphill.

This experience boosted my appreciation for SUVs and four-wheel drive. Granted, driving an SUV all year long just so you can mush through a couple of days of snow is costly, in terms of both initial price and fuel consumption, but there is added security in knowing that your vehicle can carry you safely regardless of the weather. They are tall and you sit up high, providing an excellent view of the road, which appeals to many women. That, plus a sense of invinicibility, explains why these civilized trucks are so popular.

Their go-anywhere nature can be deceptive, however, because they don't really stop any better than other vehicles. Driven too fast, they can slide out of control; but, use your head, be cautious and they take much of the winter's worry off your mind.

The Jimmy and its nearly-identical twin, the Chevy Blazer, are built on a 107-inch wheelbase, which is four inches shorter than a Ford Explorer. The inside space is roughly the same, but total cargo volume is smaller.

For 1997, the Jimmy gets mostly incremental improvements that are intended to heighten its luxury image and move it upscale from the Chevrolet, such as the gold highlights on the wheels and various trim pieces.

More functional changes include the following:

The new top-pivoting tailgate has a glass window that opens separately to ease loading of smaller things such as grocery sacks and duffel bags.

A power sunroof is optional.

A HomeLink transmitter built into the overhead console memorizes your garage door or security gate codes.

All automatic transmission models come with bucket seats, floor shift and a console that has two large cupholders and a rubber-covered storage tray.

Four-wheel disc brakes, with anti-lock, are now standard on all four-wheel-drive models.

Bilstein gas shock absorbers have been added to soften the ride and give a European feel.

The 4.3-liter V6 engine pumps out 190 horsepower and it is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Although this engine is not the quietest, a new accessory drive and single serpentine belt reduce noise and vibration.

The electronic, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive sy stem is a joy. When the need for more traction arises, a simple touch of a button on the dash is all it takes. In more than six inches of snow traction was superb, considering it was equipped with street tires in place of mud and snows. The street tires ride quietly and smoothly on the dry pavement which prevails most of the year. Engaging low-range requires a complete stop, but that's no big deal.

The radio and climate controls share the same panel, with the heating/cooling knobs located farthest from the driver. I would move the climate control closer to the driver and give the radio larger, simpler controls such as those in the Cadillac Catera.

There is no passenger-side airbag, although that may be beneficial to those who want to use a child safety seat in front.

Changes for 1997 hint at the added luxury which will come next year as GMC differentiates its products from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile.


The base price of our test car was $24,362, and it d more than $5,000 worth of options, including the SLT package, power windows, power door locks, power outside mirrors, tilt wheel, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with CD player, power sunroof, trailer towing package and the Gold Edition group.

Its sticker price was $29,931.


The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.

Point: Four-wheel drive is a blessing when the weather turns bad, and the Jimmy's electronic system is a snap.

Counterpoint: It tackles snow like it was wearing snowshoes, but stopping still takes extra care, even with anti-lock and four-wheel drive.


ENGINE: 4.3-liter, V6


WHEELBASE: 107 inches

CURB WEIGHT: not available

BASE PRICE: $24,362


MPG RATING: 16 city, 21 hwy.