GMC offered the Envoy before, serving as the top-of-the-line member of its Jimmy sport utility vehicle family. The Envoy designation disappeared for a season but is back again for 2002 on a brand-new midsize model. Its part of a new trio of General Motors midsize SUVs that includes the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Oldsmobile Bravada. GMCs version occupies the middle. All three stem from a ground-up build, according to Tom Wallace, GMs vehicle line executive for its Midsize Truck Group.
A five-passenger Envoy arrived first as an early 2002 model. In spring 2002, GMC added an extended-length, seven-passenger Envoy XL with three rows of seats. Although Chevrolet will keep its prior Blazer around for a couple more seasons, GMC has shelved the long-lived Jimmy nameplate.
Among the highlights in the Envoy is a new GM 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 develops 270 horsepower. Claiming it is the strongest in its class, GM chose this engine configuration because an inline-six is inherently balanced, said Ron Koctoa, chief engineer for GMs Inline Engines group.
GM claims that the engines torsional rigidity has increased by 260 percent. Rear coil springs are standard, but an air suspension which is standard on the Olds Bravada is an option at GMC dealerships. A new rack-and-pinion steering system delivers a 36.4-foot turning circle, claimed to be the tightest in the midsize SUV league.
Available in SLE and SLT trim levels, the four-door Envoy sports a trapezoidal bodyside shape and a shield-shaped grille that help give it a distinct identity, though overall appearance is similar to its GM companions. At 113 inches, the five-passenger Envoys wheelbase is 6 inches longer than that on the prior Jimmy. Its track width (the distance between wheels) also has grown. All three GM models share roofs, tailgates and front doors, but most other body components are unique to GMC. Michelin 17-inch tires are installed.
The extended-wheelbase Envoy XL rides a 129-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 207.6 inches thats 16 inches longer than the regular Envoy. The extended-size model also is 3 inches taller.
Five occupants fit in the standard Envoy, with reclining bucket seats in front and a split, folding rear seat that holds three. The Envoy XL seats seven people and comes with an additional two-place fold-down rear seat. GMC promises 6 additional inches of shoulder room in the XL than in the third-row seat of a Ford Explorer. The XLs cargo volume is 100.2 cubic feet, vs. 80.1 cubic feet in the shorter Envoy. A rear cargo shelf in the XL has adjustable height levels.
A rear-seat entertainment system with a DVD player is available. GMs OnStar communication system, a luggage rack, fog lamps, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, heated mirrors and a theft-deterrent system are standard. The SLT edition adds leather upholstery, memory drivers seat and mirrors, rear-seat radio controls, headlight washers, light-sensitive outside mirrors and a driver information center that monitors up to 13 different functions, including fuel availability, transmission fluid temperature, engine coolant and oil level.
Under the Hood
A four-speed-automatic transmission teams with the 270-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. Envoys come with two- or four-wheel drive, and the latter incorporates a two-speed transfer case and a provision for automatic operation. 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 are 2 inches lower than the usual position to make the Envoy more equally level with passenger cars in a collision. Each bumper can withstand a 5-mph collision.
Like the hard-working TrailBlazer, GMCs Envoy seems eagerly ready to compete against the newly redesigned Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer in terms of passing power, ride comfort and handling prowess. Performance is a definite plus. While tromping on the gas to pass or merge, few drivers are likely to realize that the source of power is an inline-six rather than a V-8. Even on mountain grades, the 270-hp engine exudes confidence. Not only is engine sound barely discernible, except when pushed really hard, but road noise is also virtually absent.
On smooth surfaces, the regular-suspension Envoy rides much like a car. With optional air suspension, the ride softens, but not dramatically. Handling is a bit on the slow side, which is hardly uncommon among midsize SUVs. Despite a sensation of being slightly disconnected from the road, the driver benefits from a satisfying steering feel.