Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
An enviable mix of luxury and truck.
The name of the truck is Envoy, but that's only one letter away from 'envy,' which is what GMC's top compact sport-utility may arouse in other mid-size SUV drivers. The Envoy is loaded to the gunwales with luxury features and fancy trim, yet doesn't wimp out on the truck side of the equation. It comes standard with a powerful V6, full towing equipment and four-wheel drive.
GMC Envoy has no trim levels. Essentially, the Envoy represents the top of the GMC Jimmy line, so the $34,170 Envoy comes with all the goodies.
GMC's Jimmy, on the other hand, offers a wide range of models, starting with the $19,070 2-Door SLS. The top of the Jimmy line is the $34,520 Diamond Edition Special, sporting a custom grille guard, diamond-quilted perforated leather seats and brushed aluminum exterior accents.
The Jimmy is available in 2-door and 4-door versions, with 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. The Envoy and the Diamond Edition Jimmy is available as a 4-door only.
Sporty SLS trim is standard on 2-door Jimmys ($19,070 with 2WD, $22,070 with 4WD). SLE comfort trim is standard on 4-door models ($26,470 with 2WD, $28,470 with 4WD). A premium 4-door SLT version is also available ($27,770 with 2WD, $29,770 with 4WD).
With its classic two-box profile, the GMC Envoy looks like the traditional SUV. (If they look familiar, Envoy and Jimmy are members of GM's compact sport-utility line that includes the Chevrolet Blazer and Oldsmobile Bravada.) The body is mounted atop a sturdy steel frame.
The styling is attractive. Corners are nicely rounded and the lower body is clad in plastic. Flanking the GMC family grille are headlamps that set the Envoy apart from the Jimmys. Each headlight cluster includes a circular amber parking light, an elliptical halogen high beam, an elliptical high intensity discharge low beam, and a sidemarker light. A pair of large fog lamps is incorporated into the lower front valence. With this lighting package, they will see you coming.
The Envoy sports cast-aluminum wheels with P235/70R15 all-season tires. Front suspension is independent, a short-long arm design with torsion bars. Semi-elliptic springs are used at the rear. The Envoy comes with the Luxury Ride suspension (ZW7), which has shock absorbers and springs tuned for a smooth highway ride on paved or improved roads. Front shocks are by Bilstein, with Delphi premium load-leveling shocks in back. This suspension works well for trailer towing; the Envoy is rated to tow up to 5600 pounds and comes pre-wired for trailers.
Power for the Envoy and all Jimmy models comes from GM's Vortec 4.3-liter V6 engine. This overhead-valve 90-degree V6 is tuned for truck work, with 250 foot-pounds of torque peaking at 2800 rpm. It generates 190 horsepower at 4400 rpm. Redline is just over 5000 rpm.
This engine is mated to GM's 4-speed electronically controlled transmission (4L60-E). The Envoy's transmission has a tow/haul mode, accessed by a button on the shift lever, that reduces shifting when towing a heavy trailer and attunes the performance of the gearbox to the heavier load. The AutoTrac 2-speed transfer case is standard as well. Modes are selected by dash-mounted buttons, including an Auto 4WD button that is not all-wheel drive, but rather a standby mode that, when rear wheel spin is detected, engages the four-wheel-drive system for as long as needed.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-wheel ABS are standard on all models.
It wasn't too long ago that cars didn't have interiors this luxurious. Envoy's seats are trimmed in supple two-tone leather; the steering wheel and shifter are accorded similar treatment. For 2000, the passenger seat joins the driver's seat with multiple power adjustments, including power lumbar and heated surfaces on both front seats. The driver now gets two position memory buttons. Genuine Zebrano wood graces the console and door trim.
Large controls are angled toward the driver that are easy to use. Delco Bose audio is standard, complete with special speakers mounted in the doors and a six-CD changer in the console. A welcome change last year is a steering wheel with hubs; a mini-pack airbag improves the appearance as well as the view of the instrument panel.
Power equipment abounds in the Envoy. The windows and locks are powered, and remote locking is standard. So are power mirrors, not only adjusting the view but also folding in for tight parking spots and car washes. All glass aft of the B-pillar is tinted. Both the inside rearview mirror and the outside mirrors are electrochromatic - they dim automatically when bright lights are behind you. Climate control is the set-and-forget type; dial up a temperature and the computer-controlled system maintains fan speed and directs the air to where it's needed. An overhead mini-console includes HomeLink, a trip computer and compass. A rear wiper is standard and includes a wet-arm washer. Also out back is an air compressor outlet for inflating everything from flat tires to soccer balls. The rear hatch can be opened completely, and the rear glass can be opened separately for quick stowage.
The Envoy is a genuine sport-utility, complete with the raised step-in one should expect of a truck. This yields that commanding view of the road, but it's not so high as to be eyeball to eyeball with semi-tractor drivers. The front seats are well cushioned. Wide and lightly bolstered on the side, they are more like chairs than buckets, comfortable but not fit for sporty driving. The rear bench is low, with a lower hip point than the front seat and most comfortable for two adults, though three can fit and be friendly.
The engine starts easily and idles smoothly. The transmission shifts easily at part throttle. Push hard on the right pedal and the torque comes instantly. The Vortec V6 pulls like a smallmouth bass unhappy about being hooked, right down to that tingle you can feel in your hands. It's not nearly as slick as some of its overhead-cam rivals from Japan when accelerating hard, but the difference on the highway is imperceptible.
On the road the only noises when cruising are a slight ruffle of air around the mirrors, tire noise coming up from the highway and a bass note from the engine. It's all subdued, however, allowing for easy conversation between the front and rear seat, or a rolling concert environment for listening to the audio system. You'll almost regret reaching your destination. Back seat passengers wearing headphones can listen independently to other programming.
The ZW7 suspension lives up to its luxury billing, with a soft ride over the road, soaking up expansion joints. Unimproved roads, however, will jostle the inhabitants, which is to be expected. The ZW7 package does not have the lateral control of some of the other Jimmy suspensions, and on winding roads the Envoy tends to lean in corners. A sightseeing trip to the Lackawaxen home of Zane Gray required traversing some narrow, bumpy highways in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and here we would have preferred a little more rebound damping in the shocks and a fatter anti-roll bar. Back on Interstate 84, however, the Envoy was in its element. It almost made us wish we had a trailer to tow.
We also had the chance to climb a hill on an ice-covered road. The Auto 4WD mode worked exactly as advertised, shifting into four-wheel drive with no indication to the driver that anything unusual was going on. The Envoy scaled the icy climb so easily that we tried it again with the transfer case in 2-Hi (two-wheel drive). Barely able to make forward progress on the uphill section, we came to a stop and shifted back into Auto 4WD. Even from rest on an incline we pulled away and reached the top. It was slippery enough to test the ABS as well, and we certainly would have found going down the hill much more thrilling without the antilock system -- but we didn't try that.
Those exotic-looking headlamps, incidentally, are more than just for looks. Halogen lights pale in comparison to the bluish white light of the Envoy's high-intensity discharge low beams. They really come into their own on dark, stormy nights.
A dealer-installed option is GM's OnStar Communication System. It uses the Global Positioning System and cellular telephone communications to provide the driver with directions or unlock the car when you leave the keys in it. It automatically sends a signal to an OnStar representative when the airbags are deployed; and if you don't respond the OnStar representative will contact emergency personnel and direct them to you.
Bringing home the groceries was made easier by a net that keeps those plastic bags and gallon milk jugs from sliding all over the cargo area. A cargo cover reels from side to side, which means there's no bar with the cover inside to deal with when lowing the rear seatback for a large load, and it's also easier to reach. The cargo floor also has tie downs to secure loads.
Though it's a truck, the Envoy seems like a hybrid from a use standpoint. Its interior is as cushy as that of any luxury car, and no doubt the Envoy will be used that way most of the time. But when the time comes, it is also fully capable of handling heavy loads, whether stuffed to the rafters with gear or towing a snowmobile trailer into the country. In short, the Envoy is a versatile, well-equipped and luxurious truck.
Envoy ($34,170); 2-Door Jimmy SLS 2WD ($19,070); 2-Door Jimmy SLS 4WD ($22,070); 4-Door Jimmy SLE 2WD ($26,470); 4-Door Jimmy SLE 4WD ($28,470); 4-Door Jimmy SLT 2WD ($27,770) Jimmy SLT 4WD ($29,770).
Options As Tested
sunroof ($750); engine block heater ($20); OnStar Communication System ($695 for installation, $199/year for the emergency service).
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