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There’s little argument that General Motors has struggled to stay ahead of the sport-ute game.
While the 1990s saw steady improvements to the sales-phenom Explorer and the introduction of a clutch of new nameplates, GM’s midsize utes — the Jimmy, Blazer, and Bravada — doddered on an aged platform. All the while, legions of crossovers, cute-utes, full-sizers and sort-of-SUVs overtook the shopping malls and parking lots of all of North America.
Today, not only does GM face a stable if not shrinking market for traditional midsize utes, they also face serious direct competition in the form of the $28,380 ’02 Ford Explorer and the $35,000 Acura MDX.
So, for a number of reasons, GM’s new midsize sport-ute trio had better be good.
They are, and to my taste the GMC Envoy may be the best of the three. While the Envoy, Chevy’s TrailBlazer, and the lame-duck Olds Bravada are as fraternal as a keg of Schaefer’s, the Envoy is outfitted with the best mix of style and content.
The most important feature of the new Envoy, though, may be that “new” part. To get a sense of how fundamentally different the Envoy is from the Jimmy that GMC used to sell, just pop open the hood and examine its new 4.2-liter in-line six. It’s completely new, smooth, quiet, powerful, and it’s one of GM’s most technologically advanced powerplants. The aluminum double-overhead cam design has variable valve timing with mechanical actuation, puts out 270 horsepower, and twists out 90 percent of its 275 lb-ft of torque from 1600 to 5600 rpm. Yes, the strapping 4400-lb Envoy needs every one of the 270 hp to possess itself of speed, but acceleration feels brisk and reasonably quick.
The overriding impression from the power room, though, is of refinement. All the fancy tricks and refinement make the six-cylinder seem too expensive to use just on these products. We hear a five-cylinder and four-cylinder are in the works based on the same architecture; don’t be surprised to find them in GM’s future small trucks and crossover vehicles.