by Dan Carney
The equation is pretty simple: more rows = more seats = more passengers = more money.
Airliner manufacturers recognized this fact and have exploited it by building “stretch” versions of popular planes. Take a proven aircraft, stretch it for more interior space, and for almost no cost you’ve got a roomier vehicle. Same engines, same control systems, same basic structure, same components and assembly techniques. Bottom line: wide-body capacity for a narrow body price.
The only downsides are that it is more of a hassle getting into and out of the plane, and pilots have to take care on take-off not to lift the nose too abruptly, or they’ll drag the longer tail on the ground.
GM has taken the same approach with the creation of the Envoy XL, which has an additional 16 inches of wheelbase to make room for a third-row seat, and it is a bit taller to provide head room in the “way back.”
The regular Envoy is one of the nicest mid-sized SUVs around. It looks good, has a smooth-but-powerful straight six, and rides well for an SUV (though we’d rather have a muffler that doesn’t make the Envoy look like a stationary generator). But room for a couple more passengers would be even better, wouldn’t it? Maybe not.
The stretched Envoy XL left us wondering if buyers might be better served by a true wide-body – a Yukon or Yukon XL – instead of this stretched mid-sizer.
Concern arose at the sight of the price on the window sticker. Thirty-nine thousand dollars will buy a pretty well-equipped full-size SUV. Inside we were also worried, because it seemed a little cramped for a seven-seater. But at least it gets better gas mileage, right? We only managed 14.5 mpg in mostly gentle rural highway driving with the whole family aboard. We’ve seen similar mileage from a Suburban while towing a light race car.
2002 GMC Envoy XL
The Envoy XL carries an all-in-one overhead DVD player system that will see widespread use in the GM line in 2003. The all-in-one design, with the DVD player and screen combined in a single unit simplifies installation compared to a unit with the player in the dash, so it should help address the traditionally high price of such systems. GM’s Panasonic system will cost $995 as a stand-alone option on other models, but on the Envoy XL the video system is part of the $3000 Professional Technology option package, along with load-leveling rear suspension, Bose sound, heated seats and locking differential.
The downside of ceiling-mounted flip-down screens is that they block the view through the rearview mirror, and it is easy to bang your head on them when reaching into the back seat (a common event with small children). Combining the player into the overhead unit amplifies these problems. They aren’t so bad as to outweigh the benefits of TV capability on long trips, but they are a nuisance.
Otherwise, the wireless headphones and the rest of the video system worked fine, though the player did display a finicky demand for very clean children’s DVDs (a rare commodity). Meanwhile, in adult land, the six-disc CD changer Bose audio system provides typically great sound.
Seat heaters with separate controls for bottom and back elements are welcome in cold weather. The stylish instrument panel and dash carries over from the regular Envoy, and the easy-to-use driver information system lets the driver set various parameters for things like whether the truck locks its doors when underway, or blows its horn in response to remote locking. GM’s interface is simple and it controls a wider array of features than others we’ve tried. The OnStar system provides its array of services for people who need directions or other assistance, which should be a worthwhile benefit to customers compared to vehicles that lack the service.
2002 GMC Envoy XL
On the road, the Envoy is smooth, quiet and reasonably quick. We love the silky engine, and the ride and handling feels less top-heavy than most SUVs, thanks in part to Bilstein shocks. We’d never mistake it for a sports car, or any other car for that matter, but it is still very comfortable.
2003 GMC Envoy XLEnlarge Photo
Drivers who only need the third row occasionally, and can use the full cargo area the rest of the time might find the Envoy XL to be just the right size, since it is still narrower than a full-size SUV and will fit in supermarket parking spaces more easily.
But it is still tough to taxi the Envoy XL to its gate because of the long wheelbase, and the high price has the buyer in Yukon territory anyway.
Which brings us to the gas mileage. That would be expected to be another reason to go with the smaller SUV, but we were discouraged to score only 14.5 mpg, despite a regimen of mid-speed (50-60 MPH) highway driving. Again, if we are already in Yukon country, maybe we oughta think about the bigger model. But for people who must have a third row seat, and who can’t live with a full-sized SUV, the Envoy XL is worth a hard look.
2002 GMC Envoy XL
Price: $35,995 base, $39,560 as tested
Engine: 4.2-liter in-line six, 270 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 129.0 in
Length: 207.6 in
Width: 74.7 in
Height: 75.5 in
Curb Weight: 5118 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 15/20 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, four-wheel drive
Major standard features: Automatic climate control, keyless entry, power windows, locks, and mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, Bose sound system with six-CD changer
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles