2003 GMC Envoy
    MSRP
    $28,645 - $35,745
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    2003 GMC Envoy Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Standard Envoy is smooth, stable and responsive.

    Introduction

    All-new last year, GMC Envoy has become a standard for mid-size sport utilities. Envoy is smooth, stable, and responsive. It comes with a smooth, powerful inline six-cylinder that gives up nothing to the Ford Explorer's available V8. Envoy carries five people in comfort with two rows of seats. 

    Envoy XL can carry seven passengers and is available with a V8 engine. XL is a stretched, long-wheelbase version of the Envoy. Its third row adds versatility. XL lacks the response and stability of the standard Envoy, however. 

    GMC Envoy shares its chassis and engine with the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Buick Rainier, and Oldsmobile Bravada. Each boasts unique styling, however. Envoy has conservative, upmarket styling. The GMC offers more features than the Chevy. 

    Lineup

    GMC Envoy comes in two lengths, Envoy and Envoy XL. Each is available in SLE or SLT trim. Each is available with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. Long-wheelbase models are called Envoy XL and are 16 inches longer overall to provide a third row of seats for seven-passenger capacity. 

    All Envoys come standard with the Vortec 4200, an all-new six-cylinder engine introduced for 2002. This sophisticated 4.2-liter inline-6 uses dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable phasing for the exhaust cam to produce 275 horsepower, best by a wide margin in a class that includes Ford and Jeep V8s. Its torque output is impressive at 275 pounds-feet. It's an excellent engine. 

    A 5.3-liter overhead-valve V8 is available for Envoy XL that develops 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque. Equipped with the V8, a 2WD Envoy XL can tow 7,200 pounds (7,000 pounds with 4WD). 

    SLE ($28,245) is the base trim level and includes slightly less standard equipment this year than last. SLE is still well equipped, with dual-zone air conditioning, CD stereo, anti-lock brakes, power windows and locks, keyless entry, 17-inch aluminum wheels and fog lights. The SLE interior has splashes of brushed nickel on the console and instrument panel, while SLT gets wood trim with nickel trim rings. Envoy XL SLE ($30,545) is equipped similarly. 

    SLT ($33,095) adds luxury conveniences such as leather upholstery, automatic climate control, separate rear-seat audio controls, power seats with memory, and OnStar telecommunications. SLT also adds a driver information center, light-sensitive outside mirrors with turn signals, and more controls on the steering wheel. Envoy XL SLT ($34,895) is equipped similarly. 

    Options include Bose premium sound system, headlamp washers, rain-sensing wipers, and TravelNote digital recorder. Also available is a rear seat DVD entertainment system ($1000), with a seven-inch flip-down screen and wireless headphones. 

    Four-wheel drive adds about $2225 to any model. 

    Walkaround

    GMC Envoy is considered a mid-size SUV, about the same size as a Ford Explorer. It's smaller than a GMC Yukon, but much bigger than the old GMC Jimmy. 

    Envoy XL is 16 inches longer than Envoy. Envoy XL is nearly 9 inches longer than a Yukon, yet it's 4 inches narrower. One way to distinguish Envoy XL from the standard Envoy is to look at the rear doors. Envoy's rear doors are interrupted by the rear fenders. Envoy XL, with its length stretched amidships, has enough space for full-size rear doors. 

    Envoy's styling looks more sophisticated to our eyes than that of the other mid-size SUVs from General Motors. Envoy shares its platform with the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the upcoming Buick Rainier, and the outgoing Oldsmobile Bravada. 

    Envoy has a wide-mouth black grille with a big ruby red logo that says GMC all the way. Sleek and clean are the distinct headlamps, round fog lights and pouty front bumper with a wide, slim slit at the very bottom. Strong beveled shapes extend along the Envoy's clean sides and around the wheel wells, and help make the Envoy look imposing. Envoy dispenses with the TrailBlazer's showy fender flares, by housing its standard 17-inch wheels inside hefty fenders that are part of the trapezoidal design theme. The rear bumper is stepped for its full length, and includes big round backup lights. 

    From behind the wheel the Envoy seems to be raked, as you look down over the strong hood. It looks cool. Under that hood is GM's newly developed inline six-cylinder engine. Advancements in electronics, metallurgy and manufacturing now enable an inline engine to soar, and GM has fully exploited this technical opportunity. 

    Interior

    Envoy seats five passengers. Envoy XL seats seven. 

    Where Ford Explorer squeezes an optional third-row seat onto a 113-inch wheelbase, Envoy XL uses a 129-inch wheelbase. Envoy XL is 18 inches longer than Explorer. In theory, that should mean the Envoy XL is a lot roomier. 

    Most of the Envoy XL's extra length translates into increased roominess in the second row. Envoy XL offers significantly better second-row leg and hip room than the Ford Explorer. Envoy XL provides 37.5 inches of leg room and 58.4 inches of hip room, versus the Explorer's 35.9 and 54.2, respectively. Even the standard-wheelbase Envoy betters the Explorer in the second row, with 37.1 inches of leg room and 58.1 inches of hip room. 

    Envoy XL's third row isn't roomier than the Explorer's, however. Head, hip, and leg room in the Explorer's third row measure 39.0, 45.3, and 34.8 inches, respectively. The corresponding numbers for the Envoy XL are 38.5, 45.9, and 32.2. We put some adults back there and it worked fine for visiting neighborhood museums. They claimed feeling like they were sitting in a tunnel, however. 

    GMC's seats seemed more comfortable to us than the Chevrolet TrailBlazer's seats. The Envoy's seat cushions are longer, wider and thicker than those in the TrailBlazer, and offer noticeably more side bolstering. We would choose an Envoy over a TrailBlazer for the seats alone. Envoy SLT's leather was way plush, while Envoy SLE's cloth was grippier. On the SLT, the driver's bucket is eight-way power adjustable, with two-way lumbar support and optional heat. 

    Instrumentation is complete and clean. A big tachometer is on the left, speedometer in center, and on the right are smaller gauges for water, battery, gas and oil. The brushed nickel trim looks classy, with or without the wood. Four big round registers for heating and air conditioning look stylish and purposeful in nickel. The four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel comes with both models, and on the SLT includes controls for climate, sound, cruise control and driver information center. 

    SLE's dual-zone manual climate controls use sliders and seem like a big step backward from the SLT's digital controls. Turning a knob is easier than sliding a switch when bouncing on rough roads. Radio buttons are non-standard and we kept changing the channel when we meant to adjust the volume, but familiarity solves this. 

    The center console houses an open storage bin, an enclosed compartment, and two cupholders forward of the gear lever. The emergency brake lever is also located there. There are pockets in the front doors and behind the front seats, but we'd like more places to put small items in the center console area. Behind the rear seat is a small hidden compartment under the floor, a cargo net and a power outlet. 

    SLT's overhead console includes a sunglasses holder and an optional Travelnote digital recorder, which allows the driver to orally take phone numbers while on a cell phone. Heating and air conditioning can be controlled separately by the driver, front, and rear passengers. Interior lights abound, including reading lights. 

    We found the optional 275-watt Bose system with six-disc in-dash CD player offers outstanding sound quality and adjustment versatility. All the systems include RDS (Radio Data Systems) technology, allowing the listener to search for stations by type, display information including song and artist information, and provide traffic and weather updates. 

    The OnStar communications system is standard on the SLT. It includes GPS navigation, hands-free cell phone communication (including a free first year of safety and security service) automatic crash and theft reporting, as well as remote unlocking and other services. 

    Rear-seat headrests conveniently flip down to give the driver a better view to the rear. Fold the rear seats and Envoy XL offers about 100 cubic feet of cargo, more than Envoy (80) or Explorer (82), and nearly as much as a Yukon (105). SLT m. 

    Driving Impression

    GMC Envoy is responsive and stable. The six-cylinder Vortex 4200 engine is exceptional and a perfect companion for the Envoy. It incorporates state-of-the-art engine construction and management, and gets 16/22 mpg city/highway mileage with 2WD. From 4.2 liters, the inline-6 produces a dazzling 275 horsepower, 36 more than Ford Explorer's new 4.6-liter sohc V8. Envoy's engine boasts a broad torque curve peaking at 275 pounds-feet, only 7 less than the Ford and arriving 400 rpm sooner. About 90 percent of the peak torque is available at just 1600 rpm and it's still there at 5600 rpm. That means quick response at any engine speed, allowing the Envoy to bound past trucks on steep uphill two-lanes with confidence. 

    With the engine's broad and bountiful torque, the transmission does dramatically less downshifting. And when the full-throttle upshift comes at about 6000 rpm the engine is only striding, not screaming. The smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission is the proven Hydramatic 4L60-E, used in GM applications from Corvettes to Cadillac Escalades. A 3.73:1 rear-end ratio is standard, but a 4.10 is available for better towing and a 3.42 is available for better gas mileage. With the strong torque available, we couldn't discern a significant improvement in acceleration performance with the 4.10. Towing was a high engineering priority, and the six-cylinder, standard-wheelbase Envoy is rated at 6200 pounds for 4WD, 6300 pounds with 2WD. 

    Envoy feels smooth and stable at high speeds. It rides smooth and car-like at lower speeds without being overly soft in corners. On a high-speed washboard surface, the rear end stayed impressively planted. Envoy is designed to roll (lean) exactly 5 degrees in the corners, and then stop leaning. Envoy's track is among the widest in the class (2.2 inches wider than the Ford Explorer between the front tires and 0.9 inch wider between the rear tires). This, coupled with a lowered mass from the engine position, lowers the center of gravity. Envoy has a relatively low ground clearance of 8 inches under the engine. 

    The optional load-leveling air suspension ($375) is intended to provide a more luxurious ride. It uses a silent air compressor, which yields one additional benefit: a 22-foot air hose for filling everything from tires to toys that attaches to a small valve in a compartment in the cargo area. Off-road, we found that the load-leveling suspension bottomed easily, signaling a need for the optional skid plates ($200). Our test model had the skid plates, of course, which we also dragged in soft sand, chugging easily along at 5 mph in Auto4WD. On low-speed whoop-de-doos, the front end bobbed up and down more than we would have liked. 

    Envoy XL lacks the responsiveness and stable handling of the standard-length Envoy. Envoy XL feels long and narrow. That's not surprising, given that the Envoy XL is longer, narrower and taller than the GMC Yukon. Envoy XL's wheelbase is stretched dramatically, by 16 inches. It's suspension is soft. It wallows in corners. On exit ramps, when braking and turning at the same time, Envoy XL does not feel as stable as an Envoy or a Tahoe. On the highway, the XL wanders around in the lane. Stability is also affected by strong crosswinds at high speeds. Equipped with the optional V8 engine, Envoy XL feels distinctly underpowered. It weighs about 286 pounds more than the standard Envoy. 

    Autotrac, the four-wheel-drive system, works well. Autotrac features four settings: 2WD, Auto4WD, 4HI and 4LO. Auto4WD shifts power to all four wheels as conditions require. Switching in and out of 4WD can be done on the fly with a flip of the switch (although it must be in neutral to engage or disengage 4LO). 

    We tried out the Auto4WD by deliberately driving into soft sand in 2WD. The moment the Envoy bogged, we switched to Auto4WD on the fly, it clicked and began pulling us right along again. (Of course, it makes more sense to stay in Auto4WD.)

    The four-wheel. 

    Summary

    GMC Envoy is an excellent choice among mid-size sport-utilities. GMC's brilliant inline six-cylinder engine gives up nothing to the Ford Explorer's available V8. It's well engineered and enjoyable to drive, stable and responsive. 

    Envoy XL, however, lacks the handling stability and responsiveness of the Envoy. Need a third row? We think a minivan, such as the less-expensive Pontiac Montana, or a larger SUV, such as the more-expensive Yukon, would make better choices. 

    Model Lineup

    Envoy SLE 2WD ($28,245); Envoy SLT 2WD ($33,095); Envoy SLE 4WD ($30,470); Envoy SLT 4WD ($35,320); Envoy XL SLE 2WD ($30,545); Envoy XL SLT 2WD ($34,895); Envoy XL SLE 4WD ($32,770); Envoy XL SLT 4WD ($37,120). 

    Assembled In

    Moraine, Ohio. 

    Options As Tested

    SLE Enhanced Package ($2095) includes cargo convenience net, retractable rear cargo shade, overhead custom console with HomeLink universal transmitter, electric rear window defogger, electrochromic rearview mirror, OnStar one-year Safe & Sound service, 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, illuminated vanity visor mirrors, power heated exterior mirrors, special aluminum wheels; Skid Plate Package ($200); power passenger seat ($275); power sunroof ($800); rear load-leveling suspension ($375). 

    Model Tested

    GMC Envoy SLE 4WD ($30,470). 

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