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Review: 2005 GMC Envoy

June 22, 2005 10:24 AM EST | GMC , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageA solid effort from GMC, but it still falls short of more well-rounded midsize SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner.

Pros
Extensive list of available options, strong six-cylinder engine, user-friendly interior design.

Cons
Numb steering, some low-grade interior pieces, sloppy handling around corners.

What's New for 2005
For 2005, seating has been restyled and boasts comfort and quality improvements. A touchscreen DVD-based navigation system is now available. Among the new options are an audio system with CD/MP3 compatibility and full-length side curtain airbags (which replace last year's front-seat side airbags). A top-rung Denali trim is available, and includes distinctive trim, leather seating and a 5.3-liter V8 engine as standard equipment.

Introduction:
A corporate twin of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the Envoy nameplate dates back to 1998 when GMC introduced a gussied-up version of its standard Jimmy sport-ute to appeal to buyers looking for an upscale ride. Even with a strong V6 and options aplenty, however, the first Envoy was totally outclassed by its competition. The Jimmy name was dropped in 2002, and the Envoy became GMC's only midsize sport-ute. That was also the year the Envoy received an extensive redesign. It now comes to the table with specifications and features that allow it to compete more favorably against its arch rival, the Ford Explorer (also fully redesigned in 2002). A longer and wider body gives the Envoy a substantial look, while providing considerably more room for passengers and cargo inside. Its frame structure utilizes advanced hydroforming technology that achieves stiffness levels typically associated only with high-end sedans. The current Envoy represents a vast improvement over its predecessor, but ultimately, it doesn't measure up to competitors such as the Ford Explorer or Toyota 4Runner.While its handsome exterior and roomy interior may attract consumers, GMC needs to come up with a better compromise between cushy ride quality and confident handling; specifically, it should lose some of the former to gain some of the latter. The company also needs to take a look at the materials used inside the cabin -- too many of them are of dubious quality for a vehicle in this price range. The midsize SUV class is populated with extremely capable vehicles, and unfortunately, the Envoy has yet to prove that it's got what it takes to overtake the segment leaders.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The four-door Envoy seats five and comes in three trim levels: SLE, SLT and Denali. Base SLE versions come with a cloth interior; dual-zone manual air conditioning; a CD player; power windows, mirrors and locks; keyless entry; and 17-inch wheels. SLT models are loaded with just about every feature available including a driver information center, automatic climate control, leather seating and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio and climate controls, just to name a few. The Envoy also offers a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a DVD-based navigation system, air suspension, upgraded audio systems, XM Satellite Radio and heated front seats as options. The loaded Denali includes unique front and rear fascias, heated front seats, Bose stereo, a leather and wood steering wheel and unique trim.

Powertrains and Performance:
SLE and SLT Envoys are powered by a 4.2-liter dual-overhead-cam inline six-cylinder engine. Rated at 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, this engine outpowers most of its competitors' V8s, let alone their V6 offerings. It's connected to a well-designed four-speed automatic transmission that delivers firm, precise shifts. Both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are available. Properly equipped, the Envoy can tow 6,300 pounds. Fuel economy is better than average for a truck-based utility vehicle; 4WD models rate 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway, while 2WD models have a 16/22 EPA estimate. The Denali ups the ante with a 5.3-liter V8 that pumps out 300 horsepower, and can tow up to 6,700 pounds.

Safety:
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard on all Envoys, while full-length head curtain airbags are optional. There are three-point seatbelts at all five seating locations. The Envoy has fared well in the NHTSA side-impact crash tests, scoring five stars (the best possible) for both front and rear passengers. Frontal impact tests resulted in a three-star rating for driver and front-passenger protection. The IIHS rated the vehicle "Marginal" (second lowest) after conducting its frontal offset crash test.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the Envoy's cabin offers plenty of room for five adult passengers. Brushed nickel accents grace the console and instrument panel, and wood accents add a touch of class to the uplevel SLT trim. Materials quality has been improved, but unfortunately, cheap plastic still dominates the dashboard and door panels. The 60/40-split rear seats fold for cargo-loading flexibility; with the seats folded, the Envoy has a maximum cargo-carrying capacity of 80 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions:
Out on the road, the Envoy delivers a well-cushioned ride that most shoppers will like. Unfortunately, the steering offers little in the way of road feel, and handling is sloppy around corners. An electronically controlled rear air suspension is available as an option to help maintain a level stance when hauling heavy loads. Off-road, the Envoy is capable of tackling the typical obstacles one encounters while trying to access trailheads and campsites. Ultimately, the most enjoyable aspect of this utility vehicle is its brawny inline six. With a generous 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, it makes for easy passing and acceleration.

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