The GMC Envoy was launched for 2002 as an upscale, “professional grade” iteration of the prolific General Motors GMT-360 midsize SUV platform that has spawned the Buick Rainier, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Oldsmobile Bravada, and most recently, the Saab 9-7x. The Envoy’s high feature content, strong powertrains, impressive on- and off-road ability, and varied work talents earned it praise and distinction.
For 2005, the Envoy range is expanded with new Envoy Denali and Denali XL models. As with other GMC truck lines, Denali models tout upgraded interior trim and bigger standard engines. Most noteworthy of the Denali add-ons is the 5.3-liter/300-horse V-8. When it comes to fuel efficiency, Displacement on Demand, which deactivates certain cylinders while cruising, compensates for the V-8 XL’s weight penalty. Other trim levels are equipped standard with a 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine making 275 horsepower. Both powerplants can drive the rear wheels, with part-time four-wheel-drive a desirable upgrade. Unfortunately, 2005 will be the last model year for the transformable Envoy XUV. The idea of an SUV that could turn into a pickup sounded brilliant in theory, but the miniscule bed opening left auto shoppers wondering how many giraffes they would possibly need to haul, and slow sales of this pricey variant have prompted GMC to cancel production.
The Envoy wears conservative sheetmetal, giving the traditional SUV silhouette a tasteful, even upscale appearance, with design symmetry evident in the side glass and muscular fender bulges. In keeping with the restrained aesthetic, the front fascia incorporates large headlights and a simple, attractive grille. Aptly named XL models are considerably bigger than the base Envoy, with a 16-inch-longer wheelbase and overall length. Stretching 207.6 inches bumper to bumper, the XL is almost nine inches longer than a GMC Yukon.
Key body details help differentiate Envoy models from one another: The XL has a much longer second door than the base model, and its rear cargo section is shaped differently. The XUV has a unique roof and rear-hatch treatment in dark gray plastic. And the Denalis now are distinguished by a perforated, chrome grille that resembles a battery-powered shaver, as well as a fresh front airdam design. Denali models also get 17-inch polished aluminum wheels and a load-leveling rear suspension. Towing heavy loads can cause traditional spring suspensions to sag, reducing ride quality, steering control, and towing ability. GMC engineers have addressed this problem by installing an air-spring rear suspension. Inflating the air spring prevents sagging and returns ride height to normal, resulting in a more refined ride, both laden and unladen.
The interior of the Envoy is more upscale than its Chevrolet stablemate’s, with a decidedly masculine appearance. Faux satin-nickel gauges and air-vent bezels are the most prominent interior features. GMC designers tried hard to hide the fact that most of the interior components come from the corporate parts bin by burying them deep in simulated wood trim. They achieved moderate success, but pieces such as the climate control don’t look integrated into the center console. The controls may not be pretty, but their layout is familiar and easy to use. Abundant seams around trim elements, dash components, and passenger airbag detract from the presentation.
Seats come in cloth or optional leather, but neither provides the comfort seen in other like-priced competitors. These perches provide almost no side bolstering for lateral support, something missed on long trips. The seating position is high, but there’s plenty of head- and shoulder room for six-foot-plus drivers. The second-row and optional third-row seats have ample room, but are just as uncomfortable as the fronts, with a very upright seating position. Rear-seat passengers may forget their discomfort while watching the optional DVD entertainment system or listening to the optional Bose sound system with in-dash CD changer.
All Envoys feature dual-stage front driver and passenger airbags. To lessen the possibility of injury caused by deployment, the airbags fire at a reduced rate for modest impacts and more quickly for severe crashes. Side curtain airbags, which protect passengers’ heads in a collision or rollover, are optional. Stopping the 4,800-pound SUV are four-wheel disc brakes with dual-piston calipers and ABS. An OnStar system with recently improved voice recognition software comes standard on all models. Conspicuously absent from the options list are stability and traction control. GM remains one of the few manufacturers that don’t offer stability control on their midsize SUVs—both Toyota and Ford include it as standard. Thankfully, this feature will be standard equipment on 2006 Envoys.
General Motors has endowed the base Envoy with a rather high-tech powerplant, a 4.2-liter, dual-cam straight-six that makes 275 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. This engine even uses variable cam phasing, a technique that boosts top-end power. But there’s no such wizardry for the 5.3-liter/300-horse pushrod V-8, standard in Denali models and optional in the Envoy XL. Both engines use the same four-speed automatic transmission. It’s a shame GM doesn’t provide a five- or six-speed automatic.
From the transmission, power is either routed directly to the rear wheels or through an optional transfer case for four-wheel drive. The 4WD system has three modes: rear-wheel high, four-wheel high, and four-wheel low. A locking rear differential, to help get the SUV out from between a literal rock and a hard place, is optional. With the proper powertrain combination, the Envoy can tow up to 7,100 pounds (rear-drive V-8 models), making it one of the most capable mid-size SUVs on the market.
Overall, the ride quality of the Envoy is decent. The basic suspension soaks up choppy pavement well for a truck that uses body-on-frame architecture, with more refinement available via the optional air suspension. The only drawback to the comfortable ride is the lack of feel from the road, as is the case with most midsize SUVs. Dull, over-boosted steering exaggerates the effect, along with some body roll through dynamic maneuvers in standard-suspension versions. Road noise is low, especially in the Denali models, which use extra sound insulation. Adequate acceleration is supplied from the torque-rich engine, although it would be a stretch to call the six-cylinder Envoy quick. Shifting is smooth, but another ratio in the gearbox would help both acceleration and fuel economy. While the V-8 provides more torque, it feels only marginally faster fitted to the heavier Envoy configurations; the eight-cylinder engine’s appeal is seen in its towing ability.
The GMC Envoy appeals the domestic-vehicle loyalist looking for a right-sized sport/ute with a classy, masculine flavor. Numerous variations allow shoppers to find the right bodystyle and powertrain combination for their needs and budget. The supersized XL bridges the mid- and full-size segments for shoppers who need a third row of seats, but who don’t relish the parking and fuel-filling challenges of a true larger-scale vehicle. The Envoy makes easy work of hauling a trailer, with either powertrain. For those with limited towing demands, the six-cylinder provides a good compromise between performance and economy. There are a numerous comfort features to go along with the utility, and the upmarket Denali trim provides an even better dressed interior and abundant convenience gadgets. As the years have passed, the Envoy concedes refinement leadership—especially in its interior—to newer competitors. The Envoy is further hindered by an IntelliChoice Ownership Cost Value Rating that sees most iterations fall between Average and Worse than Average.
Strong, capable, all-American midsize sport/ute, the Envoy combines the comfort features, overall packaging, and utility to thrive with an active family.