2004 GMC Envoy

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Reviewed By: Mitch McCullough
© 2004 NewCarTestDrive.com


The GMC Envoy line of mid-size SUVs has been expanded for 2004. The new XUV is brimming with innovation and clever engineering that answers the call for someone who wants both the utility of a pickup truck and the luxurious accommodations of a passenger car.

The Envoy line continues to come in two sizes, regular and extra-long. The standard GMC Envoy is a compelling alternative to the Ford Explorer and other mid-size SUVs. Smooth, stable, and responsive, the Envoy comes with a smooth, powerful inline six-cylinder engine that gives up nothing to the Explorer, even when the Ford is equipped with the optional V8 engine. The Envoy carries five people in comfort with two rows of seats.

The Envoy XL is a stretched, long-wheelbase version of the Envoy that features third-row seating. Some buyers see the XL as a less-expensive alternative to the full-size GMC Yukon. The XL is actually longer than the Yukon, can carry seven passengers, and offers an optional V8 engine. Its third row adds versatility. But the Envoy XL is narrower and not as stable as the full-size Yukon. And because it's longer and heavier, the Envoy XL lacks the handling response and stability of the standard Envoy.

For 2004, GMC has introduced the innovative Envoy XUV. The XUV seats five and features an all-weather cargo area that can be cleaned out with a hose. This cargo area is sealed off from the passenger compartment when the Midgate and power rear window are closed. Need more cargo space? Lowering the window, Midgate and rear seats reveals a pickup-like bed suitable for hauling 4x8-foot sheets of plywood. Its dual-function tailgate can be dropped like that of a pickup or swung open like a door. But wait, there's more: The rear section of the roof retracts at the press of a button, leaving a wide-open cargo area that can haul tall items like potted trees. The Envoy XUV shares the longer wheelbase and optional V8 engine of the XL.

GMC Envoy shares its chassis and engine with the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Buick Rainier. Each of the three boasts unique styling, however, and there are feature differences. Envoy has conservative, upmarket styling, yet has a masculine look that says it's ready to tackle the tough jobs. It offers more features than the Chevy, but the standard Envoy doesn't offer the Rainier's optional V8. And the XUV version is a GMC exclusive.

GMC has added some new options for all 2004 Envoys, including power-adjustable pedals and several new audio systems.

Model Lineup

GMC Envoy SLE 2WD ($29,120); SLE 4WD ($31,370); SLT 2WD ($33,970); SLT 4WD ($36,220); Envoy XL SLE 2WD ($31,220); XL SLE 4WD ($33,470); XL SLT 2WD ($35,770); XL SLT 4WD ($38,020); Envoy XUV SLE 2WD ($31,240) XUV SLE 4WD ($33,465); XUV SLT 2WD ($35,840); XUV SLT 4WD ($38,065)

Walk Around

The GMC Envoy models are considered to be mid-size SUVs, about the same size as a Ford Explorer. Envoy is smaller than a GMC Yukon, but much bigger than the car-based compact SUVs.

As mentioned, the GMC Envoy is available in two wheelbase lengths: 113 inches for the standard Envoy, and 129 inches for the Envoy XL and Envoy XUV. In terms of overall length, the Envoy XL is 16 inches longer than the standard Envoy, and it's nearly 9 inches longer yet more than 4 inches narrower than the standard GMC Yukon. One way to distinguish an 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.

The Envoy XUV is about an inch longer than Envoy XL, and an inch and a half taller. At first glance it resembles the XL, but take a closer look, and you'll see that the XUV's rear side windows, the windows that look into the cargo bay, wrap subtly into the roof, where they meet the tracks for the sliding roof section. The tracks themselves are integrated into the luggage rack, a clever design. The XUV also has unique, larger taillights that wrap up over the tops of the rear fenders. From the rear, the XUV looks even more raked-forward than the Envoy and Envoy XL. Visually, the XL and XUV look too long in the back end with respect to the front proportions.

The XUV features a unique, dual-function tailgate. The tailgate power window can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button. With the window fully lowered, the tailgate can be dropped for ease of loading and unloading. Or it can swing open to the right, allowing bumper-level access to the cargo area.

As mentioned, the Envoy shares its platform with the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Buick Rainier, but the Envoy's styling looks more sophisticated to our eyes than that of the other mid-size SUVs from General Motors. Envoy has a wide-mouth black grille with a big ruby-red logo that says GMC in no uncertain terms. 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 wheel openings that are part of its 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.

Interior

The GMC Envoy and Envoy XUV seat five passengers. Envoy XL seats seven. Let's start with the second row and work our way back.

No matter the model, the GMC Envoy offers more room for second-row passengers than the Ford Explorer. (The standard Envoy offers 37.0 inches of legroom and 58.1 inches of hip room, versus the Explorer's 35.9 and 54.2, respectively; Envoy XL provides 37.0 and 58.4.)

The Envoy XL offers lots of cargo space, but third-row seating is only average in terms of roominess. The Envoy XL is 18 inches longer than the Ford Explorer; and where the Explorer squeezes an optional third-row seat into a 114-inch wheelbase, the Envoy XL uses a 129-inch wheelbase. However, third-row Envoy XL passengers get less legroom than third-row Explorer passengers. (Head, hip, and leg room in the Explorer's third row measure 39.0, 45.3, and 34.8 inches, respectively, versus the Envoy XL's 38.5, 45.9, and 31.2.) And the XL's long cabin led some adults we put back there to say they felt like they were looking down a tunnel.

Cargo space in the Yukon XL is generous, however. Fold the second- and third-row seats and Envoy XL offers 107 cubic feet of cargo space, more than the standard Envoy (80) or Explorer (82), or even the Yukon (105). SLT models come with a scrolling cargo cover.

Envoy XUV shares its second-row seating dimensions with Envoy XL, but instead of a carpeted cargo area with a folding third-row seat, the XUV has a weather-resistant box, like a pickup bed parked indoors. Four tie-down rings can be moved to any of 12 locations, and there are four more fixed rings in the ceiling. GMC plans to market a line of accessories to further enhance the XUV's cargo-carrying capabilities. And if things get messy back there, it's easy to flush it out with a hose; GM says the system of one-way drains will channel out 35 gallons per minute.

Touch a button, and a 32-by-32-inch panel above the cargo bay slides forward, open the cargo bay up to the sky. A power rear window quickly slides up from the Midgate behind the rear seat, sealing off the passenger compartment from the now-open-air cargo area. The XUV has converted itself into a four-door pickup with a 44-inch bed. (You can also order a traditional sunroof over the main cabin.)

If that's too short for the job, the XUV has one more trick it can do: Retract the glass behind the seat, open the midgate between the seat and the cargo bay, and then tumble and fold the seat itself. Now you have 6 feet 4 inches of open bed, albeit without a partition between it and the front seats. Close the roof and the tailgate window, and you can carry two people and a lot of luggage, out of the weather and dry. Tie-down points are conveniently located all around.

All this versatility, however, comes at a price. The Midgate and weatherproof bed lining take up some space; when it's buttoned up against the weather, the XUV offers a little less total cargo volume (95 cubic feet) than the XL, and has a significantly shorter cargo floor (76 vs. 85.5 inches long). So for hauling a small army's camp gear, the XL may be the better choice. But clearly the XUV is the better choice for hauling messy stuff, like dirt, plants, a couple of cords of wood. The Envoy XUV could be the perfect solution for a landscape designer, deer hunter, or do-it-yourselfer, anyone who needs the utility of a pickup but also wants to move the family around in comfort.

Up front, it's comfortable in any of the Envoy models. 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 s

Driving Impressions

The GMC Envoy comes standard with a 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine. Smooth and powerful, it's the perfect companion for the standard Envoy. The heavier XL and XUV models really need the optional V8, though.

The standard 4.2-liter inline-6 uses dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable phasing for the exhaust cam to produce 275 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque. That's more horsepower than the Ford Explorer's optional 4.6-liter sohc V8 and nearly as much torque. About 90 percent of the 4200's 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. It's rated 16/22 mpg city/highway with 2WD. It's an excellent engine. With the engine's broad and bountiful torque, the transmission does much 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 3.42:1 rear-end ratio is standard for maximum economy, but ratios of 3.73 and 4.10 are offered for easier towing. 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 6100 pounds with 4WD, and 6300 pounds with 2WD.

The V8, an option for the XL and XUV, develops 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque, which tops the Explorer. Equipped with the V8, a 2WD Envoy XL can tow 7100 pounds (6700 pounds with 4WD). All Envoys come with a trailer hitch platform and seven-wire trailer harness.

The standard 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. The Envoy is designed to roll (lean) exactly 5 degrees in corners, and then stop leaning. Envoy's track is among the widest in the class. Also, the engine is mounted relatively low, lowering the Envoy's center of gravity. A low center of gravity means better handling and stability. On the downside, the Envoy has a relatively low ground clearance of 8 inches under the engine, reducing its capability for serious off-road driving.

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 that attaches to a small valve in a compartment in the cargo area, and can be used for filling everything from tires to toys. 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.

The Envoy's four-wheel-drive system, called Autotrac, works well and 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 the transmission 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 in and began pulling us right along again. (Of course, it makes more sense to stay in 4WD if you think you might encounter soft sand.) Auto4WD is especially good in mixed, inconsistent conditions, such as ice or patchy snow. For serious off-road use, it's usually best to switch to 4HI or, for low-speed mud-slogging or climbing steep

The 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. Envoy is well-engineered and enjoyable to drive, stable and responsive and the brakes are very good.

The Envoy XL and XUV is ponderous, however, lacking the good handling stability and responsiveness of the standard Envoy. If you need third-row seating, we think a minivan, such as the upcoming Pontiac Montana SV6, or a larger SUV, such as the Yukon, would make better choices than the Envoy XL.

Having said that, the Envoy XUV offers some really trick features that increase its cargo-hauling versatility. It's a brilliant solution for someone who needs to haul messy cargo yet needs comfortable, five-passenger seating.

26 GMC Envoy vehicles in stock at carmax.com

26 GMC Envoy vehicles in stock