- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

With the addition of the XL to its Envoy lineup, GMC has crafted a turnpike-cruising rival to its own full-size sport utility vehicles.

The XL is simply a stretched Envoy, the midsize GMC SUV that had its debut in 2001. From front to back, it now stretches a whopping 17 feet 4 inches, longer than a full-size GMC Yukon and only a foot shorter than the gargantuan Yukon XL, GMC's version of the Chevrolet Suburban.

The Envoy and its fraternal siblings the Trail Blazer from Chevrolet and the Bravada from Oldsmobile were conceived as competitors of the top-selling Ford Explorer and its clone, the Mercury Mountaineer. But then Ford managed to sneak a third-row seat option into the Explorer. Ford did it without changing the vehicle's size. It was able to squeeze in that third seat albeit a child-size one because the new Explorer has an independent rear suspension system, which affords a bit of extra space back there.

The Envoy, on the other hand, has a solid rear axle that stretches across the back and makes adding that third seat in the standard body virtually impossible. So the answer was to raise the roof and stretch the whole thing by 16 inches.

The advantage is that it's a real third seat, one that can easily accommodate a couple of sizable adults. The disadvantage is that the XL is 16 inches longer, which makes parking that much more difficult. Another advantage is that its longer wheelbase the distance between the front and rear axles makes for a very comfortable ride. It's an excellent highway cruiser, serene and unruffled as long as most of the driving is in a straight line.

However, another disadvantage is that the Envoy XL's extra length makes it clumsy in off-road driving not that too many owners will ever take it out in the boondocks. Moreover, the extra length gives it an ungainly look tall and skinny and out of proportion.

The test Envoy XL was the top-of-the-line, with the SLT "professional technology" package (at $2,965). It included a load-leveling suspension system, a locking rear differential, heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a Bose audio system with a six-disc CD changer and (let's hear the cheers from the parents of small children) the DVD rear entertainment system.

The last consists of a digital video disc player in the headliner. It has a small video screen and two wireless headphones, so the kids can watch a movie while mom and pop listen to the CD player up front. Additional wireless microphones are available for bigger families.

Basic equipment on the Envoy XL is about as fulsome as anybody might wish. It includes leather seating surfaces in front and back (but not in the third-row seat), front and rear heating and air conditioning with dual-zone automatic climate controls up front, 17-inch aluminum wheels, anti-lock brakes and side air bags, a compass, remote locking and a theft-deterrent system, a garage-door opener, memory settings for the driver's seat and outside mirrors, and even a power lumbar adjustment in the driver's seat.

All this adds up to a base price of $36,870. With the earlier-mentioned option package, the test XL came up to $39,810, just shy of that $40,000 mark.

With a starting weight of more than 2½ tons, and the capability to carry another three-quarters of a ton, the Envoy XL, as might be expected, is no drag racer. But it's no slouch, either. It uses GM's new-for-2001 in-line six-cylinder engine, which delivers a substantial 270 horsepower, with 275 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. The latter is a measure of low-rev pulling power. Zero to 60 miles an hour can be accomplished in about 10 seconds.

But this is not a vehicle for drag racing, or aggressive driving on twisting mountain roads, or even bouncing around over trackless terrain.

It is for relaxed freeway driving, in comfort and quiet, with the peace of mind that four-wheel drive can bring should the elements become threatening.

The XL's major competitors, aside from its GM siblings, are the three-seat Mercury Mountaineer and Ford Explorer, and the Dodge Durango. Both of the Ford products have five-speed automatic transmissions, where the Envoy motors on with a four-speed. However, as is the case with most GM automatics, it's slick, unobtrusive and well-matched to the torque characteristics of the engine.

Though the XL's six-cylinder engine is smooth, refined and powerful, and as much as almost anyone would need, GMC offers a 5.3-liter V-8 option on the 2003 models.


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