While the all-weather competition may have long since signed partnerships with brand-name outfitters like Eddie Bauer, L.L.Bean, and Orvis, this GMC needs no third-party tie-ins to offer a solid interpretation of an ideal outdoor enthusiast's ride. More than a mere lifestyle accessory, the Envoy proved to have the goods over its year-long evaluation, whatever the chore or journey.
This comes as no surprise because the Envoy took the Motor Trend 2002 Sport/Utility of the Year honors, despite strong entries from Cadillac, Ford, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and others. After logging thousands of miles on the track, urban roads, and sprawling highways and creeping through Death Valley, the winning Envoy earned an automatic entry into our One-Year Test fleet.
Ushering in GM's all-new midsize SUV platform, the Envoy and Chevrolet TrailBlazer fared well in the grueling competition. Although the sheetmetal and interior designs are unique, both vehicles ride on the same hydroformed rails of the GMT360 platform and use GM's Atlas inline-six-cylinder engines, lauded for V-8-grade output. While both models share the same essential mechanical bits, the better-dressed GMC wooed our staff with its Indiana Jones personality, rear air suspension, and higher level of refinement.
We opted for a four-wheel-drive model to indulge the Envoy's inspiration for adventure. Our tasteful, Pewter Metallic, standard-wheelbase Envoy started at $33,985, complete with a long roster of power accessories, leather upholstery, convenience features, and safety equipment. Because the suspension played a key role in our final award decision, we added the SLT Professional Technology package for $3360. This significant upgrade brought together the load-leveling air suspension, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated seats, locking differential, Bose AM/FM/CD changer stereo, rear DVD entertainment system (a major stress-reducer for long family trips), and digital voice recorder. The only items added a la carte were running boards for $375, though we came to regret these later. All told, the luxurious Envoy totaled $38,320.
With the initial battery of photography handled, our One-Year Test Envoy was soon pressed into long-haul service. On such trips, editors found the "modern American ride" plush without wallow and handling controlled without firmness. This enviable combination earned kudos for the ride/handling balance achieved with body-on-frame construction in a world increasingly dominated by unibody construction. The air suspension gave our Envoy added refinement, though intermittent compressor sounds sometimes befuddled passengers.