GMC Envoy XUV truck reviews

Review Notes: GMC Envoy XUV Straight-Six
PersonalityHeavy-duty, very flexible SUV
QuirksSomewhat bouncy suspension
Unusual featuresMidgate, convertible, washable cargo bay
Above Average for PriceUtility
Needs Work InSuspension, transmission refinement

The GMC Envoy XUV is a logical extension of the revolutionary Chevrolet Avalanche, with an easier to use midgate and a new twist to further the "SUV or pickup?" flexibility. Built on the same basic platform as the TrailBlazer, the Envoy has a pleasant, well-designed five-passenger interior and a cargo space that can be enclosed - or not, as you wish. It also incorporates a new, flexible tailgate which can open down or from the side - a welcome change.

The tailgate, though seemingly a minor feature, is one of those things you wrestle with frequently, so it's good that GMC chose to take a fresh look at it. Depending on which handle you use, it will either come down in traditional pickup style - after you lower the glass, that is - or it will open to the side, with the glass still up. Picking up the handle starts an electrical process of lowering the window slightly to clear the weatherstripping, then unlocking the side latch. It opens out from the driver's side, which is inconvenient if you're parked at a curb (GM research said most people don't park at curbs often), and doesn't open all the way out from the side. It does, however, support 500 pounds if used in pickup style, making it fine for tailgate parties, particularly given the Envoy's low (for a full size pickup) cargo height. The only down-side was pointed out by Bob Marks - the new Envoy will only allow the door to open 70 degrees, blocking the ability to slide wide objects straight in. You can do that if you use it as a tailgate, provided that the circumstances allow you to have space directly in back of the vehicle. The right hand hinging is also an issue, not only from the parallel parking scenerio, but also from the safety angle of the traffic side.

The Envoy's main feature is its conversion, so let's look at that first, and address the powertrain later. The main cab of the Envoy is separated from its cargo bay by a clear glass window which can be raised or lowered independently from an overhad control in the cab; the seats have the familiar flip and fold feature, and behind the seatbacks is a gate which, like the Avalanche's midgate, can be folded out of the way, enabling the Envoy to have a long cargo bed when needed, and five seats at other times. Unlike the Avalanche, the Envoy's window glass does not need to be removed; it simply slides into the midgate, making it much simpler to convert the truck.

Most of the time, though, most owners will probably use the cargo area's conversion, rather than the SUV-to-pickup routine. This allows you to put bulky objects into the cargo bay - and, for that matter, to air it out or wash it out with a hose (at up to 30 gallons per minute!). GMC made the cargo bay so it can be exposed to the elements without affecting the cab - the bay-to-cab seals are apparently far better than they need to be - so you can use it for the dirtiest projects, and when you're done, just hose it out. The roof of the cargo bay folds back into the cab's roof with the press of a switch, and the rear glass rolls down into the tailgate (there are controls in the cab and the keychain, or you can just turn the key in the tailgate and the glass will come down), so bulky objects that won't fit standing upright in an SUV can simply extend past the roof of the Envoy XUV. We can see a booming market for gardeners here. The system looks fairly sturdy and well designed, not to mention easy to use (step by step instructions are included), and a strong advance over the Avalanche - which nobody else has matched yet. Our only suggestion for improvement would be a one-touch control; at the moment you need to keep your finger on the switch for the whole process. There's a no-pinch safety mechanism so this seems like overkill, especially on opening the roof (which must be done while parked).

Some would say that the XUV convertible cargo bay is innovative enough, especially when coupled with the sidegate for ultimate flexibility, but GMC didn't stop there. The base engine produces an amazing 275 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque which beats competitors' V6 engines - and it does it in a straight-six configuration, which provides a smoother idle and possibly greater durability than a V6. An optional 5.3 V8 is available for those who still think you need more cylinders; it provides 290 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque but is unnecessary for most drivers.

The engine provides good starts, thanks to a low first gear, and screams to redline once it hits its stride; it's biased towards higher rpm, like most modern engines. While sometimes a little loud, we suspect most customers won't complain; engines are supposed to be loud when they're working hard, and when it's in its normal operating range, it's quite quiet.  Gas mileage is 15 city, 19 highway, not particularly good but better than, say, a Ford Expedition or Lincoln Navigator. The V8 has a little more low-end power, is a little quieter, and gets about 1 mpg less (by EPA reatings; in practice, we suspect the six is a bit more miserly).

The transmission seemed a bit uncomfortable at first, shifting with large amounts of flare (letting the engine rev between gears) and indecisiveness. Eventually we figured out how to live with each other and it seemed more responsive and less indecisive, but it still isn't a model of smoothness and sophistication. The shifter is convenient, though, with a good detent at Drive, and the ability to select first, second, or third gear as well as Drive.

Handling is surprisingly good, with better grip than many passenger cars. We were surprised by how well the Envoy XUV kept all tires stuck to the ground, though it didn't feel nimble or comfortable with sharp turns. That may be good, since it is, after all, a truck, and drivers shouldn't treat trucks like sports cars. In short, the Envoy can handle emergency moves without making the driver overconfident, which is a good thing.

The ride is moderately soft and bouncy, reflecting the Envoy's capacity. It cushions against bumps, but one tends to feel them more than once, as you bounce up and down.

Interior noise is relatively low with all windows up; having the middle window down lets in wind and road noise from the cargo area, particularly if the roof is open. The interior itself is relatively well designed, with large gauges, clearly marked and sensible controls, and a quiet and attractive color scheme. In the instrument panel, a large speedometer dominates, with a large tachometer on the left and four smaller gauges arranged in two groups on the right (oil and antifreeze temperature, gas, and voltage). Underneath all of it is the odometer, which on our car constantly told us what it was (as in ODOMETER: 6143 MI), a reminder that there is an optional driver information package, described in our articles on Silverado pickups but not ordered on our test truck. The gauges are tastefully outlined in shiny chrome, as are the four very large vents, which are able to move massive amounts of air with very little noise - a substantial achievement.

Controls are sensibly clustered with each other - all the light buttons and knobs in one panel, climate control in another, stereo in a third. The traction control shutoff sensibly lights a warning that clearly shows that traction control is off, while the rear wiper/washer is easy to see and use. The basic climate control itself includes dual zone heat sliders, and a traditional vent knob along with pushbuttons for recirculation and air conditioning, for good flexibility. OnStar is integrated into the mirror for those who buy it, and a universal garage door opener is above the mirror. Our only complaint with all these items is the radio, which seems to have a heavy bass note we were unable to do much about (our vehicle had the optional XM Radio).

Interior lighting is very good, with dome lights by every door and in the cargo bay. Each dome light is paired with an individually touch-operated personal light. Outward visibility is enhanced by large mirrors, but severely hindered in back by the midgate and convertible roof design. The pillars had to be reinforced for safety and handling, given the absence of fixed roof crossmembers, and it seems to have made them larger. The result is a collection of huge blind spots, with the rear quarter passenger-side window further blocked by the back seat headrest. Backing up and to the side was difficult and dangerous.

As with all recent GM vehicles, all surfaces on which you might put coins or other objects are lined with a rubbery plastic. There are two front cupholders, one deep and one shallow, both with rubber stickout thingies that hold smaller cups in place. A larger bay under the center stack can be used for EZ-Passes and such objects, and large map pockets in the front doors are standard. Back seat passengers can use foldout cupholders from the back of the center stack.

The base price of the Envoy XUV, $31,240, matches the standard Envoy and beats some competitive larger SUVs. It comes with a transmission oil cooler, integral fog/cornering lights, heavy duty trailer equipment, four wheel antilock disc brakes, alarm, 17" aluminum wheels, rear wiper/washer/defogger, dual zone climate control, remote, power windows and locks, universal garage door opener, tilt wheel, and cruise - all standard. Our vehicle also had the optional $700 SLE package, with power driver's seat, heated outside mirrors, and an automatic rearview mirror with compass and thermometer. Other options on our vehicle included a load levelling suspension ($375) and adjustable pedals ($150).

The GMC Envoy XUV is a unique vehicle in many ways, and many people will find it absolutely indispensible. If you don't handle dirty or tall cargo often, a minivan (or similar SUV such as the Aztek or Pacifica) will probably be a better buy, since they are far cheaper and more economical, but if you know you're going to be exceeding the capacity of the roof now and then, or if you're going to be getting the back dirty, but don't want a pickup, the XUV is a terrific option.

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