You gotta love a truck division started by a guy named Max Grabowski. Hi! I'm Max Grabowski. I make trucks. What could be more American than that? Fast forward one hundred and six years and I’m face-to-face to face with a GMC SUV named after a diplomat with dubious powers. Go figure. And riddle me this Batman: why in the name of modern science is this four-wheeled Neanderthal still for sale at the tail end of the double-o's?
There is so much to dislike about the base Envoy that I wish to state for the record that it is by no means the worst vehicle ever sold by GM. (Rest easy TWAT fans; the Uplanderelay’s crown of thorns is safe.) Of course, that’s a bit like saying “Sure, Michael Vick was involved with dog fighting. At least he doesn’t support vivisection.”
OK, looks. The Envoy isn’t meant to be a pretty truck. And by God, it isn’t. It's not that's it's ugly. It's just that it's dull. So dull it's almost an archetype. SUV. Big, boxy and vaguely macho. Done.
That said, the Envoy’s panel gaps my only "real" complaint; they're large enough to accommodate an illegal immigrant. While some might appreciate GMC's sheetmetal homaqe to the Land Rover Defender, you've got to wonder how the company dared offer such blunderbuss construction in this age of robots and millimeter-perfect panel fitment.
Inside, it’s back to the future– I mean the past. Unlike Doc Brown’s DeLorean, the Envoy’s excursion to a simpler time begins well before the SUV reaches 88 mph. As soon as you sit down, you’re faced with a series of ugly knobs, ticky-tacky plastics and seriously kitsch faux wood trim. As Scarlet O'Hara might have said, why it's so horrendous it's quaint!
Everywhere the discerning eye looks, it lands upon a thoroughly retro lack of effort. The Envoy’s radio’s head unit comes straight from a ‘60’s sci-fi flick. The SUV’s gear lever restricts access to the HVAC controls. The center armrest is made of concrete. The glove box is useless. And the two center vents look like puppy dog eyes, imploring you to put them out of their misery.
The Envoy SLE’s seats offer up the type of thinly-padded insult only a Ford Ranger owner could love. OK, endure. My gluteus was maximized after just 90 minutes of highway driving.
Thankfully, the Envoy spares its driver said torture by reaching its destination briskly. Ye Olde 4.2-liter inline six still knows how to twist (277 ft.-lbs) and shout (291hp). Even better, the engine delivers its power smoothly right across the rev range, helping the 4967lbs. leviathan scoot from zero to 60mph in under nine seconds.
Going up hill with the [optional] 4WD system engaged, the Envoy begins to breathe hard– but in no way runs out of breath. No question: the GMC SUV is a capable “trailblazer.” Provided those trails don’t require more than eight to nine inches of ground clearance, you’re OK using all-season tires in the outback and you don’t mind carrying a few large cans of highly explosive liquid in the back (14/20 mpg), the wilderness awaits.
As far as on-road handling is concerned, remember that the Envoy is a once-upon-a-time body-on-frame design. It’s terrific for towing (6300lbs.) and lousy for anything else. Obviously, no one in their right mind would expect the Envoy to offer the car-like capabilities of a Rav4 or a CR-V, and the Envoy's ride quality is certainly up-to-snuff. But to fully grasp the full awfulness of the Envoy’s handling dynamics, we must leave the automotive universe.
At highway cruising speeds, the Envoy feels like a diesel locomotive riding on rusted rails. Turn the wheel and… nothing. The Envoy simply plunges forward (technical term: understeer). Like a train, it's best to apply a great deal of brake force (i.e. as much as you can) before reaching an obstacle– a term which the Envoy expands to include turns.
If and when the Envoy finally enters a corner, it leans in an entirely unsettling fashion (both physically and emotionally). Suffice it to say (by now), the Envoy’s handling is so atrocious that you have to wonder if its creation predates GM’s legal department.
After sampling the Envoy SLE, I tried to think of one reason why the GMC Envoy shouldn’t immediately receive the same doctoring that shuffled Old Yeller off this mortal coil. Let’s see… The Envoy’s got a rough-and-tumble frame and optional 4WD system and not enough clearance to use it. It’s ugly, thirsty, cramped and nasty. At $27k, it’s expensive for what it is (isn’t?).
Nope. Can’t do it. I’m with Forbes magazine. It advises readers seeking something sportier, more stylish, reliable or economical to keep looking. Hey, who wouldn’t?