I have a problem. I own a 2002 GMC Envoy. No, my ownership of a GMT360 SUV isn’t the problem although it is probably enough to get me committed to a mental institution. At 140,000 hard miles, my Envoy is getting old and there’s nothing out there to replace it. That’s a problem.
Whenever the Envoy gets brought up I feel the need to defend myself by saying I “married into it.” This is entirely true, I did not have anything to do with the purchase. My name is not on the title and finances were co-mingled after it was paid off. That being said, I have an awkwardly styled place in my heart for GM’s GMT360 SUV. Why? It’s all about towing.
I am one of the few people in the USA crazy enough to have built their own home. No, I didn’t write a check to a contractor to build my house, I built my house. Two years into the continuing saga the only help we have had in our construction nightmare has been from friends that had no idea what they were getting into when they offered. Because I’m a cheap bastard, this meant we dug our foundation with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows and we poured the foundation by the 50lb bag. All 67,200lbs of it. Yes, I am insane and should be committed. No, I do not recommend that anyone follow in my footsteps.
Since “my” car during this process was a 1998 Volvo S70 T5 (manual of course) and then a 2006 Volvo V70R (manual yet again), hauling duties fell on the Envoy. Almost everything that is our house came in the Envoy, on the Envoy, or a in 14-foot utility trailer towed by the Envoy. Why not buy a pickup truck? There were several logical reasons. First off, the Envoy 4.2L I6 produces reasonable torque, it seats 5, has a covered cargo area, is fairly easy to park, but most importantly: it was paid off. The used utility trailer with electric brakes has proven far more useful than simply swapping the Envoy for a pickup. Yes, I still dream pickup dreams (that’s what happens to you when you go to college in Texas) but my practical side says I may never own one.
I never really liked the Envoy before we started construction. I knew better than to deride my better half’s car shopping, but I never understood why anyone would pick the Envoy over a Grand Cherokee or an Explorer or a Pathfinder, or, or, or. As it turns out, the Envoy isn’t half bad after all. The 4WD low range is useless honestly, but the locking 4WD system has saved my bacon when trying to shuttle heavy items on our hillside property or haul a heavy trailer up the steep gravel road. The rear seats fold completely flat, and though doing so causes the front seats to become decidedly uncomfortable, the cargo hold is generously sized. GM may have used a solid rear axle but they tossed in a load leveling air suspension in the back that has been incredibly handy. The air bag suspension doesn’t just keep your butt off the ground when you put people in the back seat, it keeps the suspension in the middle of its travel when you have 800lbs of crap in the back making the Envoy handle better than most SUVs of its era when fully loaded. Not that I recommend this, but it also makes trailer hauling easier because you can go way over the recommended tongue weight without causing serious driveability problems for the tow vehicle. In addition, GM has a bleed off valve you can use to inflate tires, basket balls, etc. I can’t count the times I have had to adjust the tire pressure in the trailer or in the car in the middle of nowhere because something happened as I was hauling a load of free Craigslist.com bricks.
The only downside seems to be the relative china doll transmission. The 4L60 transmission isn’t GM’s most robust unit and we’re on our third slushbox at 140,000 miles. The first transmission was replaced at only 15,000 miles so I’m positive that was a manufacturer’s defect but Transmission #2 failed around 80,000 miles (covered by an extended warranty). Looking back on the problem, I have a feeling that the issue was inadequate cooling and inappropriate service intervals for the load. Since then I have been flushing the ATF every 20,000 miles due to the loads we haul. Still, the Envoy is showing its age. The dashboard has gouges from ABS pipe hauling, the rear window weather-stripping is torn from 4x6s rubbings against them, one rear window leaks, the rear air suspension deflates after a few hours when parked, she burns a little oil and the transmission isn’t shifting like it did 60,000 miles ago. It’s time send my friend out to pasture. Did I say friend? I guess I did.
So what options are there on the mid-sized market that won’t cost an arm and a leg but can haul 6,500-7,000 lbs? Can’t do that in the GMC Acadia (GM’s replacement for the Envoy). The Pathfinder and Explorer have given up on towing, Kia killed the Borrego, the Montero was mercy killed, the Rodeo is extinct, the Xterra and 4Runner top out at 5,000lbs and VW’s Touareg is luxury priced starting at $44,000. That leaves just the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the mass-market mid-size SUV segment with over 5,000lbs of towing capacity. How can GM think there’s no market for a well prices world-market Trailblazer?
Here’s where my cheap side kicks in. A low mileage 2009 Saab 9-7x can be had for $16,000-$17,000. That makes it the best priced GMT360 SUV by a few grand. It also happens to be the best GMT360 ever made. I realize that’s like saying it’s the best bedpan ever made, but it does have an impact on this very small segment. What’s a car guy that tows to do? Do I 2014 Grand Cherokee or Durango for $33,000+ or do I dive into a used “Trollblazer” because it is a crazy-cheap known quantity. Stay tuned.