The Truth About Cars » GMC The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:59:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » GMC GM Rallies Rentals, Braces For Further Investigation Mon, 24 Mar 2014 12:35:40 +0000 Saturn-Ion-RedLine

General Motors has issued a new recall for 355 vehicles, while also facing a possible lawsuit by an investor over “immorality”. GM may also face a new probe involving the automaker’s bankruptcy and its relation to the original recall that thrust GM into the headlines, just as the agency responsible for investigating the problem at GM faces an audit from the Department of Transportation.

The New York Times reports the Justice Department has added an additional probe into their ongoing investigation of the 2014 recall of 1.76 million vehicles over a defective ignition switch linked to 31 crashes and 12 deaths.

The probe questions whether GM knew everything about the problem going into the 2009 bankruptcy — the automaker said they were alerted as early as 2001 — and failed to disclose the defect in full to both the federal government and the public during bankruptcy proceedings. This separate probe is being handled by the same group of FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York who also brought forth the fraud case against Toyota that ended in a $1.2 billion settlement last week.

Meanwhile, Automotive News reports Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked the Department of Transportation’s inspector general Calvin Scovel to conduct an audit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as to whether or not the agency properly looked into the issues leading up to the February 2014 recall, in light of the aformentioned crashes and deaths. The audit, according to Foxx, is to ensure “that DOT and NHTSA have a full understanding of the facts regarding the GM recall and can take corrective actions to enhance NHTSA’s safety function to the extent necessary and appropriate.”

On the investor front, Bloomberg reports a GM investor has filed a lawsuit against both the automaker and current CEO Mary Barra over every recall issued since late February this year.

In filing his complaint with the U.S. District Court in Detroit, George Pio called the automaker’s lack of immediate action “illegal and immoral,” and that news of the recalls, investigations et al surrounding GM as of late “triggered a sharp decline in the company’s share price, wiping out billions in shareholder value.”

The suit is filed on behalf of any individual who purchased stock between November 17, 2010 and March 10, 2014; no money damages have been specified.

Adding fuel to the fire are two stories from Edmunds, with the first related to the original recall regarding free loaner vehicles to those affected while their own vehicles are serviced beginning next month.

GM has called upon Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and other rental companies to help the automaker assemble a fleet for affected owners to use until the ignition switch is replaced. Though the original policy states GM owners are placed into GM vehicles, the scope of the original recall means if no related loaners are available, owners will be placed into vehicles from Ford, Honda, Chrysler et al. Underinsured owners will see a temporary boost in coverage from the automaker, as well. One source in the rental world tells us that this has been a massive undertaking for GM – with so many owners of the affected cars being under 25 (the minimum rental age at many companies) arranging coverage for these owners has been an extraordinary task.

As for the second report, Edmunds says 355 vehicles will be recalled within the week due to a transmission shift cable adjuster defect that could lead to a handful of 2014 models rolling away from where they were parked. Affected models include the Buick Regal, LaCrosse, Verano and Enclave; Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu and Traverse; and the GMC Acadia. All affected have the issue in their automatic transmissions.

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Barclays: GM Suffering From Worst Large Pickup Launch In 15 Years Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:29:25 +0000 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior

Though the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado took home North American Truck/Utility of the Year at last month’s Detroit Auto Show, the large pickup and its brother, the GMC Sierra, have suffered from “the least successful large pickup launch over the last 15 years” according to Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson.

Automotive News reports the truck twins “faced a full-court press” from the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500, though winter weather also played a role in lower sales across the board. General Motors executives have come to the defense of their products, proclaiming average transaction prices of $4,000 to $5,000 more than the previous generation pickups and a combined market share hovering around 33 percent over the past few months, though the latter point held between 35 and 40 percent of the market in years past.

With dealers begging for stronger promotion and better incentives for the pickups, Chevrolet will host its Chevy Truck Month promotion. The month-long sale will offer supplier pricing (dealer invoice plus destination charges and a $150 fee) on light- and heavy-duty Silverados, and will be heavily pushed during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with television advertising beginning March 18.

In addition, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC will all hold Open House events throughout the month of March. The month-long sale will offer supplier pricing on nearly every 2014 vehicle sold under each brand, with the exception of the SS and Corvette Stingray for Chevrolet.

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Booming Van Sales Driven By Small Business Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:25:16 +0000 Florist Vans

In a sign the broader economy is on an upswing, small business owners who use commercial vans in their business are replacing their aging equipment with new vans, fueling a boom not seen since the start of the Great Recession.

USA Today reports as small businesses begin to invest in their companies once more — and with borrowing on the rise with loosened credit now available — commercial van sales rose to over 40 percent since 2010. The winter weather failed to put a dent in sales, rising 9 percent in January as auto sales fell 3 percent in the same period. IHS Automotive, in particular, expects sales to grow 27 percent overall between 2013 and 2015, with over 400,000 units leaving the lot for the wrap shop annually.

Though the commercial van market has been dominated by Ford, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors, more automakers are entering the market with offerings of their own, such as Nissan’s NV series and Ram’s minivan-based Cargo Van. As a result, total small van sales — such as the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200 — were over 53,000 units in 2013, while 259,000 large vans were sold in the same period.

More vans are expected to enter the market this year, including the Nissan NV200-based Chevrolet City Express and Fiat Doblo-based Ram ProMaster City.

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The Legend of Ford’s Truck Czar’s Rule Over Truck Mountain Tue, 12 Nov 2013 07:59:30 +0000 Doug Scott

Once upon a time, one man rose from the realm of sales to helm Ford’s truck division. With his iron fist, he divided the F-150 range into several specialized units, reaping the rewards as his dominion over the light truck market expanded.

That man is Doug Scott, and this is the tale of how he came to be the Sovereign of Truck Mountain.

Though his title is humble, Ford’s Truck Group marketing manager has brought in $22 billion in revenue over the years, bettering his competitors through offering an F-150 for everyone. For example, contractors and landscapers just starting out could have the STX for just over $26,000, while businessmen making the big bucks off the Bakken could opt for the top-of-the-line Limited for around $54,000, and hardcore off-road prerunners can feel like a reptile in their Raptor beginning at $45,000.

This strategy has not only paid off for Ford, but has inspired General Motors and Chrysler to play follow the leader, with the Italo-American alliance spinning off the Ram brand from Dodge for greater focus while GM’s bowtie has unveiled their own luxury pickup to go up against the F-150 Platinum Edition. Meanwhile, the F-150 has lived at the summit of Truck Mountain since 2010, picking up $4,000 per truck than GM per Kelley Blue Book.

With 2013 sales on track to hit 700,000 units, and recording the best October since 2004, Scott aims to keep his competitors on their toes. His latest from the F-Series is a sport truck dubbed the Tremor, whose 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 will push the superbeast from zero to 60 in 6.4 seconds, just over one second slower than the V6 version of the Mustang.

The Tremor, like the King Ranch, the Raptor and all of the other F-150s, were born from the collaboration between the marketers and engineers within the truck group, who, in turn, gathered their information on what customers want from the customer relationships built through events and organizations, such as the Professional Bull Riders Association and the Future Farmers of America. The result: a 34.6 percent share of the truck market through September 2013, with the Chevy/GMC tag team a close second at 30.7 percent, and Ram a distant third with just 16.3 percent.

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Review: 2013 GMC Terrain Denali V6 Fri, 30 Nov 2012 15:48:06 +0000

For years General Motors fought a rearguard action, asserting that its relatively big cam-in-block engines were at least as good as the “high tech” DOHC mills offered by “the Japanese.” Led by the buff books, freethinking pistonheads knew better. More power from a smaller displacement engine clearly indicated higher intelligence. Honda, smartest of all, extracted 270 horsepower from a 3.0-liter V6. The 1990 Corvette made do with 245 horsepower from a 5.7-liter V8. Two decades later, GM finally developed a 3.0-liter V6 with an NSX-like output, and without the Acura’s pricey titanium innards or need for premium fuel. The new engine took the place of a previous-generation 3.6. My response after sampling the then-new V6 in the similarly new GMC Terrain: “Perhaps the 3.6 will at least find its way into a future Denali variant?” Three years later, the future has arrived.

As 1990s GM argued, horsepower wasn’t the issue with the 3.0. Rather, 264 horsepower were easily sufficient, but arrived at a lofty 6,950 rpm. These days, even sports car buyers prefer more accessible thrust. At people hauler engine speeds, the V6 wasn’t up to the task of motivating a 4,200-pound crossover. While the 3.6 churns out 37 more horsepower at a lower (but still high) 6,500 rpm peak, it pays its biggest benefits through the midrange, providing 50 pound-feet of additional twist (272 @ 4,800 vs. 222 @ 5,100). Put your foot to the floor, and the 2013 Terrain is certainly quicker. But the most meaningful improvement is that acceleration now sounds and feels effortless rather than strained in typical daily driving. The slightest hill no longer requires that the transmission drop down a cog or three.

The key point of wringing more power out of a smaller engine, beyond bragging rights, is superior fuel economy. Substitute a 3.6 for a 3.0 in an all-wheel-drive Terrain and gas mileage…stays exactly the same, with EPA ratings of 16 city and 23 highway. Curb weight also has a major impact. Step up to the larger, 4,850-pound Acadia, and gas mileage…is exactly the same. So if you’re considering the relatively compact Terrain to save gas, don’t, unless you’re willing to live with the 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (EPA 22/32 with FWD, 20/29 with AWD). Performance with the four feels better than the stats suggest it has any right to, partly through the electronic trickery of active noise reduction. But many owners have found the EPA numbers difficult to replicate. In the tested Denali, with the 3.6 and AWD, we observed high teens to low twenties in typical suburban driving, a few mpg below lighter, more compact competitors.

The GMC Terrain has been a strong seller for the past three years despite the engine mismatch. Though many competitors have been redesigned in the interim, the GMC retains some substantial differences, beginning with its distinctive exterior styling. The Terrain isn’t pretty. It’s not supposed to be pretty. Instead, it successfully channels the spirit of Hummer for a far brawnier road presence than that of any other compact crossover. Most competitors (including the closely related Chevrolet Equinox) aspire to resemble the cars with which they share a badge. Well, GMC doesn’t sell cars, and the Terrain looks like a truck. In Denali trim this look is turned up another notch with a big chrome faux billet grille and body-color lower body trim.

Three years ago, the Terrain’s interior was perhaps the nicest in the segment. The Denali adds upgraded black leather with red stitching (on the door panels as well as the seating surfaces), a soft-touch stitched pad atop the instrument panel, wood on the steering wheel, and illuminated door sill trim plates. These bits look and feel good, but the rest hasn’t kept up. The switchgear (much of it beyond reach) and the econo-car thin-and-hard door armrests in particular aren’t worthy of the Denali’s price.

Other Terrain strengths shared with the related Chevrolet Equinox include plentiful leg room and the ride quality of a larger crossover. A 112.5” wheelbase (others are in the 103- to 106-inch range) likely deserves a fair amount of the credit for both. Though compact in width (and thus shoulder room), the Terrain goes down the road with a steadiness and solidity that you won’t find in truly compact crossovers. The Denali’s big 235/55R19 tires (an optional size on the SLT) clomp a bit over minor bumps, but the ride (enhanced with Denali-specific dual-flow dampers) is otherwise very smooth and quiet, even too quiet. Especially with the new V6 it’s shockingly easy to lose track of how fast you’re going.

If you’re seeking agility in a compact crossover, get a Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5. The Terrain is larger than those competitors, and partly thanks to a distant windshield (between massive pillars) feels even larger than it is. The steering has some play on-center (GMC DNA?), but weights up well as the wheel is turned. Typical of this sort of vehicle, understeer arrives early, but the chassis handles intuitively, with a very stable rear end (not a given with tall vehicles). I’ve experienced handling like this before: in GM’s big traditional SUVs. The Terrain is downright tight and nimble compared to a Yukon, but the way they feel through the seat of your pants is oddly similar.

The Terrain’s mid-cycle revisions haven’t affected its packaging. Despite the crossover’s long body, cargo volume is only about average thanks to a high, narrow floor and second row seats that don’t fold nearly flat.

The appearance modifications and smooth, quiet ride are worthy of the Denali label. But are these enough? The label got its start as a quick-and-dirty response to the success of the Lincoln Navigator. GM’s initial, soon-reversed decision was that Cadillac would not offer SUVs. Instead, luxury SUVs were GMC turf. To transform a Yukon into a Lincoln-fighter, GMC added cladding and a unique front end to the exterior, upgraded the interior, and made everything standard. In later iterations, the Denali gained more unique content, including an engine and drivetrain not offered in lesser Yukons. This helped justify a much higher price. A 2013 Yukon Denali lists for $3,640 more than a similarly-equipped Yukon SLT.

Two years ago, GMC added a Denali trim level to the Acadia large crossover. A new DOHC V8 died in development, and few other unique features made it through circa-bankruptcy GM, leaving the Acadia Denali short on content compared to other luxury brand vehicles. Accordingly, it lists for only $1,685 more than a similarly-equipped Acadia SLT.

With the new Terrain Denali, a power passenger seat and a blind spot warning system are the only notable Denali-specific features. These do help justify a larger price bump than with the Acadia: the Terrain Denali is $2,640 more than a similarly-equipped SLT, about half of this accounted for by feature differences (per TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool).

A $1,300 bump seems reasonable for the upgraded exterior, interior, and suspension. But the Terrain was already among the pricier compact crossovers. The tested vehicle, with nav and a few minor options, had a $40,425 sticker. At this price, the Denali-only (yet optional on a mid-level Equinox) power passenger seat is not so much special as expected. Other things commonly desired by buyers opting for a special luxury model with a price over $40,000 include:
* xenon headlamps
* steering-linked headlamps
* rain-sensing wipers
* adaptive cruise control
* keyless ignition
* power steering column adjustments
* heated steering wheel
* dual-zone climate control
* rear seat air vents
* auto-up for at least the driver’s window (VW commonly does all four)
* cooled front seats
* heated rear seats
* premium audio
None of these features are offered on the Terrain Denali.

I compiled a similar list for the Acadia Denali two years ago. A couple of safety features on that earlier list are new to a few GM models for 2013. As noted above, a blind spot warning system is reserved for the Denali among Terrains. A single-camera forward collision alert and lane departure warning system is optional on the SLT and standard on the Denali. The former feature should prevent quite a few rear-end collisions by people too tired or too distracted to notice that the car ahead of them has stopped. The latter works less well. It’s too slow to react some times, too quick many others. Most buyers will likely grow annoyed with all of the beeping and deactivate it via the handy button on the steering wheel (no need to dig through menus).

GM’s new-for-2012 Intellilink infotainment system, which includes Bluetooth and streaming Internet radio apps, is standard on the Denali. Pairing could hardly be quicker or easier. The system sends a PIN to the phone. You merely click “OK.” GM’s SD-based nav has a modest feature set and slow reactions to some commands, especially zoom. But it is far less expensive than the 2010-2011 HDD-based system, $795 vs. $2,145.

If you want a more sophisticated infotainment system, or the items in the above list, GM wants you to buy a Cadillac SRX. Unlike the original Denali, the new top-level Terrain isn’t properly outfitted to fight any Lincolns. The new Acura RDX is a closer match. Load up both crossovers and the Terrain Denali is $685 less before adjusting for feature differences, and about $1,115 less afterwards. Against any compact crossover with a sub-premium label (save the VW Tiguan) the Terrain doesn’t fare as well. A similarly-equipped Ford Escape Titanium is about $2,370 less before adjusting for feature differences, and about $3,800 after adjusting for its additional features.

Really, though, I don’t see many people cross-shopping the Escape and the Terrain. The Ford has car-like styling, a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, Germanic dynamics, and a tight second row. In sharp contrast to the Escape, the GMC is thoroughly American in its appearance, driving feel, interior space, and (after a three-year wait) engine displacement. The Denali is short on features for a $40,000 vehicle, but it does have a more attractive exterior and interior, for a modest price bump. If you happen to be seeking the character of a Yukon Denali in a relatively tidy package, GMC (and only GMC) has what you’re looking for.

GMC provided an insured vehicle with a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Terrain Denali cargo, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali engine, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali forward collision warning, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali front quarter side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali front, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali rear quarter high, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali rear quarter side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali rear seat, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali stitched dash topper, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali view forward, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Terrain Denali instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 46
Commercial Week Day Two Review: 2012 GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express Tue, 17 Apr 2012 18:28:03 +0000
The Nissan NV may be an exciting newcomer, but the tried-and-true GM and Ford vans are the staple of the commercial market. Our own Mike Solowiow took exception with the 2007 Chevrolet Express passenger van as a passenger hauler back in 2008. Will the no-frills cargo hauler variant find favor with us here at TTAC? More importantly, can GM’s smorgasbord of configuration options dethrone Ford as the volume van seller during the upcoming T-Series transition?

There’s not much styling to discuss when it comes to GM’s full-size vans, but is that important in a work truck? When you’re buying a fleet of work trucks, or just one or two vans for your delivery employees to drive, repair costs are a critical factor. (Seriously, have you seen how cargo-van-drivers drive?) If this describes your employees, buying a Nissan NV with it’s large shiny chrome bumper could be a bad business move, as bumper covers for the Express and Savana go for $75 online. The story is the same from stem to stern eschewing expensive aerodynamic plastic headlamp assemblies (available on the passenger vans) for sealed-beam halogen units, acres of easy-to-Bondo panels and a rear end that’s as discount as it gets. Shoppers have their choice of four standard paint colors, four $150 optional colors, or the ever so popular full-body vinyl wrap. If you’re shopping off the lot, expect to get any color you want so long as its white. 1500 models get a 17-inch steel wheel while 2500 and 3500 models get a 16-inch wheel wrapped in 245 width 75 series rubber for added load capacity.

Nissan’s NV is clearly designed for owner-operators, and it shows with driver oriented features, comfy seats and the positioning of human-room over cargo room. If you thought the last van sporting engine access inside the cabin was driven by the A-Team, think again. Because cargo is king for the GM vans, the engine is pushed as far into the cabin as possible maximizing interior volume and minimizing the external footprint (that’s all relative of course). Having the engine located between the driver and front passenger footwells both limits legroom and cooks the driver’s right leg on long drives. It also means the transmission is under the van between the seats resulting in a fairly high step-in height. On the flip side it means the Savana and Express can swallow 13-foot items in short wheelbase form and the long wheelbase version can schlep 15-foot goods. (The E-series comes in at 12.5 feet and 14.6 feet). Standard equipment includes seats and a steering wheel but stops short of in-dash entertainment of any variety. Buyers have the option of an AM/FM radio, a mid-level unit with a CD player and a higher end unit that brings basic iPod/iPhone functionality. Sadly no navigation system is available in any model.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Let’s be honest. If I’m buying a van for my business and my employees are the ones driving it around, all talk of driver comfort is comparatively less important than the rest of this review, so let’s talk hauling. No other commercial vehicle comes in as many variations as GM’s vans. From 8-15 passenger versions for Zeta Cartel affiliates, two different wheelbases, and cab-only cutaways for shuttle bus and ambulance duty all of which can be had with a variety of engine and transmission choices, there are more variations than you can imagine. As you would expect, payload capacities range from 2,000lbs 1500 models to 4,184lbs in 3500 models. The only area where the Nissan NV clearly trumps GM’s offerings is height with it’s optional 6’2″ interior cargo area. Although you can have a conversion company extend your roof, it’s not as clean as Nissan’s solution and usually the doors left at their regular height, making it difficult to load large cargo. GM fights back with hinged side doors and a considerably longer cargo hold in the extended version.

Although GM offers the widest selection of engines,shoppers should choose carefully as there are some questionable selections on the menu. Let’s start with the 1500 series vans. First up is the ancient 190HP, 260lb-ft 4.3L V6 delivering the best fuel economy at 15/20MPG (city/highway), a 310HP, 334lbft 5.3L V8 with variable valve timing is optional on the 1500 RWD (13/18MPG) and standard on the 1500 AWD van (13/18MPG). Both engines are mated to a light duty four-speed 4L60E automatic transmission. Buyers should know, our informal polling of several large GM fleet customers indicated the 4L60E is notably less reliable than the heavy-duty 6-speed 6L90 used in 2500 and 3500 vans since 2010.

All 2500 and 3500 models come standard with a recently revised 280HP, 192lb-ft 4.8L V8 with VVT mated to GM’s 6-speed automatic good for 13/18MPG. An optional ($995) 324HP, 373lb-ft 6.0L V8 with VVT is available should you feel the need for speed in your cargo hauler. If you believe in burning oil, GM is happy to sell you their 6.6L Duramax V8 diesel engine which is de-tuned from truck duty to 260HP and 525lb-ft (from 397HP/765lb-ft) and delivered 18.8MPG on average for us. Don’t expect the diesel to save you money however as buying it will set you back a whopping $12,000. Perhaps the most enticing option for the GM vans however is the factory built CNG version, one of only two factory built CNG vehicles on the road (the other is the Honda Civic GX). Based on the 6.0L V8 and putting down 279HP and 320lb-ft of twist in gaseous-guise the option will set you back $15,885 and provides a 300+ mile range at the expense of a 5 cubic feet reduction in cargo capacity. While the option seems best suites to markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles where there is a moderate CNG infrastructure (or if you install a “home” refill station), at $1.95 per gallon “equivalent” in the option will pay for itself before you hit 100,000 miles. (Based on current California gasoline prices)

Nissan does not release MPG numbers for the NV vans, but our high-top V8 averaged 14.2MPG and a 40 mile test drive in a standard roof V8 yielded 14.8MPG. From the blue oval competition their 4.6L V8 will do 13/17, the 5.4L V8 drops to 12/16 and the 6.8L V10 rounds out the bottom at 10/14. We average a solid 17MPG during a 90 mile mixed-driving trip with the 4.8L V8 in a base 2500 series van making it the best cost/performance ratio option in this segment.

Towing may not seem like an obvious consideration, but a quick check with the construction crowd confirmed it is important. While the V6 Nissan NV 1500 boasts a 7,000lb tow rating vs GM’s 4,300lb rating for their 1500 series V6 van, Nissan’s 261HP/281lb-ft V6 is probably best pitted against GM’s 4.8L V8 (280HP/296lb-ft) which starts with a 7,400lb towing capacity. We were only able to get our hands on a 5,000lb load to haul with the Nissan and GM vans, but  the difference was enlightening. (Note: tests with the 1500 series GM van were completed with a 4,000lb trailer because if its reduced towing capacity). With trailer attached, GM’s V6 van could barely get out of its own way, while Nissan’s more powerful V6 and 5-speed transmission performed well maintaining 55MPH on a 6% grade, but passing wasn’t really in the cards. GM’s hunt-happy four-speed automatic was as much to blame for this problem as the V6′s specs.

Nissan’s V8 (317HP/385lb-ft) proved a willing tow companion on the same grade able to accelerate from 50-60MPG without drama for passing uphill. GM fights back their 6-speed automatic making the 6.0L V8 the better tow partner, but most importantly making the 4.8L V8 a logical and economical alternative. For those considering the jump from 1500 to 2500 series vans to get the 6-cog transmission, our up-hill towing test demonstrated just how important extra gear ratios are with the less powerful 2500 series (4.8L V8) easily outperforming the 1500 (5.3L V8) due to the two extra gears. Should you need the maximum schlepping ability, GM’s 3500 van with the 6.6L diesel V8 is good for a class leading 10,000lbs of trailering and 4,148lbs of in-van hauling. Ford is of course the other major player in this market, but time and progress have left the E-Series behind. Ford offers only three engine options at this time: a 225HP/286lb-ft 4.6L modular V8, a 255HP/350lb-ft 5.4L V8 and a 305HP/420lb-ft 6.8L V10. Both V8s are available only with a four-speed automatic while the V10 gets a 5-speed.

As I said in our review of the NV, pricing commentary is difficult when it comes to a commercial vehicle. I was unable to get specific rebate numbers, but I am told that fleet buyers should expect around $1000 back with a purchase of five vans and around $2,500 for 25 vans plus the usual bevy of enticing freebies. Don’t take those numbers as gospel, fleet buyers should contact the manufacturers for ordering details as the configurations are near endless. While the NV 1500 is a hair cheaper than a Chevy Express 1500, GM’s 2500 series van is only around $755 more expensive than an NV 1500 netting the buyer the heavy-duty transmission, brakes, and increased hauling capacity. Compared to the present competition, GM’s Chevy Express and GMC Savana twins deliver high-capacity hauling, more variations, and thanks to the new 6-speed transmissions, class leading fuel economy making them easily the top pick for fleet use. If however you’re driving your own van, the slight reduction in utility  and observed fuel economy of the Nissan NV are offset by vastly improved creature comforts and more room for the driver at a very compelling price. Until the blue oval can get the new T-Series van online, the best hauling options on the market seem to be from Nissan and GM, check out our E-Series review for more on that tomorrow.


This is part two of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect


General Motors provided the vehicle, one tank of diesel and insurance for this review

0-60: 9.4 Seconds

 Average fuel economy: 18.8MPG over 435 miles

IMG_4221 2012 GMC Savana Cargo Van, 6.6L Duramax diesel engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4224 IMG_4225 IMG_4227 IMG_4228 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, rear doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4231 IMG_4232 IMG_4233 IMG_4234 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Side doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4236 IMG_4240 IMG_4241 IMG_4242 IMG_4243 IMG_4244 IMG_4245 IMG_4246 IMG_4247 IMG_4248 IMG_4249 IMG_4250 IMG_4251 IMG_4320 IMG_4321 IMG_4322 IMG_4323 IMG_4324 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, headlamps and grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Duramax diesel engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Interior, Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 31
Review: 700 Miles In A GMC Denali 2500 HD 4×4 Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:21:33 +0000

The last few years have been a struggle for a lot of folks. Financial meltdowns. Millions of bankruptcies. Massive unemployment. Our ‘global’ economy continues to experience a maelstrom of wealth destruction that seems to make nearly everyone guard their money.

It’s been hell for most…. but guess what? In spite of it all you are among the few who have thrived. In fact you are laughing all the way to your nearest dealership.

So get your something nice! Let’s say the budget is up to $65,000. What would you buy for yourself? Would it be a lightly used Lexus with all the trimmings? A new BMW 5-Series? Maybe one of those VW Touaregs with the diesel engine and all the luxury trappings of a neo-Audi.

In my neck of the woods where the suburbs meets the ex-urbs, this question has only one suitable answer… a truck.

This is what you see when you enter the dealership closest to my home. Trucks. Not just any trucks. But 26 consecutive four-door Chevy and GMC trucks that are ripe for the taking. The GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 is an upscale supersized Cadillac in a town where the only true upscale vehicles have 4WD and altered suspensions.

Don’t even think about getting an Impala or a Malibu in rural America. Those are parked in the back at the dealership. The way back. The Hardy Boys (even 70 year old men are still boys in the South) want you to buy big and haul ass. That’s why they put the trucks as close to your eyeballs as possible.

“Oh… my… gosh… that’s one big puppy!”

Back at home, my wife was completely in awe of the truck that we magically found on our driveway last Monday. No doubt delivered by Brazilian elves who apparently worked for a press fleet company.

The heavy duty truck Marcello’s elves left us bordered on the gargantuan

To call the GMC Denali HD 2500 4X4 large would be a mild understatement. Think about a truck that dwarfs SUV’s and most everything else on the road. How big are we talking about? I’ll put it to you this way. In downtown Atlanta I saw this seemingly small vehicle scurry right past it. I first thought at first it had been a Beetle or a Civic.

It turned out to be a Hummer.

The truck is larger, longer and heavier than the two cars we drive put together. More than seventy five hundred pounds of big. Even with a regular bed. This Denali HD 2500 along with the Ford F-250 and Dodge Ram 2500 want to make the Lincolns and Cadillacs of the road look as low to the ground as coffins on wheels.

They do it…. because that’s what the buyers want.

So with ‘big’ out of the way let’s go straight to price. The 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500 4X4 Diesel I tested will also tip the scales with a $62,124 price tag which includes over $15,000 in options. That amount alone would give most customers pause… except for a few notable things.

First off you’ll never have to pay anywhere near that price. But more on that later. Let’s first look at what guides the brow of this behemoth. A 6.6L Duramax diesel engine will offers today’s blue collar executive 397 horsepower and 765 lb. ft. of torque. That is tops for the class on paper, and is all well and good.But on the road it’s incredible.This vehicle can go from 30 mph to 70 mph with a Baruthian thrust. The engineers at GM put the torque right at the low to mid end of the scale which means that if you drive normally, you’ll rarely see it go beyond 2000 rpm’s. When you want power, you’re launched. 0 to 60 time is 7.4 seconds which for a work truck is simply unheard of.

So a plain jane Camry with a V6 is faster you say? You’re missing the point. This truck can also haul 21,700 lbs. with a fifth wheel while comfortably going 80+ mph on the open road. No kidding. No lawyers will even want to dispute that number.

Regular towing will yield 13,000 lbs. and the bed alone can haul over two tons. All of these numbers rate it top in the class. In functional terms you can’t buy the power of this truck at this price range in anything other than a new Corvette or an abandoned Libyan airfield.

If power alone could sell trucks the Denali trimmed HD 2500 would be hard to beat. But you have to look at the whole package. Here is the point where I have to throw in a disclaimer. Most work trucks have interiors that look like they came from cars that were half the price.

The one in this truck is nice… in the same way that an Impala LTZ is nice. You get thick leather seats up front that can be heated or cooled. Wood and aluminum accents throughout the cabin that aren’t ‘super-sized’ just because it’s a truck. A navigation system along with a touch screen that is surrounded with too many small plastic buttons that are of little use Plus you get a dashboard and door panels that look to be directly lifted out of a GMC Yukon Denali.

If you love GM full-sized trucks, you will love the interior of this truck.

On the road the overall set-up is tuned towards comfort and ease of use. The ride is slightly stiff without a load which is to be expected in a work truck. But the steering has a directness and precision that is more like a modern full-sized sedan than a truck. The seats in particular put a smile on my face during long drives through Atlanta and North Georgia. Over 750 miles worth in a week. Even in traffic, the Denali was a wonderful vehicle in most every respect and surprisingly easy to drive. But there are still more than a few opportunities for improvement.

GMC’s nav system is not nearly as intuitive or seamless as the Sync on the 2012 Ford F-250. For example, I was able to locate a nearby hotel and have the number called while driving down the road using the nav system quite easily. Other primary functions are easy as well.

Radio controls are on the steering wheel, the display screen is easy to read, and the trip computer offers quick feedback on the fuel economy, fluid levels and tire pressure.
So the main functions work. But I had to also read through the manual more than once to fully understand a lot of the other buttons and features. The small plastic buttons that surround the nav screen are particularly heinous in their feel and design, and should be shelved.

Another weakness? Although the vehicle is 241 inches long the back seats are also works in progress. The rear space is small compared to competitors and although an unusually upright position may be fine for kids and teens, your adult friends may not be happy if you take them on a road trip.

Finally I wish all automakers, GM included, would focus a bit more on upgrading some of the little things in their trucks once they venture into the higher price ranges. The power features along the door panels (windows, door locks, mirrors) would have been perfectly at home in a leftover Chevy Cobalt. The antenna is a base universal screw on and the intake louvre on the hood looks cheap compared to the rest of the vehicle .The bedliner also should have been upgraded with stronger materials to reflect the higher price.

Are these things dealbreakers? Not at all. But in a $62,000 truck these little things should be tended to as well. Especially since we’re talking about a truck with an asking price that can now get you a decent house in the ex-urbs where I live.

Which brings me to the key question. Is this loaded up work truck worth the ‘real world’ price? That answer has a twist given the time of year we find ourselves in.
As a 2011 changeover this model will go for thousands less than the new F-250. More than likely in the mid-50’s. With that you get a better ride, greater hauling capability, an interior that is better proportioned for most drivers, and a powertrain that is far better noted for durability.

If you are the type who buys new and keeps forever, I would consider it. But (and this is one I can’t help mentioning given what I see at the auctions) work trucks have phenomenal levels of depreciation. Due to the economy a lot of work trucks have been repossessed. It’s one of the few vehicles that is not in short supply in the used car market. As a matter of fact, when I parallel parked this truck in a street at the Atlanta zoo I happened to see…

The market on full-sized diesel work trucks is very soft at the moment, new or used. However October and the first fifteen days of November is an absolute dead zone in the car business. No tax refund checks. No Christmas bonuses. No holidays to encourage whatever conspicuous consumption is left in the marketplace.

With this also being the tail end of model changeover time, you should be able to get this truck for a lot less than $62k+. Think about right around $54,000. At that price it’s worth considering.

 A press fleet company provided me with one full tank of gas, insurance, and one nice conversation for this review. This particular model came with a Power Sunroof ($895), 20” Forged Polished Aluminum Wheels ($850), 6” Tubular Chrome Assist Steps ($689), Front Heated & Cooled Seats ($650), Rear Vision Camera System ($450), and a Heated Steering Wheel ($150).I did run over an opossum during the course of this review. I’m thinking about getting it stuffed and taxidermied so I can use it as my profile picture on Facebook. .

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Review: 2011 GMC Acadia Denali Wed, 23 Mar 2011 18:34:16 +0000

With its minivans and conventional midsize SUVs discontinued, GM relies heavily on its large “Lambda” crossovers—the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave—to serve the family market. With over 230,000 sold in 2010, they’re easily the best sellers* in the segment. In comparison, Ford shifted only 34,000 Flexes. But, now in their fifth model year, the Lambdas are getting old. With cash short leading up to the bankruptcy, what might be done on the cheap to maintain buyer interest? The winning answer: a new Denali variant of the GMC Acadia.

GM got the Lambdas’ exterior styling right from the start. Riding on a bespoke platform, the Lambdas’ tight, athletic proportions are far better than those of the minivan-based vehicles they replaced. With the Saturn Outlook pruned, each of the remaining three models looks good while staking out its own aesthetic territory: sporty and car-like for Chevrolet, sleek and luxurious for Buick, and traditional SUV for GMC. To kick the Acadia’s brawny theme up a couple notches for the Denali, GMC fitted a chrome honeycomb grille, monochrome body kit, and massive 20-inch, two-tone chrome-clad alloy wheels. The bold appearance of the Yukon Denali has been successfully transferred to a Lambda. But the Acadia SLT, with its slimming black lower body cladding and cleaner five-spoke alloys, is arguably more attractive if less likely to draw attention.

Substantial changes to the interior would have been more expensive, so less has been done. The door sill trim plates light up “Denali,” the leather on the seats is perforated (an option on the SLT) and seems more luxurious, matching vinyl trim partly covers the door panels, and dark wood-tone trim replaces faux metal on the console, center stack, and doors. The trim on the steering wheel is allegedly real mahogany, but with no evident grain it looks like “piano black” plastic and doesn’t match the faux timber. These changes upgrade the interior ambiance, but not enough. The wood-tone trim is too obviously fake, the door-mounted armrests retain a downscale look and feel, and there’s too much hard plastic. Judging from more recently designed products like the Chevrolet Cruze, GM would craft a much nicer interior if it were starting from scratch today.

One stupid design choice: a ridge at the base of the A-pillars requires a highly precise instrument panel alignment that the plant doesn’t often achieve. Other quality lapses (in case you’re under the illusion that the press receives thoroughly inspected, even tweaked vehicles): wrinkles in the drivers seat leather and a side panel in the cargo area that refused to fasten. These noted, I should also note that owners of 2011 Lambdas have reported no repairs yet through TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. The 2010s are about average, while older model years straddle the line between average and “worse than average.” Common problems on the older cars (which might have been fully resolved prior to the current model year) include airbag wiring, headlamp sockets prone to melting, seat tracks, and, hardest to fix, water leaks.

Quite a few features that might have further distinguished the Denali are absent:

* no adaptive cruise
* no steering-linked headlights
* no auto-dimming headlights
* no rain-sensing wipers
* no blind spot warning system (would certainly help)
* no forward obstacle detection (ditto)
* no keyless ignition (standard on most Nissans)
* no power tilt-and-telescoping wheel
* no heated steering wheel
* no heated rear seat (available on a Hyundai Elantra!)
* no fancy ambient lighting.

The absence of so many features can be traced to the age of the Acadia (these features were much less common five years ago), its sub-premium original mission, and GM’s recent history. A mid-cycle enhancement, which normally would have occurred by now, would have added many of these features. But during its brush with bankruptcy GM had to cut everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. The Denali had to make do with features already available on the Lambdas.

Noting that minivans were in decline despite their superior functionality, GM gave the Lambda’s a high SUV-like stance. Getting in requires more of a climb than in other crossovers. Once in the driver’s seat the view forward is commanding without being as expansive as in a minivan. You feel more like you’re sitting in a car, albeit a tall one. In both the second and third rows visibility is much more constricted than in the “stadium style” seating of a Ford crossover.

The Acadia includes more passenger room than any other crossover (though a Ford Flex offers seven inches more legroom in the second row). A largest-in-class exterior (200.7 inches long, 78.2 inches wide, 69.9 inches high) enables over 61 inches of shoulder room; most competitors have a substantial two-to-four inches less. The Acadia’s third row is a tight fit if the second row is all the way back, but the latter can be moved forward a few inches for all but the tallest adults. The largest minivans provide much more third-row legroom, but most people seem willing to sacrifice this advantage to gain more adventurous styling.

Back in 2006 I found seating to be a Lambda weakness. In the years since it has only gotten worse. The front seats are fairly comfortable, but they continue to provide no lateral support and their power lumbar adjustment is now two-way rather than the original four-way. More substantial thrones would help justify the Denali label.

Despite the Acadia’s vast interior, its second-row seats remain among the least adult-friendly in any crossover. They’re thinly padded, insufficiently contoured, and too low. The second-row seats in Chrysler minivans suffer from similar shortcomings, but to enable them to stow beneath the floor. What’s GM’s excuse? Most likely: to enable the seats to collapse like folding chairs as they slide forward, opening up a wide path to the third row. This can’t be done with a child seat installed, so those with young children tend to opt for the “captain’s chairs,” which have a wide (if squishy, because of how the floor is constructed) walkway between them, rather than the three-person split bench.

The third-row is wide enough for three people (compared to two for all competitors save the Pilot), but it’s even lower to the floor. In one of the auto industry’s greatest unsolved mysteries, this seat originally provided the best lateral support of the bunch. A complicated mechanism inside the seatback extended bolsters as the seat was unfolded. Given the cost of this mechanism and the senselessness of providing lateral support in the third row when none was provided in the other two, GM later deleted it.

Cargo volume behind the third row, more plentiful on paper, isn’t as usable as in a Honda Pilot or Ford Flex because there’s no deep well. The Acadia does have a storage compartment beneath its relatively high cargo floor, but (unlike that in the new Nissan Quest minivan) this compartment is too shallow to hold much. Fold the seats, though, and the Acadia can hold much more than any other crossover: 68.9 cubic feet behind the second row (vs. 47.7 in the Pilot and 45.0 in the Flex), and 116.9 cubic feet behind the first row (vs. 87.0 in the Pilot and 86.7 in the Flex). The largest minivans offer 140+ cubic feet atop a much lower load floor, but except with the Chryslers you’ll have to remove the second-row seats to achieve it. One Flex advantage: unlike the Acadia’s, its front passenger seat also folds to accommodate unusually long items.

GM doesn’t provide specific curb weights for the Denali, but it must weigh over 4,800 pounds with front-wheel-drive and over 5,000 with all-wheel-drive. The new Dodge Durango, though nearly as large and engineered to handle the additional stresses of off-roading (in Jeep form) and heavy towing, weighs about the same. GM clearly used a front-wheel-drive, car-like platform to increase interior volume (maximum cargo volume is only 84.5 cubic feet in the Dodge SUV) rather than to reduce mass.

Probably because the Durango’s five-speed automatic has relatively tall initial gearing, its 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 feels weak at low speeds. The solution: Dodge also offers a 360-horsepower 5.7-liter “HEMI” V8 that more readily motivates the Durango’s 2.5 tons. GM planned to offer an all-new “Ultra” V8 in the Lambdas, but this engine was aborted a few years ago as funds grew tight. A turbocharged V6 along the lines of the Ford Flex’s optional “EcoBoost” would be an interesting alternative, but GM won’t have such an engine ready until the 2013 model year.

Not a big problem; with GM’s six-speed automatic, a stronger engine is less necessary unless you need to tow something substantial. I’ve argued that the non-turbocharged V6 works well enough in the Flex, and the same is the case with the 288-horsepower direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 in the Acadia. During my week with the Denali I never wished for more power.

I did wish for less torque steer. I had assumed that GM would provide a vehicle with all-wheel-drive. I learned otherwise the first time I put the pedal more than halfway to the floor and the front end went all light and squirrelly. Unless your right foot is almost always feather-light, all-wheel-drive is highly recommended.

GM’s six-speed automatic has gotten smarter in the last half-decade. It now picks the correct gear more smoothly and with more self-confidence. For curves and downhill grades a lower gear can be manually selected via a toggle on the shifter. The transmission isn’t always quick to react to these inputs, but the “range selector” serves well enough for how it’s likely to be employed. The head-up display (HUD) helps by projecting a tach and the selected gear onto the windshield.

The Acadia Denali’s trip computer usually reported a little over 16 MPG in typical suburban driving. This is consistent with the EPA ratings of 17 city and 24 highway (16/23 with all-wheel-drive). Not bad considering the Acadia’s size and consequent weight.

Aside from louder clomping across minor bumps (especially at low speeds), the Denali’s ride isn’t affected much by its chrome-clad dubs. Slightly firmer suspension tuning to compensate for the upsized wheels’ additional unsprung mass has, if anything, improved on the Acadia’s already good body control. (In the front seat at least; children in the third row reported a bumpy, noisy ride.)

For anyone used to a smaller vehicle, the Acadia’s size requires considerable acclimation. The big crossover is out of its element in parking lots, where the corners are hard to locate and there’s little room for error, and in very tight turns. But in more generous curves it feels poised and planted, with minimal lean and understeer for this sort of vehicle. The stability control, if and when it does kick in, is unobtrusive.

Given this capable, thoroughly predictable chassis, it’s a shame that the Denali’s steering is inferior to that of an Acadia SLE I drove for the sake of comparison. The shorter, stiffer sidewalls of the Denali’s tires should make its steering feel more direct. Instead the Denali’s tiller often feels more disconnected and vague, even sloppy on center. My guess: while the suspension was tweaked to work with the 20-inch wheels and tires, the steering was not. One other difference: while the SLE has constant effort steering, the SLT and Acadia have a variable-assist unit. I failed to observe how the latter was preferable at any speed. Firmer, tighter steering—like that in the revised Chrysler minivans—would make the Denali much more confidence-inspiring and enjoyable to drive.

In keeping with its luxury theme, the Denali is fitted with the Buick Enclave’s laminated front side glass and additional sound deadening. As a result, the Denali is quieter inside than other Acadias, with a more upscale quality to the remaining noise. But even the regular Acadia is quiet inside (and, if memory serves, quieter than when it was introduced).

The tested vehicle lists for $48,125 with nav ($1,690), rear entertainment ($1,445), and “white diamond tricoat” paint ($795). Add $2,000 for all-wheel-drive. The rest the Acadia’s available features (including a two-panel sunroof, HID headlights, and the HUD) are standard on the Denali.

GM didn’t do much to transform the Acadia into a Denali. But, to its credit, it’s not charging much for the changes: just $1,205 more than a similarly-equipped Acadia SLT. Adjust for the largely cosmetic items not offered on the SLT using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the difference is only about $250. If you prefer the Denali’s appearance, and want all of the features it includes, this isn’t much extra to pay for it. With the GMC Yukon, the Denali upgrade commands a nearly $4,000 premium.

A similarly-equipped Dodge Durango Citadel lists for $2,320 less than the Acadia Denali—enough to pay for a HEMI upgrade, and then some. What’s more, the recently redesigned Dodge has many of the “latest and greatest” gadgets not available with the GMC. Adjust for these and the Dodge’s advantage widens to about $4,300. With such aggressive pricing, the Durango seems like a steal if you don’t need the Acadia’s additional interior space.

But if you do need the Acadia’s interior space, there aren’t any alternatives aside from the other Lambdas. No other crossover comes close in this regard. The Acadia also continues to perform, handle, and ride well. Unfortunately, those aspects most in need of improvement—the seats and the interior materials—haven’t improved over the past five years.

In this context, the Denali is a disappointment. It adds no new non-cosmetic features, much less a stronger engine, its interior isn’t enough of an upgrade, and its steering is a step in the wrong direction. Apparently recognizing how little the Denali bits add to the Acadia, GM charges very little extra for them. Even so, unless you prefer the bolder, more massive look of the Denali I’d opt for the SLT until GM offers a vehicle more deserving of the premium sub-brand. How soon might this happen? With GM now in much better financial shape, the Lambdas are being redesigned for the 2013 model year.

* The Lambdas are the top sellers if you define the segment as three-row crossovers. If you include the Odyssey (along with the Pilot and MDX) Honda takes the top spot.

Author’s note: Some Detroit residents took exception to the photo of inner city Detroit I included in my auto show coverage. As compensation, I offer these photos of a mansion currently under construction a couple miles away from my house in the ‘burbs. Someone clearly still believes in the vitality of the area. They also clearly love cars: the house itself includes nine garages, and a pre-existing carriage house adds three more.
GM provided the Acadia Denali, along with one tank of gas and insurance for this review.

Dick Johnson of Lunghamer GMC provided an Acadia SLE. He can be reached at 248-461-1037.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.
Taller than Taurus X Acadia 2nd row view Acadia front quarter 3 Acadia rear Acadia underfloor storage Acadia third row Acadia Denali Carriage house--9 garages are not enough Acadia SLT side Taurus X 2nd row view Acadia front quarter Acadia front quarter 4 Acadia cargo B2 Acadia rear quarter 2 Acadia second row Acadia front quarter 2 Taurus X 3rd row view Acadia side Acadia SLT exterior Acadia front Acadia driver view Acadia front seats Acadia IP Acadia cargo B1 Acadia engine Acadia front seat Acadia door panel Acadia wide view Acadia A-pillar trim Acadia 3rd row view Acadia wheel Taurus X driver view Acadia SLE interior Acadia cargo B3 Acadia-front-quarter-thumb HUD Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Acadia rear quarter
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Review: 2011 GMC 2500HD Mon, 29 Nov 2010 20:02:30 +0000

Styling changes at GM seem to either come either in questionable radical leaps like the Pontiac Aztec, or creep glacially by, and GM’s 2500HD trucks definitely fit into the latter category. Despite being fully redesigned in 2007 as a 2008 model year truck and gaining a “full mid-cycle refresh” for the 2010 model year, the 2500HD is undeniably a GM truck. That means you get basic slab sides, a large square maw and the same sort of styling creases in the sheet metal that everything else from GM wears.

When GM’s PR people dropped the 2500HD off, the first thing I noticed from my window was the incredibly large, incredibly ugly plastic power dome on the hood.  I understand the desire for something unique, but I have to agree with when they say that it appears GM just got “louver envy” and tacked something on that looks more aftermarket than the aftermarket would ever think possible. Aside from the wart on its nose however the rest of the GMC HD is as plain Jane as a Buick, which is to say attractive in a farm-girl kind of way.

Inside the GMC 2500HD you’ll find two different interiors. If you opt for the basic work-truck you get the basic interior; style circa 1995. While the base interior is certainly functional for a work truck, it is at least a decade behind the competition. The acres of questionable black plastic circa the redesign in 2007 have not aged well. While I understand that interior quality is not really the most important item when buying a ¾ ton pickup truck, it would be nice if you didn’t have to spend your day in a plastic penalty box. If you step-up to the SLT trim (our tester was so equipped), GMC swaps the black plastic dash in the 2500HD with the dashboard from the GMT900 series SUVs (Suburban and Yukon). While I appreciate the intention of offering a more car-like dashboard in a heavy duty pickup, I question if a work truck is the right place for acres of awful fake wood? Aside from the never-seen-a-forest veneer, the plastics in our tester were already moderately scuffed after only 2,300 miles of press fleet duty. Make your own longevity conclusion.

On the road the GMC 2500HD yields road manners that are easily second only to the Dodge Ram 2500. For a truck capable of hauling a small house, the GMC drives like a smaller vehicle without any of the harsh “crashy” ride quality that you would assume a high-load capacity truck would bring to the table. Even when loaded up with 3,360lbs of concrete (my favorite load comparison), the road manners of the 2500HD were impeccable. The brakes easily scrubbed away speed, and the 765lb-ft of torque make themselves known when climbing any kind of hill.

Speaking of engines, GM’s V8 diesel is a willing companion for any kind of work. If it weren’t for Ford stealing GM’s thunder with their 800ft-lb torque monster, everyone would still sing GM’s praises. Truth be told the GMC 2500HD scoots to 60 faster with or without a load than the Ford truck. This difference is likely due to the gearing in the Ford and some differences in curb weight. Churning out 397HP and 765ft-lbs of torque, the GM 6.6L V8 sends power to the ground via a 6-speed Allison transmission and this is where the GM disappoints a bit.

The gearing of the Allison transmission’s first gear isn’t as low as Ford’s new 6-speed tranny. This makes the Ford “feel” faster when taking off from stop lights or dealing with stop-and-go traffic. When the accelerometer comes out however it was obvious that the GM truck is still the speed king eeking out a 0.2 second better 0-60 time (8.8 seconds vs 9.0 for the Ford). This area is so subjective that after a back-to-back drive I have to still call this a wash. The GMC is still objectively faster to 60, but the lower first gear of the Ford makes stop-and-go traffic while hauling 13,000lbs far less tiring than the GMC.

If there is one area where GM falls seriously behind even Chrysler, it’s in the electronic gadgets department. While the sounds produced by the top-of-the-line audio system sounded good, they didn’t have the premium feel of the Kicker system Dodge makes available in the RAM. Had it sounded as good I might have been tempted to overlook the lack of decent digital music player connectivity. Yes the GM stereo does let you control your iPod, but attempting to do so will fill you with frustration until you just unplug the damn thing and just browse it manually.

When out on the job payloads and towing capabilities are important but in typical use, the payloads and towing are essentially the same between the F250 and 2500HD depending more upon what tire and option packages the buyer chooses than what brand of truck. When configured more-or-less identically the payload capacity differs by a few hundred pounds, but since most of this is not verified to any specific metric independently, I have to call it a wash. While we’re on the topic of payloads, the days of needing a dually are over for most buyers. There was a time when you needed a 3500 series truck with four tires out back to haul crap but no more, today’s 2500s will carry more than a 3500 could handle a decade ago. Back in 2009 a SRW 3500HD could only haul 2,906lbs and tow 13,000lbs while the dually equipped 3500 DRW could haul 4,042 (about 40% more). In 2011 the GMC 2500HD can haul a whopping 4,192 in its bed when properly equipped. Yowza!

At the end of the week with the 2500HD I decided to drop by my local Ford store to compare the trucks side by side and as a result I must say the 2500HD comes in a close second to the F250, but still second and here’s why: the devil is in the details. Yes the GMC delivers better numbers in many areas, but the difference is small enough that the smaller touches in the F250 swing my personal vote. Ford may not have über-cool exhaust brake option as the Dodge of GMC truck, but Ford offers superior control over the transmission shifts which I found very helpful while hauling heavy loads. In addition the Ford SYNC system makes it easier to focus on your driving instead of your iPod. Adding to the “little touches” list are the 4.2” LCD info center in the Ford’s dash (Dodge has one as well) that is much better at giving the driver feedback than the small electro-fluorescent display GM uses. Ford manages to also put the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) filler in a more sensible location (behind the fuel door rather than under the hood) making filling far more convenient. Finally at nearly $57,000 as equipped the comparable F250 rings in a hair cheaper. While you can’t go wrong buying the GMC Sierra 2500HD for its better performance, if this is a truck you personally have to live with every day there is a better option.

GMC provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Review: GMC Terrain Mon, 16 Nov 2009 15:15:52 +0000 gmcterrain

Many people have questioned why General Motors needs so many brands. Why have both Chevrolet and GMC selling essentially the same vehicles? With the new GMC Terrain, we might just have an answer. Or not.

2010 GMC Terrain SLTThe GMC Terrain essentially replaces the Pontiac Torrent in GM’s burgeoning Crossover linuep. Where the Torrent was a rebadge of the first-generation Chevrolet Equinox, the Terrain shares everything under the skin with the second-generation Equinox. And yet it’s not a rebadge. The Equinox is blandly attractive, with a moderately aero shape that could have issued forth from the design studio of a number of manufacturers.

The Terrain, in contrast, is all bulky angles, battering-ram grille, and bulging fender flares. No one will mistake it for an Equinox, and it’s not attractive to my eyes. But for anyone who (still) desires the look of a Hummer, but with the mechanicals, packaging, and fuel economy of a car-like crossover, the Terrain is (with the partial exception of Mitsubishi’s failed Endeavor—155 units in October) the only current option.

With the interiors, GM has sprung for different IP fascias and door panels, but the payoff is considerably less than with the exteriors. The lines differ—for example, the Chevrolet’s outer air vents appear to be swapped left to right for the GMC—but the interiors do not feel any different as a result. Side by side comparison is necessary to note the differences.

In either case, the interior is a definite step up from that in the first-gen Equinox. The center stack—shared between the two models—is especially stylish, with its knobs and buttons arranged and shaped so you can tell them apart and find the one you’re looking for (memo to Honda). Vertical air vents flanking the center stack lent flair to the interior of the new Cadillac CTS, and they do the same here. Most of the interior plastics are hard, and some appear lower-rent than others, but this is typical of the price point. You weren’t actually expecting a well-finished cargo area, were you?

Red stitching on the door panels and seats and numerous faux aluminum trim bits nearly save the black cloth interior from a work truck ambience. Those seeking a less somber but higher maintenance interior should opt for the light grey cloth, which brings with it high contrast gray/black interior panels. Want some actual warmth, even luxury? Then spend the extra bucks for the SLT with the brown leather.

Thanks to the blocky exterior styling, the Terrain appears larger than the Equinox, even though the Chevrolet is actually a couple of inches longer. Both combine the width of a compact 2010 GMC Terrain SLTcrossover with the wheelbase and length of a midsize. This translates to the interior dimensions. Even exceptionally tall adults will feel comfortable in the rear seat, with a high cushion and abundant legroom–unless there are three of them. Seats front and rear are moderately firm and nicely contoured.

The driving position is largish SUV. While the cabin isn’t broad, you sit higher than in most compact crossovers and the instrument panel runs high and deep between massive A-pillars. The storage bin atop the IP cannot be reached without leaning far forward, and the base of the windshield might be in the next time zone. As a result, the Terrain doesn’t only look larger than it is. As with many GM vehicles, once underway it also feels larger than it is. Some people might consider this a good thing. GM certainly always has. Bigger is better, right?

Not necessarily. Anyone hoping for agile handling (you can always hope, right?) won’t find it. The Terrain’s handling is accurate and secure, with nicely weighted steering, good body control, and modest body lean. But agile or sporty it is not. GM leaves that for the imports.

The Terrain’s moderately firm suspension absorbs bumps well without any float, but transmits enough of the impact that you know you’re not in a luxury vehicle. Wind noise is low, tire noise not quite so low.

Then there’s engine noise. GM has convinced itself that engines with similar power ratings are interchangeable. So last year’s base engine, a 3.4-liter V6 good for 185 horsepower, has been replaced by a 2.4-liter four good for 182. Just three fewer horses, but can revs substitute for the lost liter? Can 2.4 liters move two tons?

That will have to be answered in a later review. The test vehicle had the optional V6. Though only 3.0 liters, thanks to direct injection it produces the same 264 horsepower as last year’s 3.6. Are you old enough to recall when Honda wowed the enthusiast world by getting 270 horsepower out of three liters in the Acura NSX? Well, now GM is squeezing nearly as much power out of a 3.0, on regular gas and without titanium internals.

Problem is, engines that peak at 6,950 rpm make more sense in sports cars than truckish crossovers. The 3.0 moves the Terrain fairly well at full throttle, if not as well as the torquier 3.6 moved last year’s lighter Equinox, but the amount and quality of the resulting engine noise suggests that you’re doing something you really should not be. Even during regular cruising the six-speed transmission must drop down a cog or three to handle barely-there hills or the slightest demand for acceleration. The engine broadcasts every such downshift with a dramatic increase in induction and exhaust drone, perhaps so you’ll know it’s doing its bestest. Not a good fit for the Terrain’s brawny exterior.

2010 GMC Terrain 3.0L Direct Injection V6Nor is the all-wheel-drive system. It should serve to get the Terrain out of the subdivision before the plow comes through, and does banish torque steer (which this less-than-torquey V6 nevertheless achieves in front-drive applications). But, without a low-range, skid plates, or any other non-aesthetic pretense towards off-roadability, the Terrain isn’t traversing any wild terrain. Beneath the skin, it’s just another tall car pretending to be an SUV, only with more pretense. The trail is conceded to the less aggressively styled, more compact Jeep Patriot. The Terrain is a superior Hummer H3 considering how most H3s are actually used.

The point of the 3.0, one might assume, is efficiency. And when you assume…how about we check the numbers? Well, what do you know: in every vehicle in which both the 3.0 and the related 3.6 are offered the 3.6 gets the same—or better—EPA ratings. The 3.0 might have a fuel economy advantage over the 3.6 in a 3,500 pound (or lower) vehicle. But GM has yet to so deploy it, and perhaps never will, instead using a turbo four in such applications. In the 4,188-pound AWD GMC Terrain, as in the similarly hefty Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CTS, and Cadillac SRX, the 3.0 simply makes no sense. Use this new engine in something much less massive, or kill it. Perhaps the 3.6 will at least find its way into a future Denali variant?

As it is, the GMC Terrain looks big, feels bigger, but has been deprived of an engine or drivetrain that can cash the checks the tough guy exterior writes. Rear seat comfort (for two adults) and legroom are exceptional, and the interior can be stylish as long as the black cloth isn’t selected. The ride and handling are good without being luxurious or sporty.

All in all, a good fit for what the typical two-row crossover buyer on a budget is seeking—except for the styling. All of the other plusses and minuses are shared by the Equinox, so your typical buyer will gravitate to the prettier Chevy. The Terrain undeniably serves a different, less common aesthetic taste—no look-alikes this time. This is the benefit of multiple brands—the Terrain’s styling is too polarizing for any company with just one offering in the segment. But are there enough people who prefer chunky to creamy in their crossover sheetmetal? Lackluster powertrain notwithstanding, GMC dealers are quickly selling every Terrain they can get—nearly 3,000 of them in October—so we seem to have our answer concerning the point of GMC.

[Michael Karesh owns and operates True Delta, a reliability and cost analysis survey site]

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2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid 4×4 Review Wed, 27 Feb 2008 11:12:18 +0000 dscf1176.JPGLet's get something out of the way right now: the Yukon Hybrid is over-priced. Our tester stickered at $56k. At that price point, GM's gas - electric SUV competes against BMW's enlarged X5, Audi's Q7 carcoon and Lexus' golf club friendly RX 400h (to name a few). Hybrid or no, the GMC Yukon's not exactly what you'd call an upmarket machine. If The General had taken the hit and offered the Yukon Hybrid for the same price or less than its gasoline equivalent, it would be a far more compelling proposition. But they didn't. So let's press on.

dscf1176.JPGLet's get something out of the way right now: the Yukon Hybrid is over-priced. Our tester stickered at $56k. At that price point, GM's gas – electric SUV competes against BMW's enlarged X5, Audi's Q7 carcoon and Lexus' golf club friendly RX 400h (to name a few). Hybrid or no, the GMC Yukon's not exactly what you'd call an upmarket machine. If The General had taken the hit and offered the Yukon Hybrid for the same price or less than its gasoline equivalent, it would be a far more compelling proposition. But they didn't. So let's press on.

Aesthetically, the Yukon Hybrid is about as bashful as a drunken sorority girl at Panama City Beach Spring Break. The big rig's plastered with no fewer than nine proclamations that it possess a gas-electric drivetrain, including three-foot-long "Hybrid" stickers along its mighty flanks. Custom side skirts, a rear spoiler and good-looking low-weight 18-inch wheels add more not-so-subtle style (and mpgs) to the equation.

Other than that, it's a Yukon: big, bland and boxy. OK, the SUV's creases were sharpened pre-Hurricane Katrina, but the Yukon's looks still aren't going to blow anyone away.

dscf1175.JPGTo drop the Yukon Hybrid's aerodynamic Cd from .39 to .34, GM re-softened those sharpened creases with a slightly reshaped hood and rear hatch, and lost the roof rack. Although the new hood and hatch are fashioned from aluminum, the Yukon Hybrid's batteries and electric motor make it heavier than the standard model. The Yukon Hybrid's heft rises from either 5270 to 5541 lbs., or from 5438 to 5617 lbs., depending on whether you believe GM PR or the GMC website.

GM's new truck interiors may be far better than anything they've ever offered, boasting attractive chrome accents and a real woven headliner. But at $51k (base), the Yukon Hybrid's interior feels cheaper than a Las Vegas motel on a Tuesday afternoon. Fake wood and aluminum abound. Vinyl that tries (and fails) to look like leather stretches across the ample dashboard. The seats are flat and unsupportive, and the optional third row seat is unusable for anyone but Hobbits.

x08gm_yu034.jpgThe Hybrid comes amply-equipped with navigation, rear parking camera, auto climate control and power everything. In complete contrast to the exterior, only a small Hybrid logo, an "Eco" gauge and a Prius-like touch screen drivetrain display remind the driver that they're piloting the world's largest private passenger hybrid.

To maintain the Yukon's cavernous interior, the engineers utilized the undercarriage space for the NiMH batteries. Part of that space was realized (and the beast's weight gain minimized) by replacing the full-size spare tire with a can of sealant– not exactly what you'd expect in a 4×4. Not that you'd ever take those low-rolling-resistance donuts off-road. On the positive side, the Yukon Hybrid 4X4's towing capacity is a respectable 6000 lbs. (down from 8000 lbs.).

x08gm_yu037.jpgWhich may account for GM's decision to equip the Yukon Hybrid with a 332hp, 6.0-liter Vortec engine. In any case, the monster motor becomes a hybrid with the addition of a 300V battery, two 60KW motors in the transmission and some creative software.

I've never driven a full hybrid this seamless in operation. You never notice when the drivetrain changes modes, from electric to gas and back. The electric boost comes on smoothly; the power delivery remains silken as the engine spools-up. When revved hard, the 6.0-liter offered a muted yet spine-tingling burble. Despite the weight, the excellent drivetrain pushes the Yukon from zero to sixty miles per hour in about eight seconds. The system manages a decent-for-such-a-behemoth 20mpg both in the city AND on the highway.

x08gm_yu043.jpgThe Yukon Hybrid's suspension is as ridiculous as the drivetrain is sublime. The steering feels vague at low speeds and darty on the highway. Engaging four-wheel-drive mode makes the rig feel like a forklift, with all four wheels pushing in different directions. The Yukon skitters and wallows during cornering and shudders like a Sebring convertible over rough patches. The massive weight smooths out the ride to decent levels, but the European and Japanese competition put the Yukon to shame in comfort, control and cornering ability.

dscf1166.JPGAs for that highly-touted 25 percent fuel economy improvement, yes, I achieved the advertised mpg in mixed driving. But I wonder how much of that gain's down to the non-drivetrain mods. Equally perplexing: why hasn't GM incorporated them into normal Yukotahburbelades? Is the American automaker shortchanging their gas-powered SUVs to protect the hybrid versions' rep? Clearly, the Yukon Hybrid raises more questions than it answers. Meanwhile, one thing is for sure: at that price, in this market, the Yukon Hybrid will not be flying off the lots.

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2008 GMC Acadia Review Wed, 13 Feb 2008 10:29:08 +0000 x08gm_ac009.jpgSUVs are evil. Evil I tell you! They represent all that’s bad about America: greed, sloth, gluttony, selfishness, arrogance and environmental indifference. They gargle gas, warm the planet and knock poor little hybrids into next week. More importantly, SUVs cost a fortune to feed and depreciate like packet of condoms. So what’s an SUV-intensive manufacturer like GM to do? Why make an SUV that doesn’t do all that hard-core SUV stuff, spiffy-it-up a bit, and sell it to all the people who love SUVs but hate SUVs. Ladies and gentlemen, the GMC Acadia.

x08gm_ac009.jpgSUVs are evil. Evil I tell you! They represent all that’s bad about America: greed, sloth, gluttony, selfishness, arrogance and environmental indifference. They gargle gas, warm the planet and knock poor little hybrids into next week. More importantly, SUVs cost a fortune to feed and depreciate like packet of condoms. So what’s an SUV-intensive manufacturer like GM to do? Why make an SUV that doesn’t do all that hard-core SUV stuff, spiffy-it-up a bit, and sell it to all the people who love SUVs but hate SUVs. Ladies and gentlemen, the GMC Acadia.

Semi-evil or not, the Acadia sure is a handsome beast. It hits the sweet spot between the overly swoopy Buick Enclave (one of its two ugly Lambda dancing half sisters) and the excessively angular Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. Though it's not obvious from photographs, the Acadia’s huge. It’s only a couple of inches shorter than its GMC sibling (and competitor), the once-mighty Yukon SUV. To add political correctness, GM removed eight inches of height, giving the Acadia a PC-pleasing passenger-car-like appearance.

x08gm_ac011.jpgLike all three-row CUV’s, the Acadia’s packaging is not without its problems. On the positive side, thanks to GM's "SmartSlide" system, passengers don't have to mountaineer over the second row to get into the wayback. But once ensconced, those poor unfortunate souls are relegated to a how-low-can-you-go seating position. They also face the daunting task of convincing second row passengers to scootch forward and sacrifice their legs legroom– so that the rearmost occupants don’t have to sit like cross-legged Yogi.

While the Acadia’s SmartSlide system offers kid-friendly clambering; the middle seats ride in huge tracks recessed into the floor. What’s the bet crayons, Lego and French fries clog the tracks– impeding the seat's movement and causing expensive damage to the mechanism– faster than you can say “No YOU get the vacuum cleaner.”

Extricating yourself from the rear also lacks fun. The Acadia’s interior designers forgot to include an assist handle for those of us who are too tall to just stand up and walk out.

x08gm_ac007.jpgAesthetically, some genius in the design department decided that plastichrome trim would make the Acadia’s interior look more expensive. It doesn't. The trim around the center AC vents curves onto the top of the dash– right where it reflects the sun into the driver's eyes. The trim around the shifter looks like something from a Wal-Mart boom box. Props for eschewing wood grain or faux carbon fiber, but the overall ambiance doesn’t say $40k vehicle to me.

Questionable materials quality doesn't help the situation, and do much to make it worse. The leather on the test vehicle’s passenger seat was already cracked and showing its backing in one spot. The tambour door on the cubby in the console had all the substance of a sheet of typing paper. The volume control knob on the non-GPS-equipped radio felt like it was connected to nothing whatsoever.

When you turn the Acadia’s key, you hear… practically nothing; I had to look at the tach to see if it had started. Slide the six-speed automatic’s shifter into "D" (or "L" if you want to use the non-intuitive buttons on the side of the lever to swap cogs), and you're on your way. The transmission shifts smoothly on the way up. But when you floor it, the tranny jerks as the autobox drops a couple of gears to propel the 2.5-ton family hauler with some semblance of alacrity.

miamiacadia014.jpgThe Acadia’s not quick but neither does it block traffic; its 275hp 3.6-liter V6 ambles the big rig from rest to 60 miles per hour in just under eight seconds. Because of the CUV's smooth ride and abundant sound insulation, once sufficient speed is attained, it’s a pleasure to putter about town or cruise the interstate. While you’d no more hustle an Acadia than use a MX-5 to move house, the GMC always feels like you're driving something much smaller.

Any illusions in that department are shattered at the gas pump. The GMC Acadia is EPA rated at 16/24. While that’s an improvement on the Yukon/Tahoe’s abysmal 14/19, GMC's three-row machine is no fuel miser– especially when you compare it to Toyota’s RAV4 (21/27).

x08gm_ac008.jpgQuestion: do you REALLY need that third row? If you don’t, face facts: the GMC Acadia offers nothing more than faux rehab for SUV recidivists. (Suck it up and buy a nice $40k car, already.) If you need room for seven/eight, or don’t care a fig about mileage, well, there are still a lot of better choices in the $35k to $45k CUV price range; plenty of station-wagons-on-stilts that provide a similar driving experience without the Acadia's obvious cost-cutting.

Still, the Acadia is a good vehicle that does what its target market (mainly GM loyalists) expects it to do. It's too bad that it's appeal has been degraded by beancounters. If the devil is in the details, it must be Hell being an Acadia.

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GMC Envoy SLE Review Wed, 27 Jun 2007 11:11:22 +0000 x07gm_en001.jpgYou 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?

x07gm_en001.jpgYou 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.

x07gm_en002.jpgInside, 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. 

x07sp_gm007.jpgGoing 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. 

x07gm_en003.jpgAfter 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?

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GMC Sierra Review Thu, 21 Apr 2005 00:00:00 +0000 The GMC Sierra 1500HD Extended Cab 2WD, eighteen months away from retirement.Enzo Ferrari used to sell his customers an engine and throw in the car for free. While Ferrari still reserves the right to sell whatever it wants to whomever it wants without worrying about what anyone else may want, Maranello's mad machines are now at least as dynamically cohesive and ergonomically sound as your average John Deere lawn mower (if infinitely less practical). In fact, the Italian automaker has passed the mantle of "engine first engineering" to GMC. More specifically, to the Sierra 1500HD pickup truck.

Our test Sierra was powered by GM's sublime Vortec 6000. Granted, new millennia power freaks will not find the 6.0-liter engine's 300hp output overly impressive-- especially when the horses in question are harnessed to a vehicle weighing 4800 lbs. And yes, GMC slots some bigger, badder units into the Sierra; including a 6.6-liter DURAMAX turbo-diesel with enough torque to pull the Queen Mary into dry dock (640ft.-lbs.). But the Vortec 6000 is a flawless and loveable lump, a V8 from The Old School.

The GMC Sierra 1500HD Extended Cab 2WD, eighteen months away from retirement.Enzo Ferrari used to sell his customers an engine and throw in the car for free. While Ferrari still reserves the right to sell whatever it wants to whomever it wants without worrying about what anyone else may want, Maranello's mad machines are now at least as dynamically cohesive and ergonomically sound as your average John Deere lawn mower (if infinitely less practical). In fact, the Italian automaker has passed the mantle of "engine first engineering" to GMC. More specifically, to the Sierra 1500HD pickup truck.

Our test Sierra was powered by GM's sublime Vortec 6000. Granted, new millennia power freaks will not find the 6.0-liter engine's 300hp output overly impressive– especially when the horses in question are harnessed to a vehicle weighing 4800 lbs. And yes, GMC slots some bigger, badder units into the Sierra; including a 6.6-liter DURAMAX turbo-diesel with enough torque to pull the Queen Mary into dry dock (640ft.-lbs.). But the Vortec 6000 is a flawless and loveable lump, a V8 from The Old School.

Automotive  work boot or surburban schlepper?Crank it up, and the Vortec's burble makes today's muscle cars seem like castrati. Hit the open road, and the powerplant cruises the Sierra at extra-legal speeds with just a few lazy rpm. Put pedal to metal and the engine bellow-blasts the truck towards the horizon with all the manic fury of a drag strip refugee. Aside from wallet-draining mileage– 11mpg in town and 16(ish) in "when's the next exit?" mode– the Vortec is everything you could want from a big block V8: smooth, powerful, punchy and charismatic.

As for the rest of the truck– its design, ride, handling, brakes and comfort– the predominant theme is "great, for a pickup truck". Or, if you prefer, "crap". Now, before I ignite a flame mail firestorm from the flatbed fraternity, a quick note to The American Pickup Truck Anti-Defamation League…

Bling wheels on a pickup?  What's that all about?I understand the appeal of a vehicle that can schlep or tow big, heavy, dirty things; that's rugged enough to take any kind of extended [cab] abuse; that's cheap enough to accommodate a working man's wallet. But let's face it: we've moved on from the "pickup as automotive work boot" mindset. The test Sierra 1500 is a $39k, four-door, five-seat vehicle driven by as many suburbanites as blue collar workers. As far as I'm concerned, as far as the vast majority of buyers are concerned, it's a car with a large, open, versatile luggage compartment.

The Ford F150 gets it. The GMC Sierra does not. For example: the Sierra's suspension is so primitive that its reaction to surface imperfections is positively nostalgic. I'd forgotten what it's like to drive a vehicle with truly independent suspension– in the sense that all four wheels do different things at different times. Driving over a bump in a Sierra isn't so much an event as a series of events. How and when you experience the resulting shudders and body flex depends very much upon where you're sitting.

Yuck! If you're sitting in the driver's seat and press the brake pedal, the Sierra will slow down, but it'll feel like you're inflating a pool toy. The steering, though admirable in its desire to add some heft to the proceedings, is about as accurate as The Weekly World News. Unless you're towing something heavy, the four-speed gearbox is easily outwitted. Go for the aforementioned full-bore sprint and there's more fumbling about than a teenage boy trying to unhook his first bra.

The Sierra's interior is also a lot less than accomplished. In fact, it has the nastiest dashboard since all the other nasty dashboards in all the other nastily dashboarded GM products. The General has been talking about replacing their interior farragoes for years, yet the Sierra clearly doesn't know disco is dead. It's a riot of cheap plastic and ugly, sharp-edged switchgear. I haven't seen a dot matrix display with so few pixels since my first digital watch.

GM's $1.4b quarterly loss sets off a hunt for corporate wiggle room.  Meanwhile, Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Truck.Again, I'm happy to admit that the Sierra represents a huge improvement from pickups of yore (except for the buckboard ride). Twenty years ago, who'd a thunk a standard-issue pickup truck would boast 300 horses, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, cruise control, ABS brakes, airbags and suicide doors? Who'd a thunk it would cost 40 large? That said, with GM's fire-sale discounts and finance, you can probably own a Sierra 1500 for a couple hundred bucks a month. So it's still something of a working class hero.

Be that as it may, there's no getting around the fact that the GMC Sierra is a long way behind its competition in terms of refinement and ergonomics. Once upon a time, that didn't matter. Now, engine nirvana or not, it does.

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GMC Sierra SLE Hybrid Review Tue, 13 Jul 2004 00:00:00 +0000 The 5.3-liter Vortec 5300 V8 provides all the motive powerI find the average pickup truck's buckboard ride and apple cart handling a constant source of wonder. If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they put the lunar rover's suspension on a pickup truck? Yes, I know: if you want to carry heavy things, coil/leaf suspension is your only option. But why would anyone who doesn't schlep stuff for a living actually choose to drive a pickup?]]> The 5.3-liter Vortec 5300 V8 provides all the motive powerI find the average pickup truck’s buckboard ride and apple cart handling a constant source of wonder. If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they put the lunar rover’s suspension on a pickup truck? Yes, I know: if you want to carry heavy things, coil/leaf suspension is your only option. But why would anyone who doesn’t schlep stuff for a living actually choose to drive a pickup?

Dunno. What I DO know is that rough-riding, foul-handling pickups are America’s favorite form of personal transportation. And the US (or at least the US media) is hybrid crazy. So it was only a matter of time before Detroit answered its petro-political critics by building a hybrid pickup truck. First out of the blocks: the GMC Sierra Hybrid. The beauty of it– well, the beauty of the concept– is inescapable. Fit a gas-electric hybrid motor to a pickup, boost its gas mileage by a respectable margin, and voila! A politically incorrect gas-guzzler becomes a deeply desirable statement of environmental consciousness– with a healthy shot of blue collar chic at no extra charge. Yes, now even redneck America can have their cake and the Kyoto Agreement too!

Time to stop and hug the trees?OK, back to reality. First of all, the GMC Sierra Hybrid is not a real hybrid. Its Panasonic lead-acid batteries don’t provide propulsion; the sub-system only powers the Sierra when it’s stationary. In other words, when the pickup comes to a halt, so does its internal combustion engine. The batteries kick-in to power all the electrical goodies (AC, lights, radio, windows, etc.). Then, when you take your foot off the brakes, the V8 spools-up, and away you go.

C’mon, did you seriously expect a 42-volt battery to provide motive force for a 7000lbs. pickup truck with a 9200lbs. towing capacity? What we have here is no more or less than a standard GMC Sierra pickup truck with a battery-powered electronic stop – start system that recharges itself with energy generated by the brakes. A system that also shuts off fuel to the powerplant whilst coasting, and smoothes out the resulting engine vibrations. The technology is certainly impressive, but the driving experience is prosaic. Stomp on the quasi-hybrid’s gas pedal and you get the same response as you would in a regular Sierra. Its 295hp Vortec 5300 propels the pickup to 60mph in under eight secs. Again, I’m no fan of the way this (or any) pickup truck handles bumps and bends, but there’s no question that the General’s demi-hybrid has enough grunt to leave a tree hugger’s Toyota Prius for dead.

   Press that little button and you've got a $50k electric generatorThings start to get hinky when you take your foot off the gas. There’s a strange sensation of increased drag– something between engine braking and the feeling that you’ve run out of gas. The fact that the slowing effect is caused by the fuel-saving engine cut-off feature is morally comforting, but dynamically distracting. Braking feel, as the stoppers reclaim energy for the batteries, is similarly peculiar. Fortunately, braking performance isn’t affected.

When you bring the Sierra to a full stop, the oil pressure indicator dies. It’s the only visible sign that the Sierra’s 5.3-liter V8 has gone into hibernation. Physically, there’s a slight death rattle as the Vortec checks out. When you take your foot off the brake, another tiny shudder announces the return of normal service. The switch between life support and impulse power is quick, but it’s no more seamless than a softball. If you’re in a hurry, you could even call it annoying. Of course, eco-conscious consumers are happy to put up with a few “quirks” to earn their environmental brownie points. Which brings us straight to the heart of the matter: what’s the mileage? General Motors claims that their Sierra Hybrid is 10 – 15% more fuel efficient than its traditionally-powered sibling. Impressed? Take a closer look…

Socket to those Arab oil sheiks!First of all, despite all my best efforts at accelerative restraint, I achieved no more than a 10% improvement over a similarly equipped, “normal” Sierra. That’s 16.5mpg vs. 15mpg– not exactly the kind of fuel economy that can change American foreign policy. Second, if saving the planet takes second place to protecting your financial resources, you’ll need about eight years to recoup the cost of the hybrid system: $6900 with mandatory optional (?) equipment. And lastly, where the Hell are the hybrid decals?

The Sierra Hybrid should be plastered with HUGE graphics trumpeting its high-tech green credentials. The two small hybrid door badges don’t cut it, not by a long chalk. Call me cynical, but what’s the point of being socially responsible if society doesn’t know about it? Anyway, did I mention that the Sierra Hybrid is an electric generator? Its AC sockets can provide power for up to 32 hours. Now THERE’S a good reason to buy one.

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