The GMC Envoy was launched for 2002 as an upscale, "professional grade" iteration of the prolific General Motors GMT-360 midsize SUV platform that has spawned the Buick Rainier, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Oldsmobile Bravada, and most recently, the Saab 9-7x. The Envoy's high feature content, strong powertrains, impressive on- and off-road ability, and varied work talents earned it praise and distinction. For 2005, the Envoy range is expanded with new Envoy Denali and Denali XL models. As with other GMC truck lines, Denali models tout upgraded interior trim and bigger standard engines. Most noteworthy of the Denali add-ons is the 5.3-liter/300-horse V-8. When it comes to fuel efficiency, Displacement on Demand, which deactivates certain cylinders while cruising, compensates for the V-8 XL's weight penalty. Other trim levels are equipped standard with a 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine making 275 horsepower. Both powerplants can drive the rear wheels, with part-time four-wheel-drive a desirable upgrade. Unfortunately, 2005 will be the last model year for the transformable Envoy XUV. The idea of an SUV that could turn into a pickup sounded brilliant in theory, but the miniscule bed opening left auto shoppers wondering how many giraffes they would possibly need to haul, and slow sales of this pricey variant have prompted GMC to cancel production.
The Envoy wears conservative sheetmetal, giving the traditional SUV silhouette a tasteful, even upscale appearance, with design symmetry evident in the side glass and muscular fender bulges. In keeping with the restrained aesthetic, the front fascia incorporates large headlights and a simple, attractive grille. Aptly named XL models are considerably bigger than the base Envoy, with a 16-inch-longer wheelbase and overall length. Stretching 207.6 inches bumper to bumper, the XL is almost nine inches longer than a GMC Yukon.
Key body details help differentiate Envoy models from one another: The XL has a much longer second door than the base model, and its rear cargo section is shaped differently. The XUV has a unique roof and rear-hatch treatment in dark gray plastic. And the Denalis now are distinguished by a perforated, chrome grille that resembles a battery-powered shaver, as well as a fresh front airdam design. Denali models also get 17-inch polished aluminum wheels and a load-leveling rear suspension. Towing heavy loads can cause traditional spring suspensions to sag, reducing ride quality, steering control, and towing ability. GMC engineers have addressed this problem by installing an air-spring rear suspension. Inflating the air spring prevents sagging and returns ride height to normal, resulting in a more refined ride, both laden and unladen.
The interior of the Envoy is more upscale than its Chevrolet stablemate's, with a decidedly masculine appearance. Faux satin-nickel gauges and air-vent bezels are the most prominent interior features. GMC designers tried hard to hide the fact that most of the interior components come from the corporate parts bin by burying them deep in simulated wood trim. They achieved moderate success, but pieces such as the climate control don't look integrated into the center console. The controls may not be pretty, but their layout is familiar and easy to use. Abundant seams around trim elements, dash components, and passenger airbag detract from the presentation.
Seats come in cloth or optional leather, but neither provides the comfort seen in other like-priced competitors. These perches provide almost no side bolstering for lateral support, something missed on long trips. The seating position is high, but there's plenty of head- and shoulder room for six-foot-plus drivers. The second-row and optional third-row seats have ample room, but are just as uncomfortable as the fronts, with a very upright seating position. Rear-seat passengers may forget their discomfort while watching the optional DVD entertainment system or listening to the optional Bose sound system with in-dash CD changer.