2003 GMC Envoy XL
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell

Is Bigger Really Better?

With the simple addition of a little length and a little power, GM has added a little more utility to the mid-sized Envoy SUV. The Envoy XL represents a practical alternative to a full-size SUV as its 7-passenger seating arrangement is well thought-out and very comfortable. The wheelbase has been stretched an extra 16-inches over that of a standard Envoy, giving it the interior space of a larger SUV while maintaining the convenient width and height of a mid-size model. The extra length is only a nuisance when backing up, as the extended body is too large for most parallel spots on city streets, but by keeping the vehicle quite narrow, it slips nicely into parkade spots or a standard garage.

The long wheelbase results in a plush ride, and gives the vehicle an interesting side profile. On more than one occasion I had passersby ask me if the Envoy XL was a custom unit, as it bears a striking resemblance to a limousine.

Bigger Size Means Bigger Power

The standard length Envoy comes equipped with a powerful 275 horsepower inline six-cylinder motor, but opting for the XL will allow you to order the optional and very robust 5.3-litre V8. With 290 ponies corralled under the hood and 325 lb-ft of torque, the Envoy XL’s V8 offers a potent mixture of pulling power (perfect if you own a trailer or are hauling a lot of cargo or kids), or just want to blister your tires prior to a stoplight drag race. The XL’s V8 is more than up to the task.

Power comes on smooth and strong, and the 4-speed automatic transmission seems the perfect match for this package. I didn’t get the opportunity to hook up a trailer during my test, but I did spend a day with a bunch of friends and their gear that included a wide variety of terrain both on and off road. The engine never felt stressed at all, and was able to summon up the power to pass even on the short uphill passing lanes that sporadically dot the Sea-to-Sky Highway on the way to the Whistler ski area from Vancouver. All this is accompanied by a throaty rumble from the exhaust that acts to remind you and your passengers of the glory of an American V8.

On The Road

2003 GMC Envoy XL

2003 GMC Envoy XL

2003 GMC Envoy XL

2003 GMC Envoy XL

2003 GMC Envoy XL

2003 GMC Envoy XL
Click image to enlarge

The Envoy’s V8 offers plenty of grunt, a high-performance exhaust note and a very smooth power delivery. The four-speed transmission never missed a beat, and shift points seem very deliberate and thought-out. Even under high load conditions the combination felt like it always had power to spare.

Ride and handling felt less-truck-like than many of its competitors, as a great deal of work was done to give the Envoy platform a refined ride, erasing the hurdle that keeps many buyers from moving into a SUV instead of a large car or minivan. A combination of A-arms and coil-over shocks up front, and a coil spring system in the rear, as well as the use of advanced hydro-forming technology in the Envoy’s frame design rewards the platform with stiffness levels similar to those found in high-end sedans. Buyers looking to tow a trailer can also add an electronically controlled air spring suspension in the rear, which features automatic load-leveling capabilities, as well as the benefit of an onboard air compressor for filling sports equipment and tires.

The Envoy XL only exhibited minor brake fade, and only after a long decent on a very curvy ski-hill access road. During regular, everyday use the driver will likely never face such a situation. I did have to readjust my concept of braking distances a little in this vehicle at first, as the extra weight likes to reveal itself when the brakes are employed.

Loaded With Luxury

The Envoy is available two trim levels: SLE and SLT, but a healthy options list offers consumers a chance to equip the vehicle to meet their needs. The SLE version comes standard with a luxurious cloth interior and a host of power features (locks, windows and mirrors), OnStar, keyless entry, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a power driver’s seat. Ticking the SLT option package adds a driver information center, automatic climate control, plush leather seating surfaces and a multi-function steering wheel.

The Envoy has one of the slickest steering wheels I have ever seen in a vehicle of this type, or any type for that matter. The four spoke design is much nicer than the two spoke units found in many GM products, and offers a host of comfortable hand positions. It also features handy switches and controls to operate the stereo, cruise control, the HVAC (including temperature) and the driver information centre (fuel levels, temperatures, service info, etc.).

Huge central air vents keep the interior climate in check, and separate roof-mounted units for both second and third row occupants help circulate the air to keep the cabin comfy. Second row passengers have their own set of controls located at the end of the centre console, so when the space is not being used the driver can switch this unit off. Power rear window units in the very back can also be activated at the touch of button, and were very effective at air exchange.

My test vehicle came with power mirrors equipped with the curb assist feature. The driver can select to have one (or both)of the mirrors to automatically tilt downwards when the gear selector slides into reverse, ensuring that the driver will be better equipped to keep the wheels away from the curbing. With the astronomical cost to repair aluminum wheels, not to mention the detrimental affect curb rash can have on both the wheel’s strength and appearance.

Audiophiles will love the very powerful Bose-engineered audio system featuring a 6-disc CD-changer and steering wheel mounted controls. GMC also offers a roof-mounted, flip-down DVD system with wireless headphones to entertain rear seat occupants, and if long family trips or carpools are part of your routine, having one of these factory-installed is a good idea. While the aftermarket offers a host of entertainment systems, the GMC unit frees you from install headaches and is covered by a full warranty. Even better, the purchase price just folds into your monthly payment, so you won’t be faced with the prospect of having to cut another big cheque.

Full length side steps are mounted on both sides of the Envoy, and while they are handy for both ingress and egress, my only complaint is they are very tough to clean. Being flush mounted, there is no space for built up dirt or road debris to escape, so pant legs and skirts may become soiled accidentally.

The Envoy is a very luxurious vehicle, and the quality of the materials as well as the fit and finish is impeccable. The sumptuous 8-way power leather seats are very comfortable and supportive, and feature seat warmers with separate controls for back and bottom heating units. The rear seats are just as nicely finished as the front units, which was a surprise, as some manufacturers like to simplify the design of the secondary seating.

Acres of Space

The interior is very luxurious as well as spacious. The vehicle’s three rows of seats offer up a seven-passenger seating capacity, almost unheard of in this class. With a host of folding options as well as relatively easy removal, one can customize the interior layout to meet their individual needs.

Loading the Envoy is a breeze, as the rear hatch is very wide and the sill height is relatively low. However, the hatch itself is relatively heavy and swings upward by design. This is great when loading or unloading as it offers some protection from the elements, but can be a problem for shorter and weaker users when it comes time to close. If someone parks too close to the rear of the vehicle it may also make it difficult to open. Luckily, the loading of smaller packages can take place through the rear window, which swings out of the way at the touch of a button. The cargo area features a hard cover that can be used as a shelf, and is durable enough to support the weight of a medium dog. It would be nice if GM added some bag hooks to the seatbacks or side walls however.

If more space is required, the Envoy XL features an integrated roof rail system, standard on all Envoy models, to which a cargo box or roof rack can be fitted.

Safety First

Dual front airbags come standard on the Envoy XL, and side units are available as an option. Big four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and available four-wheel drive will keep this land yacht under control.

The Envoy’s terrific headlamps are supplemented by bright cornering lights, driving lamps and huge reverse lamps, all ensuring that the driver will have optimal visibility when darkness falls. The electro-chromatic rearview mirror keeps your eyes free from headlight glare, but the ultra-dark tint rear windows alleviate this problem very well on their own.

Turn signals are integrated in the Envoy’s side mirrors (SLT), a trend that seems to be catching on, and although they greatly improve visibility, they do also have a drawback. I found that on sunny days the sunlight would glint off the amber plastic and distract my attention away from the road. For some reason the plastic piece was made about twice as large as it really needs to be, as only a small portion of the unit lights up. The system would be better if it was on the front of the mirror housing, rather than underneath, as it would alert oncoming traffic of your intentions to turn without drawing your own eye away from the task at hand. Maybe you get used to it.

GM’s ever-popular OnStar system finds its way onboard to offer its subscribers everything from directions to emergency assistance, and having used this service on a number of products, I can attest that it is a worthwhile addition to any vehicle.

Big Value?

The Envoy XL is well priced for such a feature-laden vehicle and for most users, offers enough space to forego the purchase of one of the larger SUVs on the market. It should appeal to those consumers in need of third-row seating and big pulling power, as well as those looking for a sense of style. In the fall GMC will roll another Envoy offering into showrooms, known as the Envoy XUV. This innovative model is based on the XL and will bring the ‘midgate’ design pioneered by the Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac’s Escalade EXT to the Envoy line, adding increased flexibility as well as a sense of exclusivity to an already dynamic package.

Technical Data: 2003 GMC Envoy XL

Base price $40,830 base (2WD), $49,520 (SLT-4WD)
Type 4-door, 7-passenger mid-size SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/RWD/4WD
Engine 4.2 litre in-line six / 5.3-litre V8
Horsepower 275 hp @ 6,000 rpm / 290 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque 275 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 rpm / 330 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive (optional)
Tires 245/65R-17
Curb weight 2WD – 2194 kg. (4836 lb.); 4WD – 2277 kg. (5020 lb.)
Towing capacity 2,676 kg. (5,900 lb.) / 3,266 kg. (7,200 lb.)
Wheelbase 3277 mm (129.0 in)
Length 5273 mm (207.6 in)
Width 1894 mm (74.6 in)
Height 1958 mm (77.1 in)
Trunk space 339 litres (12.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 15.7 l/100 km (18 mpg)
  Hwy 10.5 l/100 km (27 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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