by John Heilig
SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 4.3-liter Vortec V-6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 190hp@4400 rpm/ 250lb-ft@2800 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic FUEL ECONOMY: 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, 18.6 mpg test WHEELBASE: 107.0 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 180.9 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 63.2 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 66.5 in. CURB WEIGHT: 4050 lbs FUEL CAPACITY: 18.0 gal. LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 37.3/74.1 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down) TIRES: P235/70R15 INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, battery voltage, compass, exterior temperature, digital clock. EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with CD, anti-lock braking, driver's side air bag. STICKER PRICE: $30,169
"The Leather Blazer" is a good way to refer to the Oldsmobile Bravada. The Bravada is basically the Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy with all the refinements that you would hope to have in an Oldsmobile.
As such, of course, it probably isn't going to see a lot of off-road time, or at least not in this trim. You may recall that when Oldsmobile introduced the redesigned Bravada in 1995 we had an opportunity to drive it on a dried-up riverbed, with mud, deep dirt and a small stream. The Bravada handled itself quite well.
On this extended test, we had an opportunity to drive it over mud and in heavy rain. We drove the car for 6-1/2 hours in a torrential downpour, and there are few other vehicles I would have felt as comfortable in. It fit in well at the tractor pull, too.
Bravada is powered by a 4.3-liter V-6 engine. It's the Vortec V-6 that serves GM so well and is rated at 190 horsepower. It drives the wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox with a console- mounted shifter. You don't really need more power.
Handling was also very good, although the variable ratio power steering seemed hard. Granted, we've been driving some imported sedans with variable ratio power steering that I feel is too light at low speeds, so I must be hard to satisfy.
In the Oldsmobile version of the sport utility it has full-time four-wheel drive. This means that the power goes to the wheels with less slippage should there be loss of traction. This is an advantage because you don't have to worry about what the road conditions are and you don't have to shift a transfer case lever or even flip a switch on the dash. The car thinks it for you. It's called SmartTrak and works very well. I'm sure there were situations where any other four-wheel drive would have slipped before we switched the transfer case; the Bravada did the thinking for us.
As I said at the top, this is the leather version and it has a full array of accessories; AM/FM stereo- CD, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, fog lamps, rear washer and wiper, remote rear hatch release, and extra power outlets.
For 1997, the tailgate arrangement is changed. On the older Bravadas, the tailgate was a clamshell affair, with the window going up and the tailgate dropping down. This was somewhat inconvenient if you wanted to reach something in the front of the cargo area. Oldsmobile supplies a "Rock's box" that slides out, but it was still difficult reaching in there. The Rock's box was an idea of former Oldsmobile general manager John Rock, and so it was named after him. The new tailgate still has a window that pops open if you don't need the full tailgate, but the tailgate now lifts up in one piece, allowing you to reach in further.
There were a couple of times during our extended test when we used the Bravada as a truck, rather than as a big luxury sedan. We supported a garage sale sponsored by my daughter's humane society and transported a lot of articles from their storage site to the sale site (and ended up transporting a lot of large articles back home with us). On the home front we used it to take the grass clippings and leaves to the town dump. The Rock's box helped get some of these materials out. It's somewhat inconvenient if you need a flat storage area.
The sticker for the Bravada is $30,000. You get some goodies for that money, including the leather and wood trim. Some of the goodies will cost extra in the Blazer and Jimmy. You'll feel comfortable in a Bravada. There aren't many vehicles that can do all the jobs this one can.