A dozen years ago, the term "sport-utility vehicle" was yet to be coined. Most vehicles in the class were unabashedly trucks, with rugged utility being a higher consideration in their design and appointments than style and comfort. With very few exceptions, they were not the sort of things to drive to the country club.
Times have changed. The image-making machines for many auto manufacturers are no longer sports cars but sport-utilities. For many reasons, they are incredibly popular with the car-buying public. SUVs are available at all levels from functionally spartan to elegantly luxurious. This week's subject, the Oldsmobile Bravada, fits very well into the affordable end of the luxury sport-utility segment, and fits very well into the Oldsmobile product line. Oldsmobile considers it to be the perfect garage mate to their Aurora luxury sedan.
The first-generation Bravada was discontinued in 1995, when the small General Motors sport-utility platform on which it was based was updated. Although the 1996 Bravada is a close cousin of the small Chevrolet and GMC SUVs, it has its own unique exterior styling and interior appointments. It is offered for sale only as a completely-equipped vehicle. Only five options are offered: a towing package that raises towing capacity from 2000 to 5000 lbs., an engine block heater, a CD player, white-letter tires, and gold trim.
A week in a Bravada was a week well spent. A quiet, refined, and comfortable machine, the Bravada is the Oldsmobile for all seasons.
APPEARANCE: Like all other four-door sport-utilities, the Bravada is a two-box design that looks much like a tall station wagon. At the front is a nosepiece incorporating a very Oldsmobile twin rectangular nostril grille and wraparound headlights with turn signals. The body-colored front bumper is more carlike than the chromed bumpers found on some SUVs, and has integral lights and another air intake. The bumper line and color is continued over the wheel arches into the side cladding and on to the rear bumper. The windows are flush-mounted with black gaskets, and the wipers, mirrors, and door handles are also black. Tinted privacy glass is used for the side and rear windows. Alloy wheels help state the Bravada's upscale mission. Unlike most other sport-utilities, the spare tire is mounted under the rear of the vehicle, for greater interior space and visibility.
COMFORT: The interior of the Bravada is worthy of the Oldsmobile name. Appointments, comfort, and quiet are at the same level as an American luxury car in the Bravada's price range. Upholstery is, of course, leather. Leather trim on the door panels and walnut veneer around the window controls and the console-mounted shifter are indicative of the Bravada's upscale status. The instrument panel places all gauges and controls correctly and has plenty of climate control vents. Storage spaces abound, and there is a useful aircraft-style overhead console. The steering wheel adjusts for tilt. The comfortable, supportive front bucket seats, unique to Olds, are patterned after those in the company's flagship Aurora sedan. The driver's seat is power-adjustable. The rear seat has good room for two people, and can be folded with a 60/40 split. When folding, the cushion automatically drops and moves forward, allowing a flat floor. Rear seat passengers are treated to their own door and seat pockets, and cupholders. Windows, mirrors, and door locks are power-operated, and a remote keyless entry system is standard. A low floor height makes access to the Bravada easier than for many sport-utilities.
SAFETY: Every Oldsmobile Bravada has a driver's side air bag, side- guard door beams, rear door child-safety locks and a power window lock- out switch, and 4-wheel antilock brakes.
ROADABILITY: As a contemporary upscale sport-utility, the Bravada's mission in life is more an all-season, all-weather passenger vehicle than an offroad machine. It is quiet, civilized and capable, and can certainly handle most off-road situations. In acknowledgement of the intended owner group's needs and desires, the Bravada is fitted with the "SmartTrak" all-wheel drive system. SmartTrak includes full-time all- wheel drive, four-wheel antilock brakes, and a locking rear differential. Operation of the system is automatic and transparent to the driver. Unlike older utility vehicles, there is no need to stop and engage four-wheel drive, or get out in inclement weather and lock the front hubs.
PERFORMANCE: The 4.3-liter Vortec V6 used in the Bravada was designed to give the power of a V8 and the fuel economy of a six-cylinder engine. With 190 horsepower, it gets the Bravada up to speed quickly. There is little mechanical noise, and a balance shaft in the engine makes it very smooth. Fuel economy is reasonable for a two-ton SUV. The four- speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly.
CONCLUSIONS: The Bravada is a very Oldsmobile sport-utility and complements the Aurora at the top of the company's product line.
SPECIFICATIONS 1996 Oldsmobile Bravada Sport-Utility Vehicle Base Price $ 29,505 Price As Tested $ 29,995 Engine Type V6, pushrod overhead valve, 12 valves Engine Size 4.3 liters / 262 cu. in. Horsepower 190 @ 4400 Torque (lb-ft) 250 @ 2800 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.0 in. / 180.9 in. Curb Weight 4184 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22.0 Fuel Capacity 19.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P235/70 R15 Michelin XW4 m+s Brakes, front/rear disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent, torsion bar with upper and lower control arms / solid axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs Ground Clearance 7.7 in. Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16/21/17 0 to 60 mph 10.0 sec Towing Capacity, lbs. 2000 standard, 5000 with options
1997 UPDATE: Although a 1996 Bravada was tested, 1997 models will be arriving soon. There will be some changes. Externally, the basic styling is unchanged but the 1996 model's two-piece lift-and-drop tailgate is replaced by a 1-piece, top-hinged liftgate for easier access. As on the current model, a rear-window defogger, washer, and wiper are standard equipment. An optional tilt-and-slide sunroof will be available.
Mechanically, the 1997 Bravada gets a new braking system. The current front disc / rear drum setup will be replaced by a four-wheel disc system. As on the 1996 Bravada, antilock brakes will be standard on the '97. There are also some minor changes to the transmission and driveline.
At the recent 1997 Oldsmobile press preview in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia I had the opportunity for a short test drive in a '97 Bravada on both paved and dirt roads. The changes for 1997 are primarily detail improvements and don't change the vehicle's character or abilities to a major extent. The rear liftgate does allow easier access for cargo and offers some weather protection loading or unloading in the rain.