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2003 Auto Review: Road Impressions- GMC Envoy.

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SEE ALSO: GMC Buyer's Guide

Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

At the risk of alienating every friend I’ve ever had in Detroit let me come clean-I am not an SUV fan. I would not go quite as far as Keith Bradsher, former Detroit Bureau Chief of The New York Times but he does have a point, especially as far as large SUVs are concerned. The Envoy may be many things but small it certainly isn’t.

I am sure that GMCs of one sort or another are fine in Texas, in fact if I had a ranch and had to carry all the various things associated with farming I too would have one. In Marin County however, well, that is a different matter all together.

The sad part is that there is nothing Mr. Bradsher or I can do about it. The latest craze, that of the “must have” Hummer 2 is assuming truly farcical proportions. Tiburon is one of those rare places in the World where if a bicycle gets stolen it is reported in the local paper!

So what is the excuse of a former military pilot for purchasing one? “It has safety elements that I, as a father of three have to think about”. That it certainly does have Mr. Former Military pilot. And with your mentality I am surprised you don’t have a bazooka strapped to the front of it as well to get rid of slow-moving traffic.

I am truly astonished by the increasingly selfish attitude manifested by owners of all large SUVs in urban conurbations. The number of maids picking up one little Johnny or Judy from school in one of these monsters in truly amazing.

It is getting so bad that even Dr Runge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking notice. His mission: to decrease the danger that SUVs pose to occupants of passenger cars.

This is sad part. There are perfectly viable alternatives to SUVs which are predominantly used by city dwellers. Look at Volvos; look at the new VW Toureg, or for that matter look at several excellent alternatives to these monsters made by GM’s fully owned subsidiary –Opel- in Germany. They exist and exist with vastly better dynamic qualities than the Envoy.

The Envoy’s steering was so light and insensitive that I could turn the steering wheel 5-6 degrees and still carry on in a straight line. And, as for reversing without those bleeping gizmos… a nightmare.

Does the Envoy have things going for it? Of course.

The visibility is great, the seats are comfortable and there is lots of room for a large family. It has a powerful, 5.3 liter V8 engine in the finest GM tradition.

There is a GM garage in every town and village in the United States so should it ever break down (unlikely) spare parts would be readily available.

I am equally certain that boat owners will love it, .as it is a great towing machine.

It also keeps tens of thousands of workers in employment in Oklahoma and elsewhere who in turn buy food, shoes, DVDs, something I believe economists call the multiplier effect. Mind you, the Swedes building Volvos and Saabs also earn good wages and still manage to build cars and wagons which are safe for the passengers and offer less danger to occupants of another car in case of an accident. So it can be done and I have a feeling that it will be done in the not too distant future. Should fuel prices increase to say 3 dollars a gallon, attitudes may just change rather dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong, for 38 thousand dollars-before discounts- you do get a lot of truck for your money with nice and important touches such as first-rate Bilstein shock absorbers. It was equally reassuring to see 17 inch Michelin SUV tires fitted to the Envoy, those French guys make excellent tires, mind you, so they should after 100 years!

All in all, the Envoy is as good as any big SUV; my problem is with the breed not specifically with this particular truck. If you buy one just remember –especially if you are trading in a car, that the dynamic qualities will be inferior and sudden movements will more likely result in an accident than it would have been the case in an Accord or a Camry.