The Next-Generation SUVs from General Motors

Sampling the Newest Utes

Craig PerronnePhotographer, Writer

Yes, America, everything’s coming up SUVs, and this latest batch is from General Motors. For now there seems to be no limit to the American appetite for SUVs, and with sales still climbing, manufacturers are quick to fill any possible niche they can find. The all-new 2001 Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy are slated to do battle in the midsize SUV category, which includes such major competitors as the new Ford Explorer. GM knows that this is a tough area to compete in so it built a completely new vehicle—it’ll do duty as both a Chevrolet and a GMC—instead of redesigning an existing one.

Powering both vehicles is the all-new, all-aluminum Vortec 4200 inline six. The 4.2L six uses dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and a 10:1 compression ratio to produce 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. The torque curve of the Vortec 4200 is very flat, with 90 percent of peak torque available between 1,600 rpm and 5,600 rpm.

Backing up the inline six is the familiar 4L60E four-speed automatic found in many other GM trucks and SUVs. Also a carryover from other vehicles is the Autotrac transfer case that features an auto 4WD setting, along with four high and four low.

The front suspensions incorporate double A-arms with Bilstein shocks, coil springs, and an antiroll bar. In the rear, we were glad to find a solid axle suspended by coils and held in place with a five-link. An option on the GMC Envoy is the ECAS (Electronically Controlled Air Suspension) system that completely replaces the coils with air bags. Two electronic sensors feed data to an electronic control unit that controls a compressor to pressurize the air bags. This helps to maintain proper ride height when the vehicle is towing or loaded. Compared to its predecessors, the TrailBlazer and Envoy are eight inches longer, four inches wider, seven inches taller, and have a six-inch-longer wheelbase. All of these increased dimensions allowed for 12 more cubic feet of storage and a much roomier interior.

During our brief driving experience with both the Envoy and the TrailBlazer, we found the 4200 Vortec to supply a good amount of power. However, the Vortec six lacked the push-you-back-in-the-seat sensation of many V-8s we have driven. Could this be related to the vehicle’s very flat torque curve, or could it be that the vehicle is slower than its V-8 competitors? We’ll save judgment until we can actually get them on a dragstrip.

On the pavement, handling was good, as both vehicles had very little body roll and could handle the twisty stuff with relative ease. The TrailBlazer has a stiffer rear suspension than the Envoys we drove, and this made the TrailBlazer slightly more capable in the corners. Both vehicles provided a nice highway ride.

Once we got on the dirt, we were impressed with the suspensions on both vehicles. The mild trail we traversed was filled with small stutter bumps and ruts that usually jar most vehicle suspensions, but the Bilstein shocks and coils did their jobs and soaked up the bumps nicely. However, much to our dismay, both vehicles are very low to the ground and will have a hard time in rougher terrain.

Under the hood is the all-new Vortec 4200 inline six that produces 270 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. The front differential is a strange design—it mounts to the side of the engine’s oil pan. An axleshaft passes right through the pan.

Besides the obvious exterior differences, the Chevy (above) and GMC (below) also receive different interior treat- ments. Other differences include an airbag rear suspension that is available only on the GMC. With that exception, both vehicles share identical powertrains and chassis.

We were glad to find a solid axle in the back of both vehicles instead of the independent rear suspension (IRS) we have been seeing on other vehicles. Besides being stronger, the solid-axle, five-link design provides greater articulation than the IRS-equipped vehicles we have driven.

The TrailBlazer and Envoy are both low to the ground, as is obvious in this photo. Expect the low-hanging spare tire, resonator, and rear antiroll bar to get trashed on rougher trails.

Compared to the vehicles they replace, both the TrailBlazer and the Envoy are big steps forward. However, will the American public accept a midsize SUV without a V-8 in it? General Motors seems to think it will. We’ll wait and see.

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