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The GMC Envoy features a broad lineup of versatile, sophisticated, and highly capable SUVs. About a dozen different variants are available, including the luxurious Denali.
The standard Envoy is a five-passenger SUV with two rows of comfortable seats. The SLE and SLT models are compelling alternatives to the Ford Explorer and other mid-size SUVs. Stable and responsive with excellent road manners, the Envoy comes with a smooth, powerful inline six-cylinder engine that has been updated for 2006.
The Envoy Denali is equipped with a more powerful V8 engine that improves its performance and increases its cargo-hauling and trailer-towing capability. This optional 5.3-liter V8 features GM's Displacement on Demand technology, which idles half the cylinders when cruising to enhance fuel economy. Denali is also upgraded with luxury features and special trim, including 18-inch aluminum wheels for 2006.
The extra-long Envoy XL models are considerably longer, allowing seven-passenger seating and greater hauling versatility. Because it's longer and heavier, the XL doesn't handle as well as the Envoy nor does it feel as reassuring as the wider GMC Yukon. In short, we much prefer the Envoy and Yukon over the Envoy XL, though the latter does represent a value proposition.
Safety gets a major addition for 2006, as all Envoys come equipped with GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control with Proactive Roll Avoidance. This system uses selective wheel braking and compensating shock absorber adjustments to help maintain vehicle control on slick and uneven road surfaces, as well as during emergency lane changes or avoidance maneuvers. It's a great system.
As mentioned, we enjoy driving the GMC Envoy and Denali models, but don't care too much for the longer, heavier XL versions.
The 4.2-liter six-cylinder engine that comes standard on the Envoy is smooth and powerful, and it's a perfect companion for these vehicles. This engine is a modern inline-6 with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable phasing for the exhaust cam to produce 291 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. That's significantly more than the 210 horsepower produced by the 2006 Ford Explorer's 4.0-liter V6.
GMC's 4.2-liter six is EPA-rated 16/21 mpg city/highway in an Envoy 2WD.
It's an excellent engine, and with its broad and bountiful torque, the transmission doesn't have to downshift excessively to generate power. Stand on the gas and the full-throttle upshift comes at about 6000 rpm, and the engine feels like it's only striding, not screaming. About 90 percent of the GMC's peak torque is available at just 1600 rpm, and it's still there at 5600 rpm. That means quick response at any engine speed, allowing the Envoy to bound past trucks on steep uphill two-lanes.
The smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission is the proven Hydramatic 4L60-E, used in GM applications from Corvettes to Cadillac Escalades, and used for both the 4.2-liter inline-6 and 5.3-liter V8. A 3.42:1 rear-end ratio is standard for maximum economy, but ratios of 3.73 and 4.10 are offered for easier towing. With so much torque available, we couldn't discern a significant improvement in acceleration performance with the 4.10. Towing was a high engineering priority, and an Envoy is rated to tow 6300 pounds with 2WD, 6200 pounds with 4WD.
The 5.3-liter V8 is standard on the Denali models. It develops 300 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, which is a bit more power than the 2006 Explorer's optional 4.6-liter V8. An Envoy Denali is rated to tow 6600 pounds with 2WD, 6500 pounds with 4WD. All Envoys come with a trailer hitch platform and seven-wire trailer harness.
The V8 features GM's Displacement on Demand technology, which shuts down four of the eight cylinders when they are not needed, for up to 8 percent better fuel mileage under light-load conditions. The engine-management computer instantly revives the sleeping cylinders the second the driver demands more go. This all happens transparently and is undetectable in normal, everyday driving. The 5.3-liter V8 is EPA-rated 15/20 City/Highway mpg.
Once underway, the Envoy feels smooth and stable, even at high speeds. It rides smooth and car-like at lower speeds without being overly soft in corners. Yet it's sufficiently compliant for stable handling on bumpy roads. We found the rear end stayed impressively planted when going over washboard surfaces at high speeds. The Envoy is designed to lean exactly 5 degrees in corners, then stop leaning. Envoy's track is among the widest in the class (wider than the 2006 Explorer and the Toyota 4Runner, for example). Also, the engine is mounted relatively low, lowering the Envoy's center of gravity. A low center of gravity means better handling and stability.
The available load-leveling air suspension is intended to provide a more luxurious ride. It uses a silent air compressor, which yields one additional benefit: a 22-foot air hose that attaches to a small valve in a compartment in the cargo area, and can be used for filling everything from tires to toys. Off-road, we found that the load-leveling suspension bottomed easily, signaling a need for the optional skid plates. Our test model had the skid plates, of course, which we dragged in soft sand, chugging easily along at 5 mph in Auto4WD. On low-speed whoop-de-doos, the front end bobbed up and down more than we would have liked.
The Envoy's four-wheel-drive system, called Autotrac, works well and features four settings: 2WD, Auto4WD, 4HI and 4LO. Auto4WD automatically apportions p
The GMC Envoy is an excellent choice among midsize sport utilities. Envoy is well-engineered and enjoyable to drive, stable and responsive with good brakes and a superb inline six-cylinder engine. The Envoy Denali models are luxuriously equipped and come with a more powerful 5.3-liter V8. The extra-long XL models are ponderous, lacking the handling and responsiveness of the standard-length models.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough is based in Los Angeles.