Despite GM’s current sensible lineup of pickup trucks, crossovers, and the odd sedan, it wasn’t that long ago that traditional old General Motors made some seriously weird cars. Among the PT Cruiser copycats and retro-look sports trucks, the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV was one of the weirdest of the bunch. Welcome to GM Hit or Miss, a series in which we recall all the crazy stuff GM got up to and then collectively decide if they were good ideas or not.
In concept, the GMC Envoy XUV was a Chevrolet Avalanche built backwards. Instead of making a truck more SUV-like, GMC made an SUV more truck-like. The Avalanche was a crew cab for family duties with a folding midgate for long bed cargo room when needed. Most people would glance at it and say it’s a truck, so it filled a role as a suburban rig. The Envoy XUV, well, it’s complex enough to deserve more than a sentence or two.
Unlike the Chevrolet Avalanche, the Envoy XUV’s entire cargo area was enclosed up to roof level, meaning that the Envoy XUV needed a rear window in the midgate and then another rear window in the tailgate. In addition, the tailgate had to function as a tailgate, so GM plucked a feature from its historical department and made the rear window at the back of the actual vehicle roll down into the tailgate like you’d see on an old station wagon.
Of course, the window in the midgate rolled down as well, so the Envoy XUV had six window regulators for vertically-mounted windows. Weird. Oh, and the tailgate folded down like a normal truck tailgate and had a second latch and set of hinges to fold out in a side-hinged manner, but it wouldn’t swing out very far using the latter method. I don’t know about you, but 60 degrees of access doesn’t sound so great. Still, it’s an attempt, and it happened far before Honda launched the Ridgeline.
If you have a roof over a cargo area, you’re limited in capacity by the height of the roof. To solve this issue, GMC copied the Studebaker Lark Wagonaire’s notes and made the rear portion of the roof slide forward on top of the rest of the roof, with an attempt to hide the whole contraption coming in the form of roof rails. The result is a gawky but functional rear end, at least until the power-sliding roof craps out. Still, slide the roof back, and you end up with what is essentially an open truck bed, with the caveat that you can’t load cargo in from the sides. Best of all, that entire cargo area was designed to be water-resistant with the midgate up, to the point where the whole thing could be hosed out.
I know what you’re thinking: Nobody would actually hose out the cargo area on an SUV, but this is pre-recession GM we’re talking about, a company to which “nobody will ever use this shit” wasn’t an acceptable answer. They must’ve put a young hotshot engineer on the Envoy XUV cargo area because it came with the most overkill drainage solution that could’ve been implemented. Instead of a few normal drain plugs, GM invented one-way drains that supposedly needed no maintenance, then put five of them plus a trough in the back of the Envoy XUV to drain 25.096 gallons of water per minute. That’s 1,505.76 gallons per hour. Most commercial pressure washers only flow between three and six gallons per minute, and I’ve seen above-ground pool filters with less flow per hour. What on earth would you hose an Envoy XUV out with that requires even close to that much drainage?
So far, the GMC Envoy XUV sounds insane, because it is. However, it has one distinct advantage over an Avalanche that only appears if the climate it’s used in is suitably frigid. If you live in a frosty region and want to remove the tonneau cover panels to carry some dirty object of reasonable bulk in an Avalanche, it’s going to get snowed on if snow’s in the forecast. With the Envoy XUV, just chuck it in the back. It’ll be fine. No truck cap needed, no hassle. For that single use case, the Envoy XUV is perfect. It’s a finely-honed single-purpose winter hauler for dirty yet weather-sensitive cargo, one that only could’ve come from General Motors. Think of it a bit like Detroit’s equivalent of a CX Loadrunner.
What’s more, it actually got pretty good press when new. John Davis of Motorweek fame said, “Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV is a quick change artist, delivering rugged pick-em-up capabilities and a soft, spacious, and smooth sport-ute experience. By bringing back and improving on features of bygone people and thing movers, the XUV is very close to a one-truck-fits-all design,” and that “It’s the first truck-SUV crossover vehicle that truly lives up to its billing.”
Unfortunately, the general public failed to grasp the Envoy XUV’s functionality, for very sensible reasons. First off, the Envoy XUV actually offered less enclosed cargo space than the similarly-sized three-row Envoy XL. Then there was the complexity. Retracting windows and the roof section, folding seats, folding the midgate, it’s all more complicated than just folding down the seats in a regular SUV and getting on with it. In the end, the Envoy XUV was the end of the line. GM never made another SUV like it. Chalk this one up as a miss.
So, does the concept of the Envoy XUV deserve a second shot, or was once enough? I reckon that the idea of a modular SUV has some merit, especially if it were applied to a compact model. The Ford Maverick is insanely popular, compact crossovers are insanely popular, why not mash the two ideas together? Of course, it could also be complete toss and not a more useful vehicle than a regular crossover or pickup truck for any significant number of people. As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(Photo credits: GMC)
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My vet bought one of these things when they were brand new and I remember him being so excited that I asked about it that he took me out to the parking lot and showed me the whole midgate, retracting roof stuff. It seemed cool.
firstname.lastname@example.org hacked $15000 into my account, someone introduce them to me when i was seriously in need of funds
These things always seem like the “jack of all trades, master of none”. Instead of the best of both worlds, you end up with nothing but compromise (and in this case, much added complexity to make it all work).
Maybe if they started with a good vehicle to begin with, it would have been a bigger success.
I’ve seen a few of these, but never knew it had a midgate! Have to say the Avalanche is a better solution.