Life after death leaves lasting impressions of perhaps GM's best SUV.
by Lesley Hazleton
A reviewer's life is rarely quite this strange. I'd just spent three days in Baja California driving pre-production models of the new 2002 Olds Bravada midsize SUV. That is, I drove them (on-road and off) during the day, got pie-eyed on tequila at night, and in between, was lectured on everything from what women want - the Bravada has the highest rate of women buyers in its segment - to the most arcane details of the new Vortec 4200 engine.
Then I flew back to the States to the announcement that General Motors was pulling the plug on Oldsmobile.
That's the oddest way to launch a new model that I've ever come across. But if Oldsmobile has to go, the Bravada is certainly the perfect way to do it in style.
Not that Olds will disappear overnight. Sales, support, and service for the new Bravada will continue for several years, and even when the Olds brand finally does fade into that good night, the model will be fully serviceable through GMC and Chevrolet, since it's essentially one of three triplets - a sophisticated sister with the same genetic/mechanical makeup as the somewhat more macho GMC Envoy and the more down-to-earth Chevy TrailBlazer.
The Bravada is the most luxurious and all-around smoothest of the trio. The leather seats and burled-walnut trim are aimed not at hard-core off-roaders or at fervid boat- and camper-towers - though the Bravada can do these things as well as its siblings - but at urbanites and suburbanites who like their sport-utes stylish rather than feral.
GM marketers maintain that this is why the Bravada has particular appeal to women (last year, 45 percent of Bravada buyers were women, and the new model is expected to attract 50 percent). They may be right, though I of course have a couple of other ideas about why women buy Bravadas.
There's the name for a start. Don't laugh. I once bought an Integra partly because the name made me feel full of integrity. And I have been known to exhibit my own particular brand of bravada on several occasions.
Then there's a huge plus in the fact that the OnStar virtual advisor and emergency calling system comes as standard equipment - a prime appeal to women, who are generally more security-conscious than men on the road.
And of course there's the little matter of price. Women are far more price-conscious than men, for the very good reason that we're still battling to make up that notorious pay difference between men and women. And Oldsmobile, suffering in the market these past few years, has been offering great incentives on its products. Interest-free loans and huge cash-back payments are great ways to lure price-conscious buyers.
But the new 2002 Bravada adds a whole pile more appeal to the package. To start with, it's the only one of the GM midsize trio that will be offered in two-wheel-drive as well as all-wheel-drive. On the all-wheel-drive models, the SmartTrac system operates in two-wheel-drive under normal driving conditions, but at the first sign of wheel slippage, reacts in a quarter of a second to send the right amount of corrective power to the wheel or wheels with the most traction. Fully automatic, with no buttons to push to change drive mode, it offers the security of all-wheel-drive without the fuss.
Then there's the 4.2-liter in-line six Vortec 4200 engine, offering what GM calls "the power of a V-8, the efficiency of a six-cylinder." Sure enough, the Vortec's 270 horsepower beats everything in its class, and a full 90 percent of its 275 lb-ft of torque is available all the way from 1600 to 6000 rpm. Translation: this thing hauls. And it feels firmly in control. None of that floating feeling that I've long associated with GM sport-utes.
Plus it really is smooth. Noise and vibration are the lowest in its class, aided by variable valve timing, electronic throttle control, and monotube shock absorbers tested in the Vortec off-road racing program. The electronically controlled air suspension allows side-to-side leveling as well as front-to-rear, and huge vented disc brakes with standard four-channel ABS make controlled braking a certainty.
More, the new Bravada really takes account of what drivers experience in everyday driving. It has a great turning circle, for instance - tighter and more precise, in fact, than that of many mini-sport-utes. The seatbelts are built into the seats, making for greater safety and comfort than the usual pillar-attached ones. The remote key fob not only controls the locks and alarm system, but also adjusts seat position and mirrors to your individual setting. And the headrests adjust four ways - back and forward as well as up and down - so that if, like me, you favor wide-brimmed hats, you don't have to take them off to drive or else get a crick in your neck.
Priced competitively and aimed at urban and suburban buyers, the new Bravada should be a winner. Way to go, Oldsmobile. A nice swan song.
2002 Oldsmobile Bravada
Base price: $32,000 (est.)
Engine: 4.2-liter in-line six-cylinder, 270 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.6 in x 75.4 in x 71.9 in
Wheelbase: 113.0 in
Curb weight: 4442-4628 lb
EPA (City/Hwy): 15/20 mpg (est.)
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, power locks/windows/mirrors, OnStar, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
© 2001 The Car Connection