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2003 Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide
by Steve Siler

Chevrolet Trailblazer / GMC Envoy
Oldsmobile Bravada / Buick Rainier
Chevy Trailblazer

Last year, GM rolled out its new-generation mid-size SUVs, which far exceeded our expectations and showed us that, when it really wants to, the giant automaker really can pump out some swell vehicles.

Then again, GM has always been pretty good at the truck thing (ever noticed how many Chevy and GMC pickups you see on the roads? Trust us, there are too many to count). Evidently, GM's truck building resources have not been wasted on the development of these trucks, and as of this fall, no fewer than four of GM's brands will offer variants of it, in two lengths. Such variety should be great news for shoppers looking for a solid, mid-size SUV that place feature content, space and power high on their list of priorites.

The GM quadruplets are by no means eensy little trucksters-actually they are rather close to full-sizers (especially in the long-wheelbase, 7-seat Trailblazer and Envoy "XL" iterations). The more conspicuous benefits of such generous exterior dimensions are outstanding hip and shoulder room, especially in the second row. Furthermore, each of these trucks are loaded with features -even the base Trailblazer features dual-zone a/c and side air bags, for example, while the Envoy gets a little more standard equipment and the Buick and Oldsmobile versions are simply loaded. The prices correspond to the amount of equipment, with the $25K-$35K Trailblazer aimed at value-driven buyers, the $30K-$40K Envoy is targeted to somewhat more upscale buyers. The Rainier and Bravada are a tad bit more dear, but no variant is what we would consider truly expensive.

Power comes by way of a super powerful 4.2-liter six-cylinder (275 hp), or an even more powerful 5.3-liter V-8 (285 hp). Our nod goes to the six-cylinder on account of its efficiency and near-equal output, but both engines are silky smooth and quiet. Of note for performance junkies, the Rainier is the only one that makes the V-8 available in the short-wheelbase bodystyle.

Chevy Trailblazer

New this year is the one-of-a-kind Envoy XUV, which is essentially a long-wheelbase Envoy with an innovative cargo area that hauls up like a pickup or seals up like an SUV. This is due to the replacement of the third-row seat with a hose-out cargo area topped by a retractable roof and that also features a "midgate" that folds forward, thus expanding the cargo area to more than eight feet in length. Think of it as a Chevrolet Avalanche with more elegant styling and less overall heft. And at a starting price of just north of $31K, the XUV is a bargain, too.