GM's midsize SUVs continue to receive significant changes and enhancements. Midway through last year, long-wheelbase versions of the Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy were added to the line, making room for a third row of seats and seven-passenger seating. Both can be ordered with a 290hp Vortec 5300 V-8 in addition to the standard Vortec 4200 inline-six (which gets a 5hp boost to 275 hp). Coming in late 2003 (as an '04 model) is the Envoy XUV, with a retractable rear roof section, two-way tailgate, and next-generation Midgate, all of which combine to make the Envoy's cargo area capable of hauling oversized gear.
The biggest news from GM, however, is the introduction of the '03 Hummer H2, a more civilized and, as GM puts it, "more accessible" Hummer than the straight-outta-Kuwait H1. The H2 shares a lot of engineering with the Suburban/Tahoe SUVs, since they're all based on the same GMT 800 platform, but it would be a mistake to consider the H2 a facelifted Sub. Its wheels have been pushed out to the chassis' corners for increased stability and shorter overhangs front and rear; it sits on LT315/70R17 (nearly 35-inch) tires; and it's powered by a 315hp version of the Vortec 6000 V-8 mated to a full-time Borg-Warner 4WD system. The H2 is capable off-road (more so than its big brother, we think) but it's also a cush on-road ride, one we'd gladly take on extended long-distance hauls.
Isuzu is adding another SUV to its Rodeo/Axiom/Trooper lineup: the Ascender, which springs from the same family tree as GM's midsize SUVs. Power comes from either a 275hp 4.2L inline-six or 285hp 5.3L V-8; and its overall length, wheelbase, and track widths are identical to the TrailBlazer EXT and Envoy XL. Suspension and 4WD-system specs are similar too. Ascender would slot in at the top of Isuzu's SUV offerings, as it's considerably larger and more powerful than the current Trooper. It may even replace the long-in-the-tooth Troop.
Certainly the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon qualifies as one of the most eagerly anticipated launches for the new year, with its 4.10-geared Dana 44 axles, front and rear diff locks, Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case, and 31-inch Goodyear MT/R tires. But the news from Jeep doesn't stop there. Entry-level Wranglers now get the Liberty's 150hp Power Tech 2.4L I-4, with 25 percent more horsepower than the earlier 2.5 four-banger, backed by the Liberty's NV1500 heavy-duty five-speed trans. There's a new four-speed automatic tranny, the 42RLE, available on all Wrangler models. And the Wrangler's interior has been reworked, with new seats, a four-spoke steering wheel, and some new interior options.
A Renegade appearance package has been added to the Liberty line, featuring a roof-mounted lightbar, roof basket, wheel flares, removable side steps, and unique wheels. Otherwise the Liberty is largely unchanged. Well, except for that whole, "slightly lowered ride height to improve highway ride and handling" deal. Likewise the Grand Cherokee is virtually a carryover from last year, with minor changes like new shock valving, lighter brake pedal feel, and adjustable pedals.
Kia is introducing an all-new SUV called the Sorento. It's larger and more powerful than its Sportage stablemate; a "real" SUV, if you will, with a ladder frame, seating for five, a 3.5L, a 192hp engine, and a part-time transfer case. Options include a "torque on demand" automatic 4WD system and an Eaton limited slip rear differential. Kia says the Sorento will "set a new standard for value in the midsize SUV segment," though as of this writing no price had been set.