Bravado — derived from the Old Spanish world, “Bravada”, it is defined as an ostentatious display of bravery or defiance, often in order to make a false impression or mislead someone. I doubt few could have anticipated the irony when the Bravada was first commissioned back in 1990, but this term very accurately describes the final Oldsmobile Bravada, a promising premium SUV that could have been a big success for the ailing brand. Unfortunately, no less than two days after its first press introduction, GM made the announcement that they would promptly kill off the Oldsmobile brand over the next couple years, sealing the third generation Bravada’s fate before it even went on sale.
Previous Bravadas were little more than rebadged versions of the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Jimmy with higher specification equipment, differentiated by prominent lower bodyside cladding and monochromatic exterior trim, unique grille, fancier alloy wheels, an interior with higher grade leather upholstery and a few extra options, and permanent all-wheel drive, dubbed Smart Trak.
The first generation Bravada was sold for the 1991-1994 model years and the second generation for the 1996-2001 model years. No 1995 model was offered, as it was rumored Oldsmobile was in talks with Isuzu to base a larger and more luxurious Bravada off of the Isuzu Trooper. No such plan ever came to fruition, and the second generation Bravada continued on the path of the first.
Although differentiation over its siblings did increase a tad over the years, nothing could hide the fact that the Bravada was little more than a high-spec, gussied-up Blazer/Jimmy, collectively, SUVs that were becoming painstakingly outclassed and outdated by far more more capable competitors.
By comparison, the new third generation Bravada sought to address its predecessors’ shortcomings. First and foremost, it was treated to far more exclusive exterior styling more in line with Oldsmobile sedans, for only the windshield, front door panels, roof and tailgate were shared with its Chevrolet and GMC siblings (later Buick and Saab variants would recycle more of the Bravada’s sheetmetal).
Inside, the Bravada received its own dash board, door panel, and seat design, in addition to the expected standard amenties befitting of its premium status. Mechanically, the third generation Bravada was highlighted by and all-new DOHC, all-aluminum 4.2-liter inline-6, making an impressive 270 horsepower and 275 lb-ft torque, increases of 80 and 25, respectively, as well as a new load-leveling rear air suspension.
While the third generation Oldsmobile Bravada offered significant improvement and finally, a healthy dose of distinctiveness over its predecessors, it did have its shortcomings, chiefly in the fit and finish realm. I mean, Kate Moss could fit between the body panel gaps. Still, while the Bravada couldn’t match rivals such as the Acura MDX and Lexus RX in overall refinement, it was a very formidable competitor to rivals such as the Mercury Mountaineer Premier and Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited.
It’s debatable whether or not the third generation Bravada would have been a success. It was the right car at the right time for sure, but although an improvement, it wasn’t perfect. Add that to the fact that Oldsmobile’s image and prestige were ever muddled, and that the Bravada would soon share five rebadged siblings, getting it ever lost in the shuffle. Unfortunately, we’ll never know as the final Bravada’s fate was sealed before it even went on sale, making it a car befitting of its name.