My Beretta GTZ had been an enjoyable car but going on 6 years the Quad 4 engine was starting to emit the little telltale wisps of white smoke signaling an imminent head gasket failure. And I was getting tired of freezing in the winter when the heater put out minimal heat due to a design flaw in the cooling system. By that time SUV’s were all the rage and GM had just launched its new and improved Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy. It was still based on the old compact S-10 Blazer but with slick new styling replacing its blocky predecessor. The Ford Explorer was king in this market but these updated SUV’s looked to be a worthy competitor.
So I decided to get with the program and jump onto the SUV bandwagon. I visited the local Pontiac GMC dealer in Ann Arbor Michigan and found an Emerald Green 4dr Jimmy in mid-level SLE trim. When you test drive a new model vehicle, the sensory overload of the new interior, controls, and gadgets, as well as unfamiliar roads, may supersede other important evaluation points like how it drives. That was the case for me when I took the car for a quick spin around the block and pronounced it good to go. In retrospect I should have known better, and on future car purchases I would be much more thorough and discerning in the test drive, but not this time.
The honeymoon period was short. I was used to how a typical passenger car rides and handles, and was totally unprepared for the loose, jiggly, disconnected from the road feel of the BOF Blazer / Jimmy. The 4.3L engine would emit a loud roar on first start and howl like a banshee as you pull away from the driveway, enough to wake up the neighbors and scare children. Then something closes up in the intake manifold and the engine settles down to a more normal sound. But that first 500 feet is painfully embarrassing.
The final straw was one day I jump into the Jimmy to run an errand, and when I swung the driver side door shut the hinge promptly broke and the door nearly came off, dangling precariously by only by the 2nd lower hinge. I rolled down the window and stuck one arm out, clamping the door semi-closed while I slowly drove across town directly to the dealership. That was repaired quickly but from that time on I started to despise this big, lumpy, problem-ridden beast of a vehicle, regretting this very expensive impulse purchase.
In the 2nd year of ownership, a lady in a Beretta ran a red light and collided head-on into me and the Jimmy as I was making a left turn. Thankfully no injuries but the damage was extensive. Undriveable, it was towed to the dealership, where I pleaded with the insurance company to total the car and put it out of its misery. But that was not to be; insurance decided to repair it and it would take a couple of weeks. During that time I had the Saturn wagon which I talked about in a previous COAL.
The body shop and the dealership did a good job and the Jimmy came back as good as new. My fiancé now wife took over the car as she wanted 4wd to cope with Michigan winters. So the Jimmy would stay in the family for the foreseeable future, faithfully doing its SUV duties. We took it on camping trips and on one occasion the rear cargo area became our overnight shelter when the campsite was caught in a torrential downpour and we didn’t trust our tent to stay dry. We also took it on ski trips where we finally were able to utilize its 4wd as intended, but there was that incident one time after one of Michigan’s brutal winter storms which dumped up to a foot of snow in the suburbs. My wife and I piled into the Jimmy on a Sunday morning, switched on the four wheel drive, and made it through deserted snow covered roads to church only to find it closed with services cancelled for the day. So we drove back home and found that the plows had come through clearing the street but leaving a large snowbank in front of our driveway. Feeling invincible in that four wheel drive, I foolishly decided to rev up the powerful V6 and charge through that snowbank but ended up getting stuck with all 4 wheels spinning. After about an hour of digging and rocking in front of grinning neighbors peeking from their windows (funny that none of them came out to help), I freed the beast and retreated sheepishly into the garage.
The Jimmy was a perfectly adequate road trip vehicle and big enough for IKEA and Home Depot runs. And when baby #1 came along, the 4 doors and relatively spacious quarters were perfect for his car seat, stroller, etc etc. So after a tough first two years, Jimmy settled down into suburban domestic duty, taking my wife to work and back, trips to Costco on weekends filling its cargo area with formula and diapers, and road trips to Columbus to visit grandparents.
The Jimmy did its job well enough but we outgrew it when baby #2 came along. I discovered to my dismay that it was impossible to fit two car seats in the rear side by side. The only solution was to put them in the left and right outboard positions and squeeze the mother in law into the very uncomfortable center hump. Clearly that was not going to work, so after 5 years it was time to move on. Time for a (gasp) minivan.
There was no love lost when I got rid of the Jimmy. I never got used to its howling engine or shivery ride that felt like being on top of a bowl of Jello. I had resolved to never ever own an SUV again, but little did I know that SUV’s/crossovers were taking over the market and pretty soon it would be difficult to buy anything but an SUV/CUV, save for a few specialty cars or outdated sedans. So years later we tiptoed back into the market with our first crossover, a Subaru, and found the driving much more pleasant, enough to erase the unpleasant memories of driving this Jimmy.
Of all the COALs I have written up, I left a few out. One being a 1998 Jimmy SLE we bought new. I honestly had not thought about the Jimmy in years; I don’t know what that says about the Jimmy. We went to a GMC/Subaru/Pontiac dealership in 1997 intending to buy an Outback, but the test drive experience was not good. The Outback seemed slow and pokey in traffic, was noisy and choppy on the interstate, and my wife didn’t like the frameless door windows at all (can’t recall exactly what her objection was).
The Jimmy, by comparison, made a positive first impression. It seemed peppy, smooth riding, relatively luxurious, and quiet. The engine driven fan was noisy on startup until the fan clutch disengaged, and I think that is the sound you were describing. It was pretty loaded up with the standard cloth interior, but Bose sound, cruise and tilt and all that kind of stuff, and a glass sunroof. It had one of the best paint jobs I have had on a car before or since, oddly deep, glossy and smooth.
As you said, the sensory overload of a “test drive” of a new vehicle sometimes clouds one’s judgment. Would we have been better off long term with the new Outback? Probably. But, the Jimmy served us well for about 5 years, the birth of our first two kids, and 100,000 miles or so. I never needed a thing besides tires and oil changes.
We would have kept it longer, but it developed a condition where the gauges would go dead for no reason. Then the gauges went dead AND engine shut off on me one day going down the interstate, I decided it had to go because the kids could never be in it again. I suspect the ignition switch was somehow defective, after I read about the GM ignition switch debacle in more recent years. Even when new, the ignition key was “jiggly” and seemed to fit loosely in the ignition tumbler.
I believe Importamation is correct; that initial roar just after startup is the engine fan.
My 1978 Datsun 280Z made the same loud roar right after startup and when pulling out of my condo parking space for maybe 30 seconds or so. But as the car and engine sped up, ironically the engine roar would slowly diminish at the same time. I recall hearing other contemporary Z cars doing the same thing.
I got use to the startup roar right away and it never bothered me. It sounded just like the engine run ups I did in Cessna 150s back in the early 1970s.
I do agree that sensory overload on test drives pretty much makes such tests less effective than desired. That’s why I have mostly relied on reading road tests, first in magazines and later in online formats. For me, actual test drives were to confirm driver legroom, seating comfort, road noise, and the sense of interior quality and driver controls.
Of course the best test drives are those without the sales person onboard, but that is usually not common.
I was alone on the 280Z test drive and my [then] wife and I were alone testing the ’99 Miata (no room for anyone else anyway). We also tested the ’95 Eagle Vision TSi with no sales person onboard.
Did this experience put you off GM?
I was a captive GM customer since I was working for the company at the time. I’ve had my share of excellent and terrible GM vehicles though.
I do remember hearing the loud fans on these – I remember it coming from Astro vans too.
I also recall reading that when compared to the Explorer and the Cherokee (not necessarily in that order) these were particularly unsatisfying to drive. That would be the downside of a good job at GM – the golden handcuffs (both cultural and financial) that keep you driving their cars when there were so many better choices out there. All that said, Chevy/GMC sure sold a lot of these.
And finally – yes, these things were just too small for a family in the era of the child car seat. If it makes you feel any better, two car seats would not fit side by side in the back of a late RWD Olds 98, either. I think this is one reason for the high sales numbers of Tahoes and Suburbans during the mini baby boom of the 90s.
I thought these were really nice looking SUVs when these came out. There were lots of them in my suburbs, along with the Gen 1 Durango. Haven’t seen either in a long time now. My younger brother got a slightly used full-sized Blazer about the same age as the featured car, and it was great looking, but crude. It’s exterior styling was awesome, but inside, it still had pretty much the same layout and feel as an 80s square body Chevy. Its brakes were awful, and it felt like you were driving a Panzer tank. Could be that GM got the styling right in 90s, but was still leaning on a lot of older tech.
I was given a 96 Blazer as a rental car once when the primary car was being repaired. The Blazer [a green one] had less than 1000 miles when I got it. In the 3 weeks I had it, the hot latch spring broke, the drivers window crank shimmied loose, the engine developed a serious knock and then the passenger inside door pull came loose. The thing jiggled and skittered at the slightest provocation.
What a horrible car and I was ever so happy to get my 95 Grand Prix back [also green]. That was a GREAT car!
Might have been from a bump, but in the lead pic, the front bumper cover appears noticeably out of alignment.
Yes that looks pretty bad. I guess the body shop and the dealership did not do a good job when they fixed it after the collision with the Beretta.
Actually that’s a stock photo from the internet, not my real car.
I can’t speak to the quality of the vehicle, but this style Jimmie is a good looking one, at least on the outside.
When you test drive a new model vehicle, the sensory overload of the new interior, controls, and gadgets, as well as unfamiliar roads, may supersede other important evaluation points like how it drives.
Interesting observation. That’s not true of me, but if it’s true of you, then it’s true of you.
I could see that happening with a lot of people. My wife would likely focus on all the cool items inside like back up video and so forth. Me, buying manuals, only want to know how crisp the acceleration is and how well the car handles and can take curves at speed. Why a salesperson would want to go on my test drive is beyond me. Although I bought the 2018 Mazda 3 without a test drive as I was confident with Mazda to know what I was getting for my wife.
Might depend how often you drive a new car.
Last time I test-drove a new car the old one was eleven years old. With that as my reference point, the new one felt amazing! Because the dealer knew we lived out of town he gave us the car for a few hours and said to take it on roads we were familiar with. That’s confidence in your product! Confidence in the customer too, but we’d been going there for years.
The related Blazer showed up over here used ex JDM they didnt have much of a rep and are now extinct.
I believe this was the generation of Jimmy that my Dad let go to get a Lexus RX roughly 30 days after he’d replaced Mom’s Sedan de Ville with a Lexus ES. This was probably 25 years ago. He was a GM man forever and has NOT gone back.
I always thought These drove horribly, it’s hard to describe exactly what makes the driving experience so bad. I always thought the engines sounded like a hamster running in a wheel at certain rpms. They were also ungodly rattle traps, especially as they aged a bit.
I never understood how these were so popular.
I guess a test drive depends on the dealer and your choice of a route. My longest test drive, for 1 of my Hondas, was just short of 100 miles. 🙂 I did agree to buy the car b4 I finished the test drive by calling in to the dealer; oh yes…I was alone on the drive!!
That dealer has had almost all my bu$ine$$ since 1988, very good cars, good service to put it mildly; all around a genuinely pleasant dealer to do business with! NOT like most of my previous GM buying expierence.
My current Civic EX got a much shorter test drive, but over a route I had developed that gives different road conditions and speeds. DFO
I’ve only had a half-dozen or so daily drivers in my life, but my favorite was my two-door, two-wheel-drive 2000 Blazer. About 84% of them were this color. I bought it when it was four years old with 55,000 miles for $5500, from a DEALER, so resale value was great. It made the loud fan noise upon startup and had that GM piston noise when it was cold, but I drove it for 35,000 miles and only replaced an idler arm and a ball joint. It was squeaky and rattly, and its fuel mileage wasn’t great most of the time, but the back seat folded down so I could fit a bunch of stuff in the back, and I thought it looked nice. It was a good car on long trips; we took it on our honeymoon out east in 2005 and it got 22 miles per gallon (best ever) and didn’t have any problems. Every once in a while, I’ll miss it. I only sold it because when gas went to $4.00 in 2008, it made no sense as my commuter car.
I had a 1987 S10 Blazer with the 2.8 V6 and it had that roar as well upon startup and drive off.
It was indeed the fan clutch…..The roar would subside after a minute or two of driving.
That roar sounds like the sort of thing they should have caught in the development stage, if it’s as loud as you all say. Or is it a case of accountants overruling engineers, seeing as it’s the ‘old’ GM we’re talking about? Would an electric fan (bought with GM-style-quantity discounts) really have added that much to the bottom line?
CC-in-scale doesn’t have a green four door Jimmy, but would a two-door Blazer suffice? 😉
Beautifully done Peter! Remarkable, how you consistently have models already constructed, for so many subject cars. Gorgeous Blazer!
Thanks! Thought I’d hear from you. Fifty-five-plus years of building, with enforced early retirement due to ill health, gave plenty of time to keep the mind active and fingers nimble. And plenty of room for storage helps too. 🙂
Sometimes the reverse has happened though, and I’ve built a car inspired by a CC post, like this Toyota Crown that Tatra87 found in Tokyo last year – my Japanese friends were bemused that I’d build one.
Wonderful hobby to choose! Nice work on this Crown, Peter.
Since you mention Ann Arbor, are those neighborhood pictures by chance in Pittsfield Village? I live within walking distance of there, right across Platt.
Hi neighbor, yeah you nailed it! I lived in Pittsfield Village during the time I had the Jimmy, but moved after getting married.
While I have yet to buy a brand new car, although I am giving it slight thought, and having had rentals that drove me nuts within a hour or two, but not minutes, I think I would try to rent one of whatever I wanted. Take a weekend trip maybe. Get a few hours in to see what the seats really feel like, what the nanny systems do to my nerves. Maybe even a perspective on MPG? Pay in full if I didn’t like it and say thank you, or try to get the fee rolled in or at least discounted if I did buy one.
Dunno how realistic that is, but I think I’d try for it.
My dad would try and rent cars that were something he was interested in buying in the near future, just for the reasons you mentioned.
Oh lord ! I really love that midnineties dark green metallic !
I still daily drive a 2wd 4dr GMC Jimmy SLE with 215,000 miles.
mine’s even louder tho because I put a MagnaFlow catalytic converter (CALIFORNIA) and magnaflow performance exhaust on it. The 4.3 sounds really good for a V6.