Machine Design

2000 GMC Safari -- Not for hunting elephants

The first thing I noticed about the Safari as I boarded her was that I had no place to plant my left foot.

The wheel well protruded into the passenger compartment so obtrusively that the only "comfortable" place for my foot was under the brake pedal. I immediately tested the brakes to be sure I wouldn't pinch my foot when I had to stop hard. The same type of problem is evident on the passenger side; feet had to be on elevated floor protrusions. What was worse was that our legs and hips were cramping after about 50 miles or so on our first country trip.

The seats were particularly firm yet comfortable, however, and the overall front compartment roominess tended to overshadow the footroom annoyance after some time.

After getting under way, I found overall handling to be best described as "clumsy." I had difficulty keeping the vehicle running a straight line on the smoothest and straightest of highways. (I later followed another Safari that was drifting from center line to shoulder, so I knew it was not entirely my poor piloting.) Steering and handling felt like my dad's old car that needed new ball joints and shocks. Further down the road in West Virginia, we began to encounter some steep hills which required me to downshift occasionally. But I found the gearshift difficult to move from drive to one of the two lower gears, and sometimes I overshot it.

In spite of the rough handling, the V6 engine provided great acceleration and outstanding fuel economy. The best number I recorded on the highway was about 25 mpg. Other pluses included the more than adequate air-conditioning system with separate units and controls forward and aft. The brakes are excellent, the radio is okay, and the tow-haul feature is probably a good thing, although I did not have occasion to try it out. In addition, I liked the bong warning that sounded when the turn signal was left on too long after I failed to make the intended turn. I was surprised, however, the first time it went off, because it's the same sound that lets you know that the seat belts are unfastened, the lights are on with key out, or the check-engine light is on. I thought there was a serious problem until my wife told me to turn off the turn signal.

The rear door is worth mentioning. Unlike the Suburban that has a split door vertically down the center, this one comes in three parts; the glass liftgate from center up, and the right and left swinging bottom half doors. The liftgate lets you see out the rear window without obstructing a following vehicle.

The vehicle is rear-wheel driven, and I had some difficulty with sliding on gravel and sand on the road. Add to that the poor balance of the vehicle and it can be dangerous. It has been a long time since I drove a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and I will never own another. In my opinion, there are no better vehicles than those with front or four-wheel drive.

The Safari I tested had a base sticker price of $21,450 plus options such as front and rear A/C, power seats, "Dutch door" with liftgate, and an assortment of smaller accessories, which boosted the final cost to $24,920. Perhaps if I were in need of a bread truck or a delivery truck that had to double for a passenger van, I would choose it over, say, a Suburban, but only for the better fuel economy.

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