What's New for 1999
In the wake of last year's restyle, Bravada sees feature refinements for '99. The driver-side airbag has been redesigned into a mini-module to permit a clearer view of the instruments, while the turn signal stalk now provides a flash-to-pass feature. A telltale warning lamp has been added to alert the driver when the tailgate lift glass is ajar. And an anti-theft alarm system is now standard. There's also an option package that combines a driver-side memory seat and a power passenger-side seat, as well as sound system upgrades across the board.
After a one year hiatus, the Oldsmobile Bravada returned for the 1996 model year, based on the same platform that serves as the basis for the Chevrolet Blazer and the GMC Jimmy. We said we doubted Oldsmobile would find many buyers for the Bravada, partly because of myriad choices in the luxo-SUV market, and partly because we didn't think the Bravada was worth the price of admission over similarly equipped Chevy Blazers and GMC Jimmys. Sales didn't meet expectations that first year, but nearly doubled during 1997. Still, Oldsmobile would like to be moving twice as many Bravadas. So last year, Bravada got a freshening both inside and out.
The Bravada should do well for 1999 because it's a nice truck. No tacky fender flares and no dopey, two-tone paint schemes here. The interior is swathed in leather and offers one of the most comfortable driver seats we've encountered in an SUV. The sound system is outstanding. Controls are easy to see and use (though they still look and feel somewhat cheap). Bravada's SmartTrak all-wheel drive system makes finding grip in a variety of road conditions carefree. Best of all, this is one speedy, fun-to-drive truck that can easily swallow a full-size dryer. Truly, the Bravada is what a luxury compact sport/utility is all about.
As an upscale Oldsmobile, the Bravada comes loaded with nearly every conceivable option. That's a good thing, too, with the quickly expanding luxury sport/ute arena overflowing with entries, even from Lincoln and Infinitimakers not known for building truck products. But this may not be your best choice to go bounding down a dusty trail. Oldsmobile makes no bones about designing Bravada to be an on-road SUV.
Is the Bravada worth the price of admission over the Blazer and the Jimmy? Well, the front seats and the SmartTrak all-wheel drive system are exclusive to the Olds, but otherwise not much differentiates the Bravada from its corporate twins. In fact, most of the standard equipment on the Bravada is available on the Chevy or the GMC, with an end result that is less expensive than the Oldsmobile.
Few options are available on the Bravada. Buyers can order a 5000-pound towing package, an engine block heater, a Bose premium sound system, a six-disc CD changer located in the console, redundant radio and climate controls for the steering wheel, heated seats, white-letter 235/70R-15 all-season tires, a power sunroof, and the obligatory gold trim package. Cloth seats are a no-charge replacement for the standard leather hides. A new option package puts together five features: the optional tires and heavy-duty towing package, plus a driver-side memory seat, power passenger seat, and electrochromic outside rearview mirrors (inside electrochromic rearview mirror is standard).
Styling is pretty much identical to the Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy. The Bravada gets a unique grille and headlamp treatment, bumper trim and body cladding. The overall effect distances the Olds far enough away from its corporate siblings to make it look and feel unique in a world populated by look-alike Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers. A 4.3-liter Vortec V6 engine that makes 190 horsepower propels the Bravada's four wheels. Though strong, we find the V6 a strange choice when the Jeep and the Ford can be equipped with a V8 engine. The Explorer-based Mercury Mountaineer also has all-wheel drive, like the Bravada, along with V8 power. Four-wheel disc brakes provide very good stopping ability, though we could do without the mushy feel to the brake pedal.
The original Bravada, which competed in a market populated by few luxury-oriented SUVs, never sold very well. It was based on aging technology, and buyers saw through the first-generation Bravada quicker than they did the ill-fated Cadillac Cimarron. Oldsmobile has come up with quite an enticing package with the second-generation Bravada. However, the luxury/ute market is becoming saturated with a number of very trucks, which will inevitably push down demand for any particular model. We also think that aging, affluent Boomers are going to tire of climbing in and out of these things, depositing their aching legs and backs into the seats of the Cadillacs, BMWs and Acuras that they're currently trading like baseball cards for the more rugged, SUV image.