Used 1997 Oldsmobile Bravada Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

Bravada drops the split-tailgate arrangement at the rear in favor of a top-hinged liftgate with separately lifting glass. So, tailgate parties aren't as convenient, but loading cargo sure is easier. Also new to the options list is a power tilt and slide sunroof. Included with the hole in the roof are a mini-overhead console, a pop-up wind deflector and a sun shade. Rear disc brakes replace the former drums, combining with the front discs to provide better stopping ability.

Vehicle overview

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 20,000 buyers for the Bravada in 1996, 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. By August 31, 1996, Olds had sold 6,650 Bravadas, falling short of sales goals by half.

That's too bad, because the Bravada is a great 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's seats we've encountered in an SUV. The sound system is outstanding. Controls are easy to see and use, though they look and feel somewhat cheap. Bravada's Smart-trak all-wheel drive system makes off-roading carefree. This year, the split rear tailgate is gone, replaced by a liftgate with separately opening rear glass. 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 sport-utility is all about.

The Bravada comes loaded with nearly every conceivable luxury option; appropriate since this is Oldsmobile's entry into the quickly expanding luxury sport-ute arena. This market niche is quickly filling to capacity, with luxury SUV's from Acura, Lexus, Mercury, and Infiniti reaching showrooms recently.

Is the Bravada worth the price of admission over the Blazer and the Jimmy? Well, the front seats are exclusive to Oldsmobile, and the Smart-trak all-wheel drive system is standard on the Olds (it's optional on the Chevy and GMC). 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.

Just eight options are available on the Bravada. Buyers can order a heavy-duty 5000-pound towing package, an engine block heater, a CD player that replaces the cassette deck, white-letter tires, and a gold-trim package. New this year is a power tilt and slide sunroof. Cloth seats are a no-charge replacement for the standard leather hides. Olds says the Bravada has a "two-fold mission: keep the driver moving in the face of adverse weather or road conditions and deliver all occupants in comfort and style to the destination of their choice."

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 standard V8 power. Rear disc brakes debut for 1997, replacing rear drums and combining with the front discs to make stopping distances shorter.

The original Bravada, which competed in a market populated by few luxury-oriented SUV's, never sold very well. It was based on ancient 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 market is becoming saturated with very good trucks, which will inevitably push demand for any particular model down. We also think that aging, affluent Boomers are going to tire of climbing in and out of these things in time, depositing their aching legs and backs into the seats of the Cadillacs, BMWs and Acuras that they're currently trading in like baseball cards for the more rugged, outdoorsy, SUV image. Finally, the lack of a passenger airbag, combined with very poor front passenger crash test scores, makes the Bravada a gamble of sorts. Currently, not many are taking a chance on Oldsmobile's luxury SUV.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.