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The First of Its Kind

When you think of luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade is probably the first one to come to mind.  But GM actually kicked off the luxury SUV trend in 1991 with the Oldsmobile Bravada. 

The Bravada was introduced in 1991, built on the same platform as the GMC Jimmy and Chevy Blazer.  The Bravada was the first Oldsmobile built on a truck chassis since the 1930s.  Compared to the Jimmy and Blazer, the Bravada had more creature comforts—including leather seats, woodgrain trim, an overhead console with reading lights, and an information display that showed the temperature and compass bearing.  The Bravada also had traditional Oldsmobile styling on the outside. 

The Bravada wasn’t all about aesthetics, though.  It came with a 4.3-liter V6 that could put down 200 horsepower and GMs “Smart Trak” all-wheel drive system.  The Smart Trak system used a Borg Warner transfer case and a viscous differential to distribute torque 65% to the rear and 35% to the front, with more going to the front if the rear wheels started to slip.  That made the Bravada both rugged and comfortable. 

Getting Olds-er

GM briefly considered building the second generation Bravada on the Isuzu Trooper platform.  Eventually this plan fell through, and the Bravada once again joined the Jimmy and Blazer.  The delay meant that there were no 1995 Bravadas.  The second generation started in the 1996 model year. 

The second generation brought both cosmetic and performance improvements.  The shifter was changed from a column shifter to a console shifter with a leather boot covering.  The exterior styling was rounded and given a traditional Oldsmobile split grille.  New leather seats were based on the ones used in the Aurora luxury sedan.  The new Bravada continued to use a 4.3-liter V6, but the Smart Trak system was updated to use a computer-controlled transfer case.  The SUV ran in rear wheel drive most of the time, with the front being engaged when the computer system detected slipping. 

To further increase the capabilities, the new version came with fog lamps and tow hooks standard. 

The End of an Era

In 2002, Oldsmobile released the third and final generation of the Bravada.  This one was built on the GMT360 platform along with the GMC Envoy and Chevy Trailblazer.  The new version featured a 4.2-liter 270 hp inline-six, and for the first time was available in RWD or AWD.  The new Bravada also featured even rounder more car-like styling than the second generation. 

It proved to be popular with the automotive press and sold decently, but it could not outpace Oldsmobile’s other problems.  The third generation Bravada was Oldsmobile’s last new model.  Oldsmobile built a special Final 500 edition to commerate the last 500 Bravadas to roll off its assembly lines.  The last one was built in 2004.  The Buick Rainier and Saab 9-7x took over as GM’s luxury SUVs on the same platform that had been used for the Bravada.  

Oldsmobile is a registered trademark of General Motors Company. 1A Auto is not affiliated with or sponsored by Oldsmobile or General Motors Company. See all trademarks.

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