I'll let you in on a little secret: I've been quite excited for the new Chevrolet Trailblazer.
In the U.S. market, the positioning of the original Trailblazer has pretty much been taken over by the Traverse full-size crossover. While the Traverse is a decent 7 (or 8) seat crossover, it just doesn't have the proud name nor did it have the body-on-frame, through and through SUV construction that the Trailblazer did.
What we didn't expect was how Chevrolet was setting up the '2nd generation' Trailblazer for an entirely new market: ours. The previous Trailblazer (as brought in by TCCCI's predecessor, GM Philippines) was an American SUV, with a big, 4.2 liter Inline-6 gasoline engine that guzzled nearly as much gas as the kilometers it travelled in traffic. This new one is very different, as the Trailblazer name is revived for the highly competitive the 7-seat, pick-up based Asian SUV category. Where Chevy had no entry before, now they have arguably the coolest name in the class.
For starters, there's the design. If the Montero Sport is to the Strada, the Fortuner is to the Hilux, so on and so forth, the Trailblazer is to the Colorado. There are critics about to the Trailblazer's look, but I think it looks particularly imposing; for an SUV, that's kind of a good thing.
The proportions, the boxy nature, the high ride height all make perfect sense in an SUV in this category. The front end is properly bulbous and proud, showing off that split Chevrolet grille and 3D bowtie logo. Projector headlamps, the chrome-lined split grille and foglamp housing all seem to pop out on this sapphire black Trailblazer LTZ.
The side profile seems to have made a good transition from double cab pick-up to a wagon body type, blending in a D-pillar for the extra row of seats. I like how the designers executed the clean rear end but personally, I'm not a fan of having the spare under the rear of an SUV. I prefer it the classic SUV way: on the tailgate. Nevertheless, the Trailblazer just set the bar for machismo in the segment.
Inside, the Trailblazer has quite a unique and well designed interior and seating plan. A seven passenger capacity is standard in 2-3-2 format. The two rear rows can be folded independently, but will fold together to form a flat surface for large cargo. It is, however, quite challenging if you're not that tall and have to load or unload large, heavy boxes or suitcases given the ride height of the vehicle and the height of the load surface with the seats folded.
The front seats are just right, giving the driver a commanding view of the road (or trail) ahead and around. Every control is within comfortable reach, and while the round orientation of the climate control system takes a little familiarization, but it does look quite interesting, if not unique in the segment. One thing I like are the dual gauges with the shrouds. They say it's lifted off of the Camaro, but I like it because it prevents the passenger from seeing and commenting what speed you're doing... like my Mom does when she's beside me.
The equipment package in this 4x4 LTZ variant is quite attractive too. Dual airbags, ABS, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/Aux-in head unit with Bluetooth, climate control, a multi-information trip and eco computer, front and rear foglamps, the center transfer case control knob (4x2 High, 4x4 High, 4x4 Low), traction control and hill descent control... the latter two being unique to the Trailblazer LTZ in the class.
There are, however, a few issues with the interior. First off are the materials they chose, as the dashboard gets a bit of plastic overload... and it's the hard kind. They should have opted, perhaps, for soft-touch materials or composites. Also, given our extremely hot tropical sun, the button for the compartment above the radio has already aged quickly and has become discolored.
The real gripe is the audio head unit; if you have either a Colorado or a Trailblazer, you probably understand why. First off are the ports for the USB and the Auxiliary Input (see the photo in the gallery on the right). You can't use one of the better quality (read: thicker) cables for the Aux port given that it's recessed into the dashboard. Also you can't use a standard USB cable for your iPod or flash drive because the audio unit has a Mini USB port instead, and cable adapters are rather difficult to find. To date, I still haven't found one.
The Bluetooth is rather odd as well, as with my phone connected, there is no way to play your music via BT. When you're also in a call, it's hard for the person at the other end of the line to understand you because the built-in microphone is on the wrong side of the audio unit, hence you have to yell to be heard. It's appears to be oversight when engineering a left-hand drive model from a right-hand drive market like Thailand where the Trailblazer is made. The common question I was asked when talking over Bluetooth handsfree: “Are you underwater?”
That being said, it's really time to see how the Trailblazer drives.
With the twist of the key, the Duramax judders to life. I say judders because your really can feel and hear the 2.8L, twin cam, 16-valve inline-4 Duramax variable turbo CRDI engine. It sounds like an older generation diesel, but has all the power and torque of the newer generation models with 180 PS at 3800 rpm and 470 Newton-meters of torque at 2000 rpm. The engine is matched with the a 6-speed transmission with a shift-on-the-fly knob for the transfer case.
There's actually a bit of old school diesel charm in the way the Trailblazer drives. This SUV is quite heavy, and you really can feel the weight of the vehicle on the road. Don't expect excellent handling, as the Trailblazer does exhibit body roll given its heft and height, but its always manageable. The ride over pothole infested streets is pretty good, and somehow there's an air of towering confidence when driving it.
Fuel economy in the city is quite decent, as with moderate traffic, the Duramax and 6-speed auto powertrain combine for a respectable 9.0 kilometers to the liter, while on the highway that number goes up to 13.4 if you've got a light right foot.
Where the Trailblazer really shines is -as the name implies- off-road and on the trails. In its class, the Trailblazer has the most extensive electronic aids if you wish to try your hand at off-roading, or somehow ended up in the middle of nowhere. Hill descent control makes easy work of steep, downhill paths, and traction control does kick in to keep it under control. Also, the sheer torque of the vehicle is the best in its class, and given the weight of the Trailblazer, more torque is always better.
There are things that need addressing with the Trailblazer like the choice of plastics and the audio head unit; things that GM would certainly work on for future updates. The Trailblazer came just at the right time, given the expected arrival of the Ford Everest sometime in the next two years or so, and against the established but aging models in its class.
From a comprehensive drive in and around the metro, on the expressways out of town and on paths rough enough to make crossovers park on the curb and cry, the Chevrolet Trailblazer does the name proud.
If you buy one, chuck out the stock head unit in favor of a better one... but that's just me.