The reemergence of the Trailblazer name in the Chevrolet lineup seemed like a cynical nostalgia ploy at first.
Trailblazer a cute ‘ute? That’s almost as bad as using Blazer nameplate on a five-seat crossover with little, if anything, in the way of off-road chops.
It’s not just the name. These smaller crossovers have often felt like a cynical play in another way – certain OEMs seem to just be rolling them out for those with tight budgets or tight fists, with the intent of selling them based on price and not performance or quality.
See Ford’s EcoSport or Chevy’s own Trax. Given how the Trax is, well, not good, I had my worries about the Trailblazer.
I needn’t have been concerned.
That’s not to say the Trailblazer is completely well done. There are issues, mostly in terms of refinement/material quality and noise/vibration/harshness. Chevy’s pricing scheme is also a bit dear, at least based on MSRP (obviously, negotiating exists), dear enough that other makes – and larger models – might make better choices for the same spend.
The most pleasant surprise came in terms of power and handling. On paper, the 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder doesn’t seem to promise much in the way of power, with 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque on tap. But there’s enough grunt for urban driving, at least. I’d be loathe to call the Trailblazer quick, but it’s good enough for the stoplight-to-stoplight grind.
Similarly, the Trailblazer’s handling can be best described as spritely, adding a touch of fun to the proceedings. Perhaps the MacPherson strut front suspension and/or Watts link rear suspension is to thank for that. On the flip side, the steering feel is generically artificial and the ride a bit stiffly sprung.
It would have been far too easy for Chevy to create a small crossover like this that was boring or even a chore to drive. So the brand gets some credit for coming up with one that isn’t a snooze from behind the wheel.
Unfortunately for Chevy, there’s another reason this thing will keep you up: It’s a bit noisy. Enough road noise filters in that it would interrupt any passenger’s attempt at catching some Z’s.
Noise is bad enough, but cheap-feeling materials, even at this price point, are another thing. No one expects luxury in this class and this price, but the level of refinement isn’t on par with the competition.
At least the nine-speed automatic transmission is generally well behaved. If you do not want a CVT, you need to get the 1.3 with all-wheel drive, like the vehicle tested here.
Inside, funky and minimalist cabin design surrounds easy-to-use controls and the Trailblazer avoids the tacky trend of tacked-on infotainment systems. Everything works and seems screwed together well enough, but no one will be using the Trailblazer as an artful example of the form anytime soon.
Outside, the Trailblazer borrows from its big-brother Blazer as it follows Chevy’s ongoing theme of angular lines, and it mostly works, except for at the rear, where it looks like a Blazer was chopped – and poorly. It just looks awkward.
The LT trim comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, USB ports, auxiliary port, keyless entry and starting, power front driver’s seat, split-fold rear seat, 17-inch wheels, roof rack, LED fog lamps and DRLs, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, front-pedestrian braking, and rear-view camera. That all prices out at $25,600.
An adaptive cruise control package ($620) adds its namesake feature plus a leather-wrapped shifter, rear armrest, and driver-info center. Another $620 adds dual-zone A/C, satellite radio, rear USB ports, and an 8-inch touchscreen, among other things. For $345 you can add rear-park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change alert, and blind-spot alert.
Add it all up and factor in the $995 D and D and the total is $28,180. Not expensive, exactly, but one can do better for similar money. See: Seltos, Kia. On the other hand, the Trailblazer is a much better overall package than Ford’s EcoSport.
While cheap-feeling/looking materials and excess noise are a letdown, the Trailblazer is a pleasant surprise, especially when considering how poorly done Chevrolet’s smaller Trax is. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s better than many critics, myself included, expected it would be.
Would it be first on my shopping list if I had a budget limit of $30K and a need for a five-seat small crossover? No. But it would at least be on the list, which is more than I can say for the Ford.
Chevy has done OK here. If it can fix the NVH – mostly the N – issues and improve the look and feel of the cabin materials, it could put the Trailblazer a lot higher on shoppers’ radar.
That, to me, makes the Trailblazer a happy revelation, giving its low expectations. I’m not defending its flaws, I’m just glad there’s one more competitive vehicle in this class.
A pleasant surprise, indeed.
[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]