Size matters when it comes to sport utility vehicles, and midsize SUVs are the ones that capture the heart of the market. General Motors launched three new midsize models by spring 2001 as early 2002 models. Chevrolets TrailBlazer is one member of the trio, which is especially crucial to GM because of the debut of the redesigned Ford Explorer. Oldsmobile offers the luxury-oriented Bravada and GMC has the new Envoy, both of which are similar to the TrailBlazer in structure and appearance. Despite the emergence of this all-new TrailBlazer, Chevrolet expects to keep the prior-generation Blazer in its lineup until at least 2003.
According to Tom Wallace, GMs vehicle line executive for its Midsize Truck Group, these three stem from a ground-up build. Among the highlights is a new GM engine not your typical V-6 or V-8, but rather a 270-horsepower, 4.2-liter, all-aluminum inline-six-cylinder. GM claims its the strongest engine in its class, ready to go against the V-8s in some other SUVs. An inline-six is inherently balanced, said Ron Koctoa, chief engineer for GMs Inline Engines group. GM claims that torsional rigidity with the inline engine has increased by 260 percent. Rear coil springs are coupled to a new five-link solid axle, and a new rack-and-pinion steering system delivers a 36.4-foot turning circle, said to be the tightest in the midsize SUV league. The five-passenger TrailBlazer debuted first. Chevrolet added an extended-length EXT model with seven-passenger capacity in spring 2002.
At 113 inches, the wheelbase on the five-passenger TrailBlazer is 6 inches longer than that on the Blazer SUV, and its track width (the distance between wheels) also has grown. The regular-length TrailBlazer rides a 113-inch wheelbase and is 191.8 inches long, while the EXT is 208 inches long on a 129-inch wheelbase. The TrailBlazer, Bravada and Envoy share roofs, tailgates and front doors, but most of the other body components are unique to the TrailBlazer. Wedge-shaped fender flares help give the TrailBlazer a different appearance than its GM companions. Either 16- or 17-inch tires are available.
The regular-length TrailBlazer comes in three trim levels: LS, which includes dual-zone air conditioning and 16-inch aluminum wheels; LT, which adds 16-inch sport wheels and an eight-way power drivers seat; and the upscale LTZ, which comes with leather seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a CD/cassette player. The TrailBlazer EXT is offered only in the LT trim.
Seating for five occupants is standard. GMs OnStar communication system is standard in all models except the LS, and a backseat entertainment system with a DVD player is available. Cargo capacity is 80.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.
The seven-passenger EXT model gets a third seat with a full footwell and more than 22 cubic feet of space behind the seat. Second-row seats fold and flip forward to permit access to the rear.
Under the Hood
A four-speed automatic is the sole transmission, and it teams with a 270-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. TrailBlazers are available with either two- or four-wheel drive, and the latter includes a two-speed transfer case. The Autotrac systems Auto 4WD setting transfers power to all four wheels automatically as conditions change. A new IntelliStart feature prevents the starter from engaging unless the engine is stopped.
All-disc antilock brakes and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are standard. Dual-stage front airbags deploy with varying force, which depending on crash severity. Bumpers are mounted 2 inches lower than the usual position a modification that makes the TrailBlazer more equally level with passenger cars in a collision. The bumpers can withstand a 5-mph collision, whereas many light trucks are rated for only 2.5-mph impacts.
Performance is a strong point. When tromping on the gas, few drivers are likely to realize that the source of power is an inline-six rather than a V-8. Even when struggling up mountain grades, theres not much of a struggle as the 270 horses take their work in stride. Not only is engine sound barely discernible, except when pushed really hard, but road noise is also virtually absent. But wind noise was more prominent, at least while driving an early test model.
On smooth surfaces, the four-wheel-drive TrailBlazer rides much like a car. Handling is a bit on the slow side, which is hardly uncommon among midsize SUVs. Despite the sensation of being slightly disconnected from the road, the driver benefits from a satisfying steering feel. Interior space is ample in both the front and rear as passengers occupy somewhat firm seats. Despite short bottoms, the rear seats are quite comfortable.
All told, the hard-working TrailBlazer appears ready to compete enthusiastically against the redesigned Ford Explorer and other midsize rivals, whether youre looking at passing power, ride comfort or handling prowess.