Vehicle Overview
Size matters when it comes to sport utility vehicles. Lately, midsize SUVs are the ones that have been capturing the heart of the market. General Motors launched three new midsize models by the spring of 2001 as early 2002 models. Chevrolet’s TrailBlazer is one member of the trio, which was especially crucial to GM because of the debut of the redesigned Ford Explorer. Oldsmobile offers the luxury-oriented Bravada, and GMC has the Envoy, and both compare to the TrailBlazer in structure and appearance. Despite the emergence of this all-new TrailBlazer, Chevrolet is keeping the smaller, prior-generation Blazer in its lineup at least into 2003.

Rather than a V-6 or V-8 engine, the 2002 TrailBlazer held a 270-horsepower, 4.2-liter, all-aluminum inline-six-cylinder. GM claimed it was 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 GM’s Inline Engines group. GM further claimed that torsional rigidity with the inline engine increased by 260 percent and the rack-and-pinion steering system delivers a tight 36.4-foot turning circle.

The TrailBlazer debuted in five-passenger form. The SUV is available in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. Chevrolet soon added an extended-length TrailBlazer EXT model with a seven-passenger capacity. As reported by Automotive News, sales in the first (partial) year totaled 115,103 units. The TrailBlazer competes against the Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.

A North Face Edition of the TrailBlazer is available for 2003 and is aimed at outdoors enthusiasts. The North Face option includes lower accent-colored body cladding, running lamps, a liftgate luggage rack, headlight washers, duffel bags, a blanket and even a clothesline. The TrailBlazer’s fuel tanks now hold 22 gallons, and a new four-position headlight switch goes on the dashboard.

The TrailBlazer also gets more power. Not only does the inline engine add 5 hp — to pump out 275 hp — but a 5.3-liter V-8 is now offered as an option for the seven-passenger TrailBlazer EXT edition.

The regular-length five-passenger TrailBlazer rides a 113-inch wheelbase and measures 191.8 inches long overall. The seven-occupant TrailBlazer EXT is 207.8 inches long overall on a 129-inch wheelbase. The EXT stands 3.6 inches taller than the regular TrailBlazer. Ground clearance totals 8 inches.

The TrailBlazer, Bravada and Envoy models share the same design in their 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. The regular-length TrailBlazer LS includes dual-zone air conditioning and 16-inch aluminum wheels. The LT adds 16-inch sport wheels and an eight-way power driver’s seat. At the top of the five-passenger line, the upscale LTZ comes with leather seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a cassette/CD player. Equipped with 17-inch wheels, the TrailBlazer EXT is offered in a single trim level.

Seating for five occupants is standard in the regular TrailBlazer. GM’s OnStar communication system is standard in all models except the LS, and a backseat entertainment system with a DVD player is available. The SUV’s cargo capacity is 80.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

The seven-passenger TrailBlazer EXT gets a third seat with a full footwell and more than 22 cubic feet of space behind the seat. Cargo space escalates past 100 cubic feet when all rear seats are folded. The second-row seat folds and flips forward to permit easier access to the rear.

Under the Hood
A four-speed automatic is the sole transmission, and it teams with a standard 275-hp, 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. A new 290-hp, 5.3-liter V-8 is available for the EXT only. The TrailBlazer is available with either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (4WD), and the latter includes a two-speed transfer case. The Autotrac system’s Auto 4WD setting transfers power to all four wheels automatically as conditions change. An 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 depends on crash severity. The bumpers are mounted 2 inches lower than the usual position — a modification that makes the TrailBlazer more level with passenger cars in the event of a collision. The bumpers can withstand a 5-mph collision, whereas many light trucks are rated for only 2.5-mph impacts.

Driving Impressions
The TrailBlazer’s 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, there’s not much of a struggle as the 275 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. The SUV’s acceleration is undeniably stronger with the new V-8, but it’s not a dramatic difference.

On smooth surfaces, the 4WD TrailBlazer rides similar to 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.

The TrailBlazer’s interior space is ample in both the front and rear seats, and passengers occupy somewhat firm seats. The rear seats have short bottoms but are quite comfortable. The hard-working TrailBlazer appears ready to compete enthusiastically against the Explorer and other midsize rivals, whether you’re looking at passing power, ride comfort or handling prowess.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 2/5/03