Where once there were only the Jeep Cherokee and Chevrolet Blazer, there is now a bumper crop of compact sport-utility vehicles crowding the market.
As the sport-utility boom shows signs of cooling off, buyers can expect to be able to do a little wheeling and dealing. Some of the older sport-utilities, such as the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer, have seen some of their first incentives recently.
But Chevrolet has been able to keep the Blazer’s sales moving smoothly thanks to a new interior and fresh exterior styling.
Chevrolet outfits the Blazer with a powerful 4.3-liter Vortec V-6 engine. With 190-horsepower on tap, the V-6 and smooth-shifting, four-speed, automatic transmission make for spirited performance.
Acceleration is powerful and quick. There is plenty of low-speed power and muscle for passing slower traffic.
But because Ford, Dodge, Jeep and Land Rover offer V-8 engines in their compact sport-utilities, that gives them at least a psychological edge over Chevrolet, because to many drivers, eight cylinders are better than six.
That said, the Blazer’s V-6 is up to the task when it comes to pulling most average sized boats and campers. Chevy says the Blazer can safely tow up to 4,500 pounds. But the new Dodge Durango can tow 7,300 pounds, the Land Rover Discovery can tow 5,500 pounds, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee can haul as much as 6,700 pounds.
During the week I tested the Blazer, I used it more as a family vehicle, packing up one of the world’s cutest babies and her mom for a trip to the zoo and loading it down with cargo.
Heavy load or no load, the Blazer remains stable and easy to drive. The power steering system is light and easy, but it provides a good feel for the road.
The suspension system, mounted to a sturdy steel frame, gives the Blazer a very carlike ride when riding over rough terrain. Common road-going bumps, such as potholes and speed bumps, are muffled. At highway speeds the 3,700 pound vehicle is not bothered by cross winds, including those produced when a tractor-trailer passes.
All Blazers come with a strong set of anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes. In the past, Chevrolet has fielded quite a bit of criticism for the performance of its ABS brakes in the Blazer. Some drivers have thought that ABS-equipped Blazers didn’t stop fast enough in an emergency. Our 1998 model showed a marked improvement. The brakes bit hard and fast and brought the vehicle to a quick, trauma-free stop.
I logged about 700 miles on our beige test vehicle, using the air conditioner most of the time and driving it in the city. Fuel mileage came in at an average of 18.5 mpg.
FIT AND FINISH
The 1998 Blazer is the best one Chevrolet has ever built.
It has to be.
With competition as tough as it is these days, there is no more room for error. But Chevrolet has risen to the challenge. Chevy has finally moved the Blaze r’s interior away from its truck-based roots and made it more like that of a comfortable, upscale mid-size family sedan.
The leather-covered front bucket seats are superb. They provide an excellent amount of lower back and thigh support so that driver and passenger can spend long periods of time in the saddle without feeling fatigued. The seats are easily adjusted by pressing buttons on the side of the lower cushion.
The rear seats are also excellent. There is plenty of room between the front and rear seats, so a baby seat can be strapped in easily and quickly. Adult passengers in the rear bench seat will find a comfortable amount of head, leg and foot room.
Utility isn’t an empty word when it comes to the Blazer. There is plenty of cargo room behind the rear seat, or you can roughly double interior cargo capacity by folding the rear seats forward. A retractable cargo cover hides items in the rear section of the Blazer.
One improvement could be made to the re r of the vehicle. The two-piece tailgate system requires you to first open the glass window before you can lower the tailgate. It’s time-consuming and confusing.
Our test Blazer came with the LT trim package, which, for $5,529, adds a long list of luxury and convenience items. The package includes a computer-controlled air-conditioning system, tilt steering wheel; cruise control; power windows, door locks and mirrors; roof rack; upgraded suspension system; tachometer; fog lamps and more.
I found the Blazer’s dash to be smartly designed and laid out, with all the most frequently used items – such as the headlights and the knobs for the air conditioner – easy to use. When changing the temperature or direction of the air flow or engaging the cruise control, you don’t have to take your eyes off the road for more than a second or two.
For 1998,Chevrolet has added a passenger-side air bag to the Blazer’s list of safety equipment.
Two additional options, heated seats and CD player, added $325 to the sticker price. However, considering all the equipment you get for $28,500, the Blazer is a bargain against similarly equipped Fords, Jeeps and the army of foreign sport-utilities which sell for as much as $2,000 more.
1998 Chevrolet Blazer LT Four Door Base price: $23,188. Safety: Dual air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection and daytime running lights. Price as tested: $28,564. EPA rating: 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway. Incentives: $1,000.
Truett’s tip: The 1998 Blazer LT is a smooth, quiet and powerful sport-utility that offers plenty of user-friendly features and excellent interior room.