Notice to Ford: watch out, there’s a bow tie-clad SUV gaining on you.

Just as Ford has introduced a new Explorer, ready to maintain its sales leadership, here comes GM with its new TrailBlazer ready to knock Ford off the top of the sales mountain.

Could Chevy succeed?

Undoubtedly. Ford’s sales have been wounded by the Firestone recall fiasco. The multiple recalls on Explorers and other Ford trucks, such as the Escape, haven’t exactly brought luster to the marque. Chevy’s timing is perfect, and the new TrailBlazer is another great SUV in a growing stable of impressive SUVs. The TrailBlazer replaces Chevy’s unimpressive Blazer.

The TrailBlazer is one of three mid-sized SUVs GM is introducing, the others being the Oldsmobile Bravada and GMC Envoy. The vehicles are entirely new in every respect. The TrailBlazer comes in three trim levels: LS, LT and top-of-the-line LTZ in either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive. It casts a larger shadow than its Blazer predecessor, being 8.5 inches longer and 6.8 inches wider than the Blazer, almost exactly the same size as the new Explorer.

But the TrailBlazer lacks the visual massiveness of the Ford offerings. The styling has the latest look in Chevy trucks, with a large horizontal bar and bowtie logo up front, large wheel openings with fender flares and unique round tail lamps out back, an old Chevy trademark reworked for this truck. The result is rugged, aggressive, yet handsome. Certainly it turned a fair number of heads.

The larger exterior translates into increased room inside when compared against the Blazer. There’s plenty of space inside for two rows of seats (buckets up front, split-folding in the rear) and plenty of cargo space. When the rear seats fold, the headrests flop out of the way automatically, a thoughtful touch. A large center console up front offers acres of space for stowing tuff as well.

The seats themselves are fairly flat, but they feature deep, soft cushions, so it’s easy for tall folks to get comfy behind the wheel. The eight-way power front seats had the optional seat heaters. You can heat the seat cushion or seat back, a very nice touch and well worth it’s $250 cost. A heated seat back is perfect even in warmer weather, especially when your back aches. The back seats are fairly comfortable as well, with good room. Rear seat heating ducts and a separate set of audio controls help keep them entertained. Of course, the cupholders are plentiful.

Of course, there goodies up front as well. The auto-dimming rearview mirror features and a built-in compass and the Homelink system, that allows you to turn on your home’s lights remotely. There’s also ObStar, GM’s emergency and concierge service. But the TrailBlazer also incorporates a travel note recorder. As thoughts enter your mind, you can record them. No more lost thoughts while driving. A great idea.

As good as all this is (and it’s quite good) it pales next to the TrailBlazers -um- trailblazing performance. An all-new 4.2-liter in-line six-cylinder resides under the hood. It’s GM’s first new in-line six-cylinder engine in decades. With 270 horsepower and 275 foot-pounds of torque, this six outpowers any of the Ford Explorer’s engines, whether six or eight cylinders. Power is strong while still returning decent mileage.

Standard towing is 6,300 pounds, while still returning 16 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway. A week-long test yielded 17.5 mpg in mixed driving. The engine is quite smooth, typical of an in-line engine. It makes a sound unique to an in-line engine. It’s hooked to a four-speed automatic, not a five -speed as on the Explorer. But the extra power makes up for the lack of an extra gear.

Handling is on par with the engine. The front suspension is independent. The rear is a solid axle. There’s little body lean and the set-up offers a soft, comfortable ride. When things get bumpy on the road, an xplorer’s rear suspension is more comfortable, but the TrailBlazer’s solid axle is preferable for true off-road adventures.

Braking is good, with four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock standard. The front and side air-bags are also dual-stage, deploying with less force depending on speed.

With style, speed, agility and lots of features, this Chevy has blazed a radically different trail from the Blazer. It’s superior to it in every respect and handily outshines most, if not all, of it’s competition.

It’s quite impressive and is one truck every SUV buyer should sample.