WE WERE kickin’ all along the New Jersey Turnpike, kickin’ even though we hadn’t planned to kick nothin’, me and the 1995 Chevrolet Blazer. We wanted to be nice, but the world wasn’t working that way.
Funny thing is, the trip started with a prayer, kind of a bitten-lip murmur in which I asked the Almighty to help me be cool because the man on the radio was talking about snow, and folks ain’t cool when it snows.
Well, there wasn’t any snow, at least not on the Turnpike. I was grateful, because my Blazer was rear-wheel drive. But folks went crazy anyway — cutting into traffic, tailgating and playing with dangerously thin margins in dangerously narrow construction lanes.
Hmmph. I think I know how wars start. Aggression becomes an attractive antidote to madness, which begets more madness, which is what happened.
I began exploiting all of the Blazer’s intimidating glory, which was easy to do. It was a midnight-black vehicle with blacked-out side and rear windows. It was a high-rider with chrome wheels, and it was very fast and nimble. I used all of this and moved along unchallenged until a bigger, faster sport-utility vehicle came along — with a driver equally drunk on self-righteousness.
Background: Chevrolet introduced the subcompact Blazer in 1982 and hadn’t done much to change the little truck until it developed the 1995 model.
The wait was unpardonable, but a good thing came of it.
On normal roads — “normal” meaning wet and dry highways — the new Blazer handles better than any sport-utility vehicle available. It should — the Blazer has five different suspension packages. This one had the Z85, near the top of the line.
Automakers frequently boast about having sport-utes that combine car ride and truck ruggedness. The Jeep Grand Cherokee comes close. The Ford Explorer and Land Rover Discovery come closer. The Blazer nails it.
My off-road experience in the four-wheel-drive version of the 1995 Blazer is insufficient to make a comparison there. But based on the way 95 percent of sport-utility owners use their vehicles, the new Blazer is a clear and present winner.
The Blazer is available with two or four doors; rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Chevy promises to market an automatic all-wheel-drive version this spring.
Both the two-door and four-door versions are offered in base, LS or super-lux LT trim packages. Five suspension systems are available, designed to appeal to most of us who are serious commuters and those few of us who are serious off-roaders. There’s only one Blazer engine — a cast-iron, 4.3-liter, overhead-valve V-6 rated 200 horsepower at 4,500 rpm, with torque maxed at 260 pound-feet at 3,600 rpm.
Standard brakes include power front discs/rear drums with four-wheel anti-lock backup. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission is standard. A five-speed manual gearbox is optional with the rear-wheel -drive package.
The Blazer is equipped with an air bag only for the driver.
Complaint: The Ford Explorer has two front air bags. Ditto the Land Rover Discovery. I see no reason why the Blazer shouldn’t have two bags up front.
Praise: Despite the absence of a second bag, I choose the 1995 Chevrolet Blazer as this year’s top sport-utility model. The reason is overall excellence in engineering, build and performance offered at a very competitive price.
Head-turning quotient: Very fine. Very fine, indeed.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Kicks butt in subcompact sport-ute segment. Special kudos to that 4.3-liter V-6 — smooth, even acceleration; lots of torque. The tested rear-wheel-drive Blazer LS handled well on wet roads and in light snow. Braking was excellent.
Mileage: About 17 miles per gallon (19-gallon tank, estimated 311-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), running mostly highway, driver only, with light cargo.
Sound system: Four-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, GM/Delco. Okay.
Price: Base price is $18,145. Estimated dealer invoice on base model is $15,240. Price as tested is $21,422, including $2,792 in options and a $485 destination charge.
Purse-strings note: The Blazer also is sold as the GMC Jimmy. Compare with Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee, Isuzu Rodeo, Nissan Pathfinder and Land Rover Discovery. Correction: Talk about dumb and dumber. Recently I wrote that the Jeep Cherokee Sport has a V-6. It actually has an inline-6 engine.