AMERICAN BRAWN

Tame all roads in Chevy’s iconic Trailblazer

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The name “Blazer” is almost iconic in the United States, the birthplace of Chevrolet’s capable mid-sized SUV, but is only now beginning to make its mark here, where the market is still dominated by its other truck-based competition from Toyota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and archrival Ford.

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The Trailblazer’s lineage dates back to 1982, when the first Blazers based on the General Motors light pick-up platform (the Chevrolet S-10 and the GMC S-15) were introduced. The popular small SUV evolved into the larger Trailblazer based on the GMT360 truck platform in 2001. In 2009, Chevrolet announced it would discontinue the Trailblazer, but in 2012 a second generation of the robust SUV returned. The 2017 top-end Z71 variant tested by Fast Times is a further update of the successful package.

Sharp exterior
The most noticeable cosmetic change for 2017 compared with earlier model years is a somewhat “sharpened” exterior appearance. The front profile has been flattened slightly, with angular headlamps and vent grills presenting an aggressive face. The chiseled look of the new Trailblazer is accentuated by sharp body contours on the fenders, doors and quarter panels, and complemented by angular tail lamp clusters and small but prominent rear spoiler and contoured rear bumper cover.

The Z71 variant is the most striking of the three available, particularly in the fire engine-red paint scheme our test unit was dressed in (Chevrolet actually calls the color ‘Pull Me Over Red’). A black trim pattern on the hood – a design touch that harks back to the golden age of such iconic Chevrolet models as the Malibu and the Camaro – is a sporty touch, as are the 18-inch gunmetal wheels with meaty 265/60R18 intermediate tires.

Practical, comfortable interior
The redesigned interior is not a radical departure from earlier versions, but features an upgraded dashboard, softer interior materials that cut down some of the Trailblazer’s cabin noise – something that was a little disconcerting in earlier models – and slightly repositioned seating. The Trailblazer is designed to seat seven, with two fold-down seats forming a third row in the back, and provides ample space in both the front and rear. With the third-row seats folded down, cargo space is generous, and can even be expanded with the second-row seats folded as well.

The biggest innovation in the 2017 Trailblazer is the advanced Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system, operated by an 8-inch touchscreen in the center dash. The system allows the driver or passengers to cast a version of their own smartphone screen onto the vehicle’s touchscreen. Using voice recognition, the driver can then make calls, access navigation apps and browse through music without taking eyes off the road – an outstanding feature, given the country’s new-found cognizance of distracted driving.

The new Trailblazer also gets two thumbs up for its outstanding collection of electronic driving and safety aids. The Z71 variant we tested was equipped with a forward collision warning; front and rear parking assist – the latter operating through a rear-mounted camera; lane departure warning; a very helpful blind spot monitor, which uses an LED signal in the exterior mirror; rear crossing traffic alert, and a tire pressure monitoring system. In addition, there is also a remote start function operated through the electronic key fob, a welcome option on sunny days when putting one’s shorts-clad bottom on black seats that have been in the sun for a while.

Our younger reviewers were favorably impressed with the Trailblazer’s rear air conditioning system, and rated the rear seats as more comfortable than most vehicles we tested. The Trailblazer’s stock sound system was given favorable reviews as well.

Reliable power
The Z71 variant carries the largest engine available for the Trailblazer, a 2.8-liter, 4-cylinder Euro 4 spec diesel with variable-geometry turbocharger. The same package is available for the 4×2 LT variant with automatic transmission as well; the manual transmission variant is equipped with a 2.5-liter engine. The 4×4 Z71 has a 6-speed automatic transmission with shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive modes, although speeds are constrained to 20 kph or less for shifting to the low four-wheel range.

According to Chevrolet’s published specs, the engine develops 200 horsepower at 3,800 rpm, and provides 500 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. Fuel economy is reasonably good, and at the very least is consistent; the Trailblazer consumed a liter for every 10.6 to 10.8 kilometers in varying road conditions.

For a large vehicle, the Chevy Trailblazer is an extremely comfortable driver with responsive handling, and good all-around vision enhanced by the various driving aids.

Handling was well-behaved in traffic or along Manila streets that were designed before cars were even invented. Ergonomically, the driver’s seat, pedals, steering wheel and instrument displays are well-designed, and did not result in fatigue even on long stints.

In normal street and highway driving, the Trailblazer had more than sufficient power and respectable speed, but exhibited one quirk we have noticed in other Chevrolet models such as the Colorado pick-up; low-end torque when in normal two-wheel drive mode may be a little lacking, with the Trailblazer exhibiting a tendency to hesitate under quick acceleration. Once up to speed, or in all-wheel drive mode, the hesitation disappears. It is a habit that one quickly becomes accustomed to and can adjust his driving style to accommodate, but is probably something Chevrolet will want to iron out in the next automatic transmission variants.

Our verdict
The Chevrolet Trailblazer for 2017 is an improvement over what was already a respectable vehicle in earlier versions, and gets high marks for looks, comfort, safety, and handling ease. The versatility of the cabin space is also a positive, and ergonomics in terms of driver comfort and placement and style of gauges and switches have been thoughtfully designed. The Trailblazer exhibits good fuel economy for a vehicle of its size, and, except for its low-end torque hitch, a strong and obedient car on the road. Priced at just over P1.88 million for the Z71 variant tested, the Chevy Trailblazer has both value and style, and should be a fixture on Philippine roads for years to come.

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