The Truth Behind the 2021 Chevy Trailblazer

After the new Blazer was unveiled in April of 2018, there was almost immediate speculation about the future of the nameplate and whether Chevy would reintroduce the Trailblazer as well. After all, the Trailblazer moniker has a disorganized history. The Trailblazer first appeared as a trim-level on the second-gen S10 Blazer, but it was almost immediately slapped on a new body-on-frame SUV (which shared its entire GMT360 frame with 5 other SUVs at the time). Once that particular Trailblazer reached its sunset, Chevy switched gears and put the Trailblazer badge on a Colorado-based SUV that was to be sold only in Brazil and Asia. Many Trailblazer enthusiasts felt Chevy had neglected them by not offering a continuation of the burly and rough-edged SUV for the US market, but in reality Chevy had other plans.

Enter the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer: a sharp, wonky-looking unibody crossover-SUV that is manufactured in Korea and has an engine built in China mated to a transmission built in Mexico. Not to mention an American badge. It’s also the sister-car to the Buick Encore GX, sharing nearly all of its parts and options with it. So from the start, the new Trailblazer has a tough time garnering a streamlined identity. What’s more, when Chevy debuted the Trailblazer last May, they themselves admitted it was going to be a “continuation of of the design language for Chevy’s crossover family and [extend their] momentum into one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments“. Quite a slap in the face for enthusiasts, but therein lies the reality behind the new Trailblazer. It was never meant to harken back to the Trailblazer of yesteryear, or to in some way compete with the then-unrevealed Ford Bronco… It was meant to sell.

And sell it has.

© Road’s Edge (by Dante DiMauro)

According to ISeeCars.com, an independent car search engine, the 2021 Trailblazer is the fastest selling car in the United States. And it’s not even a close competition. New Trailblazers sit on dealer lots for an average of 19 days before final sale, whereas the runner-up Kia Telluride takes nearly 26 days. In third place is the Trailblazer’s prime competitor, the Kia Seltos, which takes roughly 31 days.

This is big news for car enthusiasts anywhere because as much as we may lament the market demand for bulbous four-door crossovers, it is now more apparent than ever that they are not going anywhere anytime soon.

We wanted to get our hands on a new Trailblazer to see what the fuss is about, and thanks to a private owner we were able to test a fully-loaded RS model. The Trailblazer is offered in five trims to be precise: L, LS, LT, Activ, and RS. The L trim starts at a decent $19,000. with the top two trims starting at an identical $25,700. Apart from minor suspension tunes and unique tires, they are basically different only in aesthetics. The Activ takes on a more rugged approach, while the RS embodies the same Camaro-esque influence as its Blazer RS big brother.

© Road’s Edge (by Dante DiMauro)

Powertrain options are a point of contention, as you’re not getting more than three cylinders no matter which of the two sub-1.5L engines you choose. The good news is both engines are turbocharged, which provide a much-needed increase in torque.

Relating to that, the Trailblazer can be optioned for FWD and AWD. If you go for a FWD model, you can only get the 1.2L turbocharged inline-three cylinder which puts out about 137 horsepower through a CVT transmission.  That’s a bit embarrassing for a unibody crossover that weighs a little over two tons.  However, on AWD models, you will get a slightly larger 1.3L turbocharged inline-3 with a slight power boost to put out 155 horsepower.  For most that increase may not seem necessary, but that larger engine comes with a huge plus: it’s mated to a nine-speed automatic. Chevy’s continuously variable transmission is smooth, but the simulated shifts and occasional rev-hangs are nonsense gimmicks aimed at converting you into a CVT sycophant. What’s nice about the AWD system, apart from its obvious benefits for traction in a front-heavy crossover, is that it’s on-demand, so you can turn it on and off if you are concerned about saving gas.

You shouldn’t be concerned about fuel efficiency, however, as the AWD Trailblazer is rated at a combined 28mpg.  But, in our testing, we found that number to be a bit humble actually, as we averaged 31mph over roughly 100 miles and were able to top out at over 37mpg on sweeping back roads going uphill and downhill about the same.  The turbo 3-cylinder may cause some to grimace at first, as it certainly did to us, but the the engineering that went into it deserves at least some praise.  Something else that surprised us was the engine’s unique sound.  Thankfully there’s no fake exhaust noise that gets pumped into the cabin as you see on some modern sports cars, but the little 1.3L that I tested was actually surprisingly grumbly.  At low revs, you might think that you are driving a flat-plane crank V8, but of course once you go past 3000 revs your Trailblazer starts to gasp for air and its obvious strain brings you back to reality.  One can dream, Harold…

© Road’s Edge (by Dante DiMauro)

Let’s discuss the handling capabilities of the Trailblazer.  Since our tester was an RS, the suspension was tuned to be a bit stiffer than other trims, which when paired with the car’s featherlight steering is a bit uncomfortable.  However, when you engage the car’s featured “sport mode”, the steering tightens up quite a bit which makes the ride more enjoyable around town.  That’s not typical car-journalist garble either, it’s genuinely enjoyable for a crossover. The Hankook Kinergy GTs, unique to the RS trim, are decently grippy and make corners feel smooth along when combined with the Trailblazer’s surprising lack of body-roll.  Our tester also had AWD, so the coinciding 1.3L turbo’d motor made around-town getups surprisingly peppy. However, on the highway, the peppiness dissipates quickly. You’re not necessarily going to have to plan your lane changes, but the acceleration is quite lacking once you go past 65mph.  Not that you need to. Ahem. For legal reasons, we tested the 2021 Trailblazer in Tijuana.

Another bonus of having a fully-loaded tester is getting to experience all the goodies. The massive panoramic sunroof is surprisingly good for a car of this stature, and the hands-free lift gate, ten-speaker Bose sound system, adaptive cruise control, and other features are all nice additions. The RS also boasts unique Leatherette seats and interior panels, but there’s a catch to that. The seat inserts are cloth, and the leatherette only wraps around the sides and along the headrest. As the packages start to pile on and the window sticker gets pricier and pricer, you begin to scratch your head as to why you can’t just get full-on leatherette seats.

The bottom line is, if you want a GM alternative to Ford’s new Bronco Sport, you need to look elsewhere. If you want to take a break from Hondas, Kias, and Nissans but still want a solid, worthy crossover, then you’ve found a great substitute.

Chevy could have caused a lot less headaches if, rather than misalign the Trailblazer moniker, they had just called this car the new Tracker. That’s what it is after all. And it’s the best Tracker that Chevy has ever made.

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