The race to expand the crossover/SUV segment to replace the rapid departure of conventional sedans from the marketplace continues to erase any doubt about which segment buyers have shifted their attention toward. Where once there were compact, midsize and full-size crossovers, the industry has now added a series of subcompact offerings as well as a newer sub-set of vehicles that slides between the smallest crossovers and the compact class products.
This segment is populated with names such as the Buick Encore GX, Honda HR-V, Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue Sport, VW Taos, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Seltos and Niro, Toyota CH-R, as well as Chevy’s Trailblazer. Currently, the Honda is the top-selling model, a turnabout for a previously modest selling unit, while the Subaru Crosstrek is a close second, followed by the Trailblazer.
Most of these models primarily feature front-drive, yet several have optional AWD for higher-priced trim levels. Our two-tone blue-and-white Chevy starts at just under $23,000 for a front-drive LS model with the base 1.2-liter turbo-three-cylinder engine with 137 hp and a CVT transmission, while our top Activ model ($26,895 to start) features the optional 155-hp 1.3-liter turbo-three backed by a nine-speed automatic transmission and AWD with a locking button for steady-state employment. The Buick Encore GX is a sibling offering, while only the Trailblazer features the sportier styling first witnessed on the brand’s larger Blazer.
Chevy also offers an LT trim ($24,995) plus a sporty RS model with the same starting price as the Activ.
The Trailblazer is 7 inches longer than the diminutive Trax, and 11 inches shorter than the compact-class Equinox. At under 3,300 pounds, the Trailblazer is barely heavier than the older Trax design and about 250 pounds lighter than the Equinox — which should help explain why turbocharged three-cylinder engines work very well here. Low-speed power is actually very peppy — perfect for urban driving — while highway cruising may create some strain if you like to push the pace. EPA ratings are 29/33 mpg for front-drive versions and 26/30 mpg for the AWD models. Daily driving duty saw 32-plus on the trip computer, yet a long slog on the highway, against a strong wind, netted only 24 mpg.
Two virtues stood out during the Trailblazer’s visit. The interior is very good, which is not often the case with too many of GM’s designs. The surfaces were attractive to look at, soft to the touch and well-integrated into a very functionally comfortable cabin that used sensible controls and knobs to manage all functions. There is a parcel shelf ahead of the front passenger, a large multi-bin console and large door pockets. The front seats are satisfactory, plus the back seat is truly adult-friendly. The rear seatbacks fold flat, as well as the front passenger seat, to create an 8.5-foot-long cargo space that exceeds several larger rivals.
On the road, the Trailblazer displays great confidence with quick, agile handling and a compliant ride suitable to its 104-inch wheelbase. The two-tone paint scheme is very attractive, and used to be much more common, plus the interior cargo versatility beats several rivals. The locking AWD button is another notable addition for drivers who want to ensure all four wheels are working in snow, mud or heavy rain.
The overall finish of the interior edges out the top-selling Honda HR-V for comfort and performance. It would be good to say that the Trailblazer is quiet, but the (optional) roof-top cargo basket made so much wind roar, it was hard to tell. Provided for illustrative purposes, and to reinforce the sporting nature of small crossovers, the basket is removable.
Activ trim includes heated leather seating, heated steering wheel, plus a host of electronic driving aids. Several option packages let buyers decide which convenience and safety features they want, or need. You can use two Bluetooth devices at the same time, plus Android and Apple capability on the optional 8-inch screen provide additional entertainment.
Chevy now has no fewer than eight crossovers/SUVs in its lineup, ranging from the tiny Bolt EV and Trax to this Trailblazer, the Equinox, the midsize Blazer, the Tahoe and Traverse, plus the granddaddy of them all — the Suburban. The Bolt is electric only; however, GM has no hybrid crossovers currently, which seems like a notable gap as Ford, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia all offer several hybrid crossovers.
The small turbo-motor makes the Trailblazer lively, and smoother, than competitors lacking turbocharging. In many ways, this Trailblazer is much better than the small cars that Chevy used to make — that didn’t sell as well, or as profitably. No wonder they have eight SUVs to offer.
Next week: Jeep Grand Cherokee L