Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 17, 2019
Baie-St-Paul, Quebec - Chevrolet has revived the Blazer nameplate for 2019 but this stylish new crossover couldn’t be more different from the 1969 original. Slotting between the compact two-row Equinox and the larger three-row Traverse in size, and sharing a platform with the familial GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5, the two-row, five-passenger Blazer joins a crowded automotive segment - Subaru Forester, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, just to name a few - and needs to stand out if it wants to claim a slice of the pie. The Blazer has been touted by Chevrolet as the Camaro of the SUV world. Does it live up to this daunting claim? Almost.
For starters, the Blazer and its muscular sheetmetal draws heavily on the performance coupe’s design and subsequent appeal. Matched with distinctive lines and a menacing Camaro ZL1-inspired front grill, the Blazer is an SUV oozing with road presence. Chevrolet separated the daytime running lights from the HID headlights as well, relocating the latter lower, reducing the amount of light shining on cars in the opposing lane. I have yet to find one bad angle on the Blazer, though it does eerily appear like a Lexus RX from the rear quarters with the trunk line protruding out and the black “floating roof” effect on the C-pillars. Base models come with 18-inch wheels but optional 21-inch wheels are available on the top-end RS and Premier models.
The interior follows the Camaro-inspired theme with a driver-centric layout and circular air vents that can be twisted to adjust the temperature - I call them onion ring vents. An 8-inch touchscreen loaded up with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability sits front and center, and like in the Camaro, is angled slightly downwards. When I asked the engineers why, they said the angle is to reduce light glare, however I found that the tilted screen makes it difficult to input commands - twisting your wrist so your finger hits the screen before your nail seems to be the answer. The system itself is excellent, with quick responses, crisp graphics, and a friendly layout. Material quality is similar to other Chevrolet offerings, with plastics running rampant on high traffic areas but reflective of its price point.
Every conceivable modern feature is available in the Blazer but you will have to fork over a pretty penny to get them all equipped. The Rear Camera Mirror that debuted in Cadillacs a few years ago receives an update, with adjustable zoom, tilt, and brightness that eases ocular adjustment to the screen. While impressive in theory, it still doesn’t address the issue of depth perception. I only found it useful during slow, less time-sensitive maneuvers, like parking for instance or backing out of a tight driveway, where the wide angle camera captures evidently more than any standard rear view camera. Other notable features include the electronic-locking glove box set via PIN in the infotainment screen, the ability to pair two phones via Bluetooth simultaneously, and a Chevrolet mobile app that allows owners to virtually control every aspect of their Blazer via their smartphone.
Where the Blazer clearly triumphs over the Camaro - not that it was a competition to begin with - is with interior packaging. Unlike the bunker-like coupe, outward visibility in the Blazer is excellent from all sides, matched with a wealth of front row space and above average rear accommodations, enough for my six-foot frame to fit comfortably in any one of the five seats. Seated in the rear, my head grazes the roof liner but this is quickly remedied by reclining the seat. Speaking of which, Chevrolet is proud of the fact that the rear seats can slide up to 120 mm for easier ingress and egress, and fold fully flat to the floor (try saying that ten times) for unimpeded cargo loading. The Blazer also receives a trunk rail system and cargo fence, allowing passengers to divide the cargo area so smaller items are kept secure.
To get some driving impressions, I took the Blazer on a tour of rural Quebec, cruising north along stretches of smooth highways parallel to the St. Lawrence River and eventually reaching sinuous backroads bordering Baie-St-Paul, the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil. While the Blazer isn’t as flexible as a professional acrobat, it twists and turns with a fair degree of dexterity.
Two powertrains are available: a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that produces 193 hp and 188 lb-ft via a 9-speed automatic with front wheel drive, and a 3.6-litre V6 that delivers 308 hp and 269 lb-ft through the same 9-speed with both front- and all-wheel drive available. The AWD system can even be disconnected from the rear axle entirely for improved fuel economy. Furthermore, the top RS and Premier models come with a more unique twin-clutch AWD system with torque-vectoring benefits, sending torque to each individual rear wheel for better stability and traction. Towing capacity with the V6 is a competitive 2,041 kg (4,500 lbs).
I can’t comment on how the four-cylinder drives as none were available to test. Chevrolet only expects a small handful of customers, and by that I mean 1% of Blazers, to be four-cylinders. The rest will opt for the V6 and for good reason. Brimming with enthusiasm and alacrity, the V6 is a smooth motor that charges up and down its powerband without a hiccup, emitting a sweet and refined exhaust noise in the process. Rather expectedly, the low- to mid-range lacks that turbocharged punch but in substitute, the power delivery is much more linear and predictable.
The V6 is more than sufficient for highway overtakes and daily duties but don’t expect to be kicked back into the seat at wide open throttle. Most of its energy lives in the higher RPMs, so you will find yourself on the right side of the tachometer more often than not. All the tricks in the book are found here as well, with cylinder deactivation (shuts off two cylinders under light power loads), and start/stop technology (shuts the engine off when idling) for fuel economy benefits. Furthermore, the mated 9-speed transmission, which is also used in the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, wholeheartedly keeps up with quick and intelligent shifts when left to its own devices. It’s a well-tuned gearbox, and is even more alert when you select Sport Mode.
The Blazer is undeniably of the better handling crossovers in the segment, and triumphs over a rather mundane field - think Mazda CX-5, Honda Passport, Ford Edge ST. The latter three aren’t terrible to drive, in fact they’re lovely in their own right but lack the special sauce that instills us with the same confidence as the Blazer. They don’t egg you on to drive and push faster when the road turns sinuous. The Blazer does. I wouldn’t call it the Camaro of SUVs but it is noticeably more fun than its rivals. Not even the Porsche Macan feels like a 911 but it aspires to be, and you get whiffs of its sporting DNA. The same goes for the Blazer. You can feel it trying to be a low-slung Camaro and even with its higher center of gravity and high seating position, you get momentary whiffs of its familial origins. The steering weights up nicely and you can place the front nose right where you want it. Without turbochargers impeding delivery, you can power down hard during rotation and let that twin-clutch system sort it all out for you. Does it live up to the claim? Not quite, but it drives stupendously well for what it is.
What makes the Blazer stand out is the suspension tuning and ride quality. I actually wasn’t expecting this sport-minded crossover to offer such a convincingly supple ride around town, bordering on Acura RDX levels of comfort. Cosseting and quiet, the Blazer Premier effectively isolates occupants from the majority of road vibrations. I had a brief stint in the Blazer RS too, which raises the bar with 40% stiffer MacPherson front struts, 15% stiffer five-link rears, quicker steering ratios, and a plateful of aesthetic additions. It amounts to a noticeable change in ride quality, sacrificing the fluidity and gentleness of the Premier for a tauter ride. The RS rides harder over undulations and broken pavement, a regular occurence around rural Quebec, though the more sensitive steering gives the RS a slightly more agile character, but only just. It’s the spec you want if you hold performance dear to your heart but for those who put comfort above all else, stick with the other trims.
The Chevrolet Blazer starts off at $35,200 and rings up close to $55,000 for a fully-optioned Premier model, far from the cheapest mid-size crossover in town. The expected volume trim, the Blazer True North Edition, is at a more competitive $43,400 with a fair mix of standard options and features, and falls in line with the Honda Passport EX-L. The steeper price of the more desirable top RS and Premier trims is not proportional to the amount of fun and driver involvement behind the wheel, nor the kind of interior refinement you would expect, but it does convincing make up for that with bold styling and excellent suspension tuning.
The Blazer sparks a flame, kindling the spirit of enthusiasts bogged down by the daily requirements of an SUV. Not everyone can afford to have a Camaro take up precious garage real estate, let alone justify spending money on a two-door coupe that at most, can carry two passengers and small babies in the back “seats”, with limited cargo space. But for those wanting a whiff of that feeling, the Blazer will satisfy that inner desire. It’s not the Camaro SUV I was expecting, but if you are willing to fork over a bit of premium, its commendable ride quality and characterful V6 engine will be an engaging and endearing dancing partner for many years to come.
Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD
Paint Type: Silver Ice Metallic
Base Price: $48,700
Price as Tested: $53,990
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,862 / 1,946 / 1,702
Curb weight (kg): 1,910
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 308 hp @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 12.7 / 9.5 / 11.3