Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: November 8, 2020
Chevrolet is persistently looking for ways to spice up and expand their line of popular SUVs and crossovers. The mid-size Blazer hit the market with a splash and featured a sleek design with a wealth of options for even the most discerning buyer. Now slotting below that and right above the Trax is the new Trailblazer, a namesake resurrection of a body-on-frame rough and tumble SUV from the early 2000s.
This time, the new boss ain’t the same as the old boss. And while this diminutive crossover may look tough and capable, the Trailblazer’s design is more suited for parking lot blazing rather than what its namesake might suggest. Dressed in Dark Copper metallic paint with a contrasting white roof, the Trailblazer mimics the look for its larger brother. The grill is immediately reminiscent of the Blazer with two narrow slits house aggressive LED headlamps. Between them, a giant maw of a grille that gives the Trailblazer its handsome good looks. It’s a design that works despite the small footprint.
Like the Blazer, the top trim level is the RS but the podium is shared with the Activ trim too. Both trims serve different audiences. The RS arrives with more visually athletic appointments. The Activ, as its truncated name suggests, looks more at home in a mountainous backdrop. This particular tester came optioned in guise of the latter, which means visually it sports an exclusive front grille and lower bumper chin that gives the perception of skid plates. Out back, it receives trapezoidal exhaust tips and another faux skid plate. Finally, rounding out its outdoorsy look is a set of 17-inch sport terrain tires and a suspension tuned specifically for gravel roads.
On-road mannerisms are good. The gravel-optimized suspension delivers a firmer ride than necessary and realistically, the most off-roading this crossover will ever see is a few loose gravel campsite trails. The ride was never uncomfortable or jarring, and NVH was well isolated despite the sport terrain tires. Body motions aren’t as well controlled as other crossovers in this segment, and while the steering may be accurate and reactive to inputs, the handling doesn’t feel very rewarding. Further exacerbating this is the lacklustre performance from the 1.3L EcoTec 3-cylinder, which is the uprated variant of two available engines. Power output peaks at 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, managed by GM’s 9-speed automatic. The motor feels plenty peppy getting up to speed in urban settings, but the tiny turbo is quickly overwhelmed and left gasping in situations where heavy demand is required, such as highway passes, or on-ramp merging. If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because the drivetrain and underpinnings of the Trailblazer are shared with the Buick Encore GX.
Inside, you won’t find any of the red accent stitching on the leatherette seating surfaces that the RS offers. Instead, the leatherette seats feature white accent stitching and the addition of denim-like cloth in the door cards. GM calls it Arizona, though I couldn’t find any indication that Arizonians were particularly fond of denim (I can only surmise that naming it “Canadian Tux” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same). Otherwise, both trim levels offer the same packages, a $1,895 technology package (SiriusXM, 8” infotainment system, adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, and a 7-speaker Bose sound system), a $1,995 Sun and Liftgate package (panoramic moonroof, power liftgate), and a $695 convenience package (automatic climate control, USB type A and Type-C chargers, auto dimming rearview mirror).
Standard on Activ models include a full suite of safety features including cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, emergency braking forward collision alert, and lane keep assist. Curious enough, an omission from the options sheet is factory navigation, likely a move to further differentiate the Buick from the Chevrolet, and deliver a touch more value to aspiring Buick buyers. Instead, owners here will have to rely on the infotainment system’s integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which do an exemplary job of filling in the gap. Overall, everything comes together to make the Trailblazer a safe and pleasant place to spend time in.
Pricing starts at $30,498 for the Activ or RS trim line. All option boxes ticked and the total rings out to $37,478, quickly making this one of the more expensive options in the segment, with stiff competition from rivals that are offering compelling options at lower price points. That’s not to say there isn’t value here. The sweet spot certainly seems to be at the LT trim level, starting at $27,998 and introduces all the safety features you’d need, the larger 1.3L turbo, all wheel drive, and a 7-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which ought to be enough for most owners.
As one of the hottest segments to date, there’s no shortage of subcompact crossovers. The Trailblazer joins the fight with an appealing proposition, and while the RS and Activ models might not represent the most value, there’s plenty of potential in the lower and middle trims.
Model: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ
Paint Type: Dark Copper Metallic
Base Price: $30,498
Price as Tested: $37,478
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,413 / 1,808 / 1,669
Curb weight (kg): 1,485
Engine: 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder
Horsepower: 155 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 174 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 8.9 / 7.8 / 8.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.3