Subcompact SUV done right for North America
BY MARK MAYNARD
The new Chevrolet Trailblazer is a social climber in a steep segment of small SUVs that expands the perception and function of a subcompact vehicle. It makes the most of a small space and scoots around on a choice of two turbocharged, three-cylinder engines.
It revives the nameplate previously applied to the midsize model discontinued in 2009. But the 2021 Trailblazer is a fresh start throughout. It fits in the lineup between the slightly smaller Chevy Trax and compact-class Equinox, and shares much with the Buick Encore GX. But while the Encore is a more “premium” choice, the Trailblazer is “sporty” with optional all-wheel drive and an Activ trim level that is toughened up for some trail driving.
Competitors include the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX30, Nissan Kicks and Toyota C-HR.
The Trailblazer is sold in five trim choices in front- or all-wheel drive: L, LS, LT, Activ and RS. The RS has street-sporty features of black trim elements, a black mesh grille and dual exhaust outlets with chrome tips. Activ is burlier with 17-inch all-terrain styled tires, a raised lower section for ground clearance and underbody skid shields.
All front-drive models have the CVT and 137-hp, turbocharged and direct-injected 1.2-liter Ecotec three-cylinder engine. Upgrading to AWD adds the nine-speed automatic and the 155-hp, 1.3-liter engine.
Starting prices for front-drive models range from $19,995 to $24,695, including the $995 freight charge from Incheon, South Korea. The L and LS models are basic runabouts and couriers but ideal for the task with a large cargo area, a tall 40 inches of headroom and a folding back seat; the L is available only in white paint with a black interior and 16-inch wheels with wheel covers.
At the time of this posting, there was a customer-cash incentive of $550 applied when building the Trailblazer online. Find pricing incentives here for all Chevy models.
The LT, RS and Activ will have the desirable convenience, audio and convenience features expected of a car costing $26,000 and up. The RS and Activ with AWD and 1.3-liter engine start at $27,445. The Activ AWD tester was $32,995 with all three of the major packages, plus $645 for Iridescent Pearl Tricoat paint and Zeus Bronze metallic roof. (There are six other no-charge paint colors, including a non-metallic white and five metallic hues, including Midnight Blue, Dark Copper and Zeus Metallic.
Standard equipment on the Activ includes smart-key locking and push-button ignition, 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, leatherette upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheel, flat folding front passenger seat, power (manually folding) side mirrors, LED taillights-foglights-running lights, IntelliBeam (auto-dimming) headlights, power windows, 60/40 folding back seat, rear center armrest, 17-inch sport-terrain tires and alloy wheels and underbody skid plates.
Safety features include 10 air bags with advanced technologies for Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Following Distance Indicator.
It is the option packages that run up the price and the tester’s $33,000 sticker seemed plenty — but it created a car to enjoy for the long term. The interior materials are of appealing quality, the design is contemporary and so are the infotainment options. Among its clever features are a fold-flat front passenger seat, which will allow boards and gear up to 8.5 feet long. The four-wheel-disc brakes, 12.6-inches front and 11.3-inches rear, should be adequate for its 1,000-pound tow rating. And the Trailblazer can be dolly-towed behind a motor home.
I have not driven a Trailblazer with the 1.2-liter engine, but pulling around a 3,030-pound SUV with a 135-hp three-cylinder and CVT could be an experience of underpowered frustration of turbo spooling and CVT rubber-banding.
There’s not much of a fuel-economy advantage, either. Front-drive models are rated for 28 mpg city, 31 highway and 29 mpg combined, on the recommended 87 octane. The 1.3-liter has mileage ratings of 29/33/31 mpg or 26/30/28 mpg with AWD.
The “big” engine has more force than you might imagine from a 1.3-liter and the nine-speed automatic easily manipulates the engine’s 174 foot-pounds of torque from a reasonably low 1,600 rpm. Using sport mode can sharpen launch force and shift points, but I zipped around in the standard mode. My average fuel economy ranged from 21.3 to 34.3 mpg.
Compared to a four-cylinder, there is a little more engine vibration at idle, but it’s not concerning. And there is a more abrupt start-up after a stop-start at idle.
The Trailblazer is a small SUV and will limit access to some drivers of the big-and-tall club, but front headroom of 38 inches, with the sunroof, and legroom of almost 41 inches will accommodate many in the height range of 6 feet.
Sightlines are unobstructed over the hood, at the side mirrors and over the shoulder. The turning circle of 37.3 feet is a little wide but not unwieldy in tight parking —and the wide rearview camera is empowering in tight parking situations.
The driver area is well designed for the modern driver. The controls are large and easily viewed and there are several areas for small-item storage. The shift console integrates a handy e-bin with wireless charging and two USB charging ports, one Type C.
The Trailblazer feels robust and durable, not dainty, with a trail pass for light-duty excursions. On road, the ride quality is sporty-firm but not rough, though there is head-toss when transitioning driveways or speed bumps. The Hankook Dynapro AT2 (225/60) tires, with their all-terrain sidewall blocks and a hard 660 treadwear rating, can be noisy on concrete highways and you will feel every little seam. But a hard tire benefits fuel economy and the tires have a tread-life warranty of six years or 60,000 miles.
The Trailblazer is a puddle-jumper of fun, whether whomping along busted American streets or scrambling to a trailhead. It might be marketed to young drivers, but mature drivers will value the ride height, roomy cabin and range of conveniences and comfort features. I liked that it was been given a range of popular GM safety features and clever engineering features, such as the fold-flat front seat, two-level cargo floor and the latest in device-charging ports.
Several of the subcompact SUVs sold in the U.S. have been sourced from global or Asian markets, and they aren’t always well retrofitted or redesigned for how American drivers prefer their vehicles. The new Trailblazer was developed by GM Korea and it seems to be a pure translation for an American audience, at least on the higher trim levels.
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ AWD
Body style: subcompact, 5-seat, 5-door SUV crossover, with AWD
Engine: 155-hp, 1.3-liter direct-injection, turbocharged 4-cylinder with auto stop-start at idle; 174 lb.-ft. torque at 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 26/30/26 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
Tow capacity: 1,000 lbs.
Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.
Cargo space: 25.3-54.4 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 40*/40.9 in. *w/o sunroof
Rear head/leg room: 40/39.4 in.
Length/wheelbase: 173.7/103.9 in.
Curb weight: 3,275 lbs.
Turning circle: 37.3 ft.
Standard equipment includes: smart-key locking and push-button ignition, 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, 4-way manual front passenger seat, leatherette upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheel, flat folding front passenger seat, power (manually folding) side mirrors, LED taillights-foglights-running lights, power windows, 60/40 folding back seat, rear center armrest, 17-inch sport-terrain tires and alloy wheels and underbody skid plates
Safety features include: 10 air bags, Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, Following Distance Indicator, IntelliBeam (auto-dimming) headlights
Base price: $27,995, including $995 freight charge; price as tested $32,995
Options on test vehicle: Iridescent Pearl Tricoat paint $645; Sun and liftgate package, $1,770, adds a power dual-pane sunroof and hands-free power liftgate with LED logo lighting; Technology package, $1,620, includes wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, wireless charging, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, 7-speaker Bose audio system, HD rearview camera; Convenience package, $620, includes automatic air conditioning, auto-dimming rearview mirror, sliding visors with lighted and covered mirrors, 120-volt power outlet, back seat charging USBs (A and C); Driver Confidence package, $345, adds rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert and lane-change alert with side blind-zone alert
Where assembled: Incheon, South Korea
Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper with a free first scheduled maintenance; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain and roadside assistance with courtesy transportation