Mountain Wheels: Affordable Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV provides competent off-road chops
In the interest of not always talking about vehicles such as the Nissan Armada or the Infiniti QX80 you will soon see, there has to be some space in the automotive food chain for sporty utilities that aren’t so huge that they block out the sun or cost as much as your kid’s college tuition.
Thus, let me continue to sing the praises of an unlikely hit: the Chevrolet Trailblazer. As I mentioned on my first encounter a year ago, the Korean-built, three-cylinder, $27,000-or-less-base-priced Chevy may not seem like a winner, especially in a sea of more sophisticated offerings, but it is. I think it offers great value, it provides more than the basics for in-town and even light off-road adventures, and it was also capable of generating more than 34 mpg, without any fancy or electrified technology.
Yes, the name is one of those legacy titles that has been attached to both small Chevrolet pickups and an early midsize SUV. For now, Trailblazer appears to us as a sprightly and sporty small SUV whose design presents plenty of attributes from the Blazer (which itself takes plenty of up-front cues from Camaro, oddly), but is still bigger and more capable than the diminutive Trax.
Trailblazer’s image is actually a lot of things, but with a white roof and mirror caps and an athletic stance, it could almost be mistaken for a mashup of a Mini Cooper Countryman or a tiny Toyota FJ Cruiser.
For 2022, Trailblazer gets some small updates in equipment and colors — you can add roof rack cross rails or even a trailering package (it will indeed tow 1,000 pounds of small-scale trailer), and a heated steering wheel gets added availability on three models. Four metallic paint jobs — red, blue, crimson and orange — also help make the small SUV a little more sparkly.
Trailblazer’s strategy perhaps mimics that of the actual Korean automakers’ smaller, specific-lifestyle-focused crossovers, which means both a more street-style RS model and a surprisingly capable light-off-road model, the ACTIV, plus the traditional LS and LT trims. That’s where you’ll find an entry price very close to $20,000 for the same capability and layout, probably minus all-wheel drive.
I had rides in both of the upscale editions, and while the differences don’t massively transform the experience in either, I remained impressed with the higher-output 1.3-liter turbo engine that came as an option on both, generating 155 horsepower. Yes, that’s not a lot compared to, well, even top-line motorcycles nowadays, but here, with compact size and low weight, (3,275 pounds) more than enough for comfortable highway travel and confident runs up the passes.
The standard engine, by the way, is a 1.2-liter turbo, rated for 137 horsepower, more suited to the front-wheel drive base models.
The physics of the Trailblazer experience are rather curious, as it doesn’t feel that small when you’re inside and boasts 54.4 cubic feet of storage if you drop the acceptably comfortable rear seats. If you opt for a fold-flat front passenger seat, you’ll also be able to load an 8.5-foot-long pile of vintage race skis or some object of equivalent length.
Trailblazer itself rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase and offers 173.7 inches of overall length, meaning it’s infinitely more suited to limited parking space than your standard, monster-sized SUV.
Once again, I took the Active model (priced at $32,155) for a late fall ride on some reasonably challenging terrain — the bumpy Mt. Herman road, from Monument over to Woodland Park just outside Colorado Springs — and its upgraded, reinforced-sidewall, all-terrain tires and improved suspension made it impressively capable. A little extra ground clearance and some off-road oriented underbody paneling also means it ought to survive most of what you throw at it.
For that kind of price point, Trailblazer drivers get little more than an AWD lock button (still hidden in front of the shifter), but I think that ought to suffice for most users.
It’s certainly stylish, with that multilevel face (featuring Camaro-styled running lamps up top, very bright potted headlamps in the middle and small fog lamps at the bottom). The interior is also an explosion of surfaces and levels, with copper-colored inserts, denim-styled material inside the doors and on the seat edges, and chrome highlights elsewhere.
The RS, meanwhile, gets a specific mesh grille, dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets and a more blacked out look; it still featured a panoramic sunroof and a high-definition rear camera, all for $32,350.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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