The bakkie-based family wagon offered decent suspension, ground clearance and approach and departure angles, which meant it wouldn't self-destruct if it encountered anything worse than a slightly rutted dirt road. The three all-wheel-drive versions had part-time 4x4 transmissions that, when activated, distributed torque between the front and rear wheels, with a low-range setting available as a third option via the electronic command dial.
The range also came with a choice between two diesel and one petrol engine. The Chev never really threatened the Fortuner, though, and a facelift in March this year didn't make the picture look any brighter for General Motors. In August this year GM sold 106 Trailblazers against the 959 Fortuners that moved off showroom floors, and last month the figures were similar at 99 (Chev) vs 1,234 (Toyota).
I don't believe that's due to any deficiency in the vehicles though; it's more a hangover from the many years that Toyota dominated the market in South Africa, leading to fierce brand loyalty. One benefit of driving the Chev rather than the Toyota is that you're less likely to try pack your groceries into somebody else's car at the Pavilion!
The upgrade to the Trailblazer six months ago was somewhat more than a simple facelift, limited to a bit of chrome here and there. The 2.5 and 2.8-litre Duramax turbodiesel engines have both been breathed on to give each an additional nine percent of power. The bigger of the two also receives a significant boost in torque, with the auto version going from 470 to 500Nm, while the manual has been conservatively restrained to the 440Nm of the older model.
Other enhancements include the addition of Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system adding smartphone technology with a 7" touch screen and a host of media capabilities including video and picture playback, and six speakers.
All five models also come with limited-slip differentials, rear ventilation control, 11 cup holders, numerous stowage trays, four 12v power outlets, and cruise control, while the four LTZ versions add leather upholstery, reverse cameras, climate control, electronic stability control, cruise control, hill-start assist, hill descent control, traction control and trailer sway control, amongst other perks. There are very few optional extras offered because each model is comprehensively equipped for its price.
The Trailblazer sent to us for evaluation was the 2.8-litre LTZ 4x4 with a six-speed automatic gearbox, and we took the opportunity to follow our favourite route to Bulwer via Mariannhill, Eston, Richmond, Byrne Valley and thence to Boston, mainly on dirt roads.
The trip wasn't at all taxing so we didn't need four-wheel-drive but we could establish that the suspension was great on rough roads and handling good. Due to circumstances we ended up with six people in the car - there are two individual seats tucked away in the luggage area - but we managed to fit three in the second row of seats and squeeze our luggage in the back along with the smallest passenger. Thanks Ronel! The accommodation was - shall we say, cosy.
The upgraded engine's 144kW is a lively number, and my only complaint was that the six-speed auto box hunted for gears more than I'd have liked on the all-tar return trip, where our average speed was pretty low because of traffic, cattle, pedestrians, potholes and all the other hazards associated with driving on country roads in KwaZulu-Natal.
Fuel consumption was excellent for a big wagon carrying six people and their luggage, including a scottel braai and camping chairs. We averaged exactly 10 litres/100km and could easily have improved upon that with a little more focus.
The Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4x4 is a well-built and very practical wagon that has all the makings of a good off-roader as well as a comfortable people-carrier. It's very well equipped and sensibly laid out, with covered stowage compartments tucked away all over the place. It's comfortable, it's lively and it's fun to drive.
It retails at R521,600, which is on par with the equivalent Toyota, but it comes with more standard features, has 20kW more power and a whopping 157Nm more torque. We reckon it's well worth a look.