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Chevrolet TrailBlazer dons a sharper suit

02.12.2016

The arrival of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer some four years ago was billed as one of the biggest moments in the body-on-frame SUV segment, as many believed that a proper rival for the segment dominating Toyota Fortuner had finally arrived.

In fact, at the big Chevy’s local launch in 2012, then General Motors South Africa (GMSA) Marketing Manager, Alastair Ironside, made no secret of what the American giant wanted from its latest model when the remarked, “We are going after Toyota’s Fortuner. It’s the TrailBlazer’s reason for being”.

What however transpired was that the TrailBlazer played very much second fiddle to the Fortuner with monthly sales sometimes failing to breach the three figure mark, compared to the thousand-plus Fortuner models leaving dealership floors month-after month.

Not helping was the arrival of the second generation Ford Everest, which saw the ‘Blazer being relegated to the third step on the podium despite a subtle mid-life facelift, a power hike from 132 kW to 144 kW and upgraded levels of the standard kit.

With the latest Fortuner having already stamped its authority on the segment and Ford making its intentions known by bolstering its now locally-built Everest range with a smaller 2.2-litre TDCi engine, GM had to react if it wanted to give the TrailBlazer a fighting chance to regain lost ground.

On first glance at least, the 'Blazer is off to a good start. Gone are the somewhat bulbous Brazilian-derived S-10 looks in favour of a more masculine and bolder appearance seemingly inspired by the North American Suburban and Tahoe.

Tested here in LTZ 4WD spec, the TrailBlazer receives a flatter chrome finished grille split by a wider bowtie logo bar, new front bumper with redesigned foglights, revised headlights with daytime running LED’s and a set of stylish 18-inch alloy wheels to round the exterior off.

By far the biggest and most welcome improvement though, is when you get inside. Even more extensive than the exterior, the interior boasts a completely redesigned dashboard with a neater X-motive layout replacing the cheap plastic facia with a piano key black finish and dual gloveboxes.

Also gone, the much criticised aftermarket-looking infotainment display adopts a cleaner integrated look with proper buttons instead of the previous fiddly on-screen touch sensitive items, while the rotary dial for the climate control makes way for a set of clearly marked buttons and dials. A new instrument cluster with a TFT readout between the rev-counter and speedometer completes the interior upgrades. 

Speaking of new additions, the aforementioned seven-inch MyLink 2.0 touch screen system is now equipped with proper satellite navigation as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the audio system, which still features Bluetooth, USB and Aux input, gets an extra speaker for a total of seven.

As well as new safety items such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Zone Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Tyre Pressure Monitoring, thepièce de résistance is the inclusion of a automatic start system known as Remote Vehicle Start.

A standard fixture on the LTZ and new Z71 range topper, the system allows for the TrailBlazer to be started and the climate control switched by simply pressing the bottom button on the key fob, while you stand outside. Although a smart addition, it only works with the doors locked and the transmission in Park, meaning you would still have to unlock the doors and insert the key into the ignition before setting off. It is nonetheless a nifty item guaranteed to leave looks of amazement.

What has remained unchanged though is the ease in which the TrailBlazer comfortably provides seating for seven. Granted, although the third row is mainly reserved for small children, head and leg room in the middle is impressive with my 1.84 m frame easily fitting behind the driver's chair with room to spare. 

Able to swallow 205 litres with all seven seats up and 1 830 litres with the five rear seats down, further practical thinking comes in the form the luggage cover that can be stored in the floor-mounted storage box when all seven seats are in use.

Up front, the TrailBlazer’s heart has been left as is with the Isuzu / VM Motori co-developed 2.8-litre Duramax turbodiesel still producing a meaty 144 kW and 500 N.m of torque. With the latest upgrade also seeing the departure of the six-speed manual gearbox, the similar ratio automatic is now the sole option whether ordered with two-or four-wheel drive.

Still very much on the agricultural side on start-up, the Duramax is nonetheless eager to impress with little in the way of turbo lag, and a steady flow of low down torque when you mash the accelerator. It continues to be slightly hobbled by the 6L50 automatic gearbox which tends to be confused by sudden throttle inputs and would hunt for the correct gear. This can however be rectified by clicking the gear lever over to the left and shifting gears manually, which resulted in slicker shifts and better response.

Sadly, there was little time on hand to experience the TrailBlazer’s off-road prowess, but previous encounters with had shown it to be a formidable challenger off the beaten track. On the open road, the combination of independent double wishbones at the front and five-link coils at the rear allows for a comfortable ride with the usual array of surface imperfections well dampened.

The body-on-frame SUV segment is one of the most popular in South Africa today and one in which the Chevrolet TrailBlazer deserves to succeed. Its recent round of upgrades has undoubtedly helped in regaining some of the ground lost to the Everest and Fortuner, but it remains to be seen whether buyers would agree.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4
DISPLACEMENT 2,776 cc
MAX POWER 144 kW @3600 rpm
MAX TORQUE 500 N.m @2000 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Rear-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Six-speed automatic
ACCELERATION (0-100 km/h) 10.4 secs
TOP SPEED 180 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION 9.5 L/100 km
EMISSIONS 249 g/km
PRICE R613 200

 

Article written by Charl Bosch
02.12.2016
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