Chevrolet refines the brawny Trailblazer
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Among the midsize pickup-based sport utility vehicles vying for market share in the Philippines, the Chevrolet Trailblazer is the widest and tallest in its class aside from having the strongest engine.
The brawny Trailblazer was introduced here in 2013, sharing the platform of the Colorado pickup and powered by Chevrolet’s Duramax 2.8-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder diesel engine with common rail direct injection (CRDi) variable geometry turbo (VGT) and intercooler delivering 180 ps and 470 Newton meters (later upgraded to 500) max torque.
The diesel turbo engine was mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
In 2016, the 2017 Trailblazer was unveiled at the Bangkok International Motor Show. Developed by Chevrolet engineers in collaboration with General Motors Brazil alongside the 2017 Colorado, the new Trailblazer is produced in Thailand for export markets including the Philippines.
Late last year, The Covenant Car Company Inc. (TCCI), the exclusive importer and distributor of Chevrolet vehicles and parts in the Philippines, hosted the regional launch of the new 2017 Trailblazer in Cebu.
Since the 2017 Trailblazer looks essentially the same as the 2013 model except for new headlamps, LED daytime running lights, broad black hood stripes, chrome accents on the front fascia plus new 18-inch gunmetal wheels, one could easily jump to the conclusion that Chevy’s seven-seat SUV merely underwent a facelift including rebadging the top-end 4WD LTZ of 2013 as the Z71 4×4.
But the 2017 Trailblazer has undergone changes that are more than cosmetic. While the mechanical configuration is carried over from its predecessor, the new Trailblazer’s engine and gearbox have undergone significant engineering developments, and a raft of new equipment has been installed to improve driving refinement.
The 2.8-liter turbo diesel, the same as in 2013, is hooked up to a selectable 4WD transmission through a 6-speed automatic gearbox.
The 6-speed A/T is a bit outdated, but still offers seamless gear changes and smooth going.
The engine delivers an impressive 500 Newton meters of torque at a low 2000 rpm, which makes the Trailblazer ideal for towing, given its 3000-kg tow rating.
The 500 Nm of torque/2000 rpm also enables responsive overtaking.
The Trailblazer cruises at about 1500 rpm, followed by a bit of lag before the turbo kicks in above 2000 rpm.
Peak power of 200 hp comes up at a low 3600 rpm, proof that this really is a truck-style engine.
The engine retains its strong mid-range pulling power. It is quieter while cruising and under light throttle applications.
The motor’s balance shaft has been relocated to quell noise and vibration, while the cylinder head now has a one-piece metallic timing cover, and the injectors and oil pan have new insulators.
It still can’t hide the gruff diesel noises when pulling away from a standstill or under heavy acceleration, but it is much more refined than before, and particularly relaxed at highway speeds, as I discovered while cruising on the Skyway at a moderate 120 kilometers per hour.
More sound deadening, updated suspension settings, and other tech changes have improved on-road refinement, making the Trailblazer more pleasant to drive.
A new acoustic package that features thicker front door window glass, additional or enhanced seals, molding and foam as well as revised body mounts reduce vibration from the ladder-frame chassis in the cabin.
Changes in the emissions system also make the Trailblazer quieter.
In the 2.8-liter variants (the Z71 and the 2.8-liter 6-speed A/T LT) electric power steering has replaced hydraulic steering, making the 6-speed automatic transmission more cohesive, shifting smoother and more intuitively when on the move.
The automatic gearbox now has a centrifugal pendulum absorber inside that essentially settles vibrations in the driveline and allows the torque converter to work more efficiently.
Aside from refined road manners, the biggest change is the way the 2017 Trailblazer handles and drives.
The engine and transmission have new calibrations to improve fuel efficiency and driveability.
The 6-speed A/T holds on to gears at lower revs, making hill climbing easy and gear changes less intermittent.
A revised steering calibration provides a more precise steering feel due to a faster steering rack ratio and fewer turns lock-to-lock (down from 3.4 to 3.3 turns), making U-turn and parking maneuvers seem lighter and easier.
But the Trailblazer is still a big, chunky truck, 5 meters long and 2 meters wide.
Unlike most car-based SUVs, the Trailblazer’s body is mounted on old-fashioned, heavy-duty chassis rails, or what is called as a body-on-frame vehicle or a ladder-frame chassis.
The Trailblazer’s rugged underpinnings give it genuine off-road ability with an on-the-fly switchable 4WD system, low-range gearing, 800 mm water- wading capability, 218 mm ground clearance, and the ability to tow up to 3 tons (3,000 kg) with a braked trailer.
The Z71’s approach angle is down to 28 degrees from the 2013 LTZ’s 30, but the departure angle has gone up to 25 degrees from 22 and the ramp over angle is 28 degrees.
With a 2.2-ton curb weight, the Trailblazer is far from a sports car in the bends, but the electric power steering is well-weighted, linear across the ratio, and good on-center stability.
The handling is sure-footed and predictable, and the suspension rides the bumps reasonably well with only the harshest managing to jar its way through the cabin.
There is still some kickback through the wheel on sharp impact and body roll through hard corners.
The brakes are a bit vague initially, but this is part and parcel of the ladder-frame construction.
With the riding quality improved thanks to a new damper setting, the Trailblazer is much better behaved than before.
Due to the off-road suspension and high center of gravity, it still wiggles over corrugation and mid-corner bumps, although the more extreme rebound jitters are gone.
The revised dashboard in the new Trailblazer is cleaner, classier and more functional despite lacking design flair in its style or luxury in terms of materials used.
The leather seats are comfy, the driving position is good, vision is decent through the expansive glasshouse, and there are enough small item storage cubbies across the three rows of seats.
Legroom and head room are generous in front and in the second row of seats although the seatback of the latter does not adjust or slide fore and aft to give more space to third row passengers, who are cramped by inadequate knee room.
In the Z71 variant, the cockpit is dominated by an 8.0-inch color multimedia touchscreen with Chevrolet’s latest MyLink smartphone-compatible infotainment system, control buttons embedded in the steering wheel, a digital, dual-zone climate control panel, rubber-coated dials, and in front of the steering wheel, a new instrument cluster with a larger LCD info display.
Cargo room in the Trailblazer is only 235 liters with all seven seats up. It increases to 878 liters with the third row seats folded, and maximizes to 1,830 liters with the second and third rows folded.
A waterproof well with lid across the back of the cargo compartment floor offers extra storage space out of sight while still using the main luggage area on top.
The Trailblazer comes with a raft of standard safety features such as traction control, ABS with EBD, panic brake assist, electronic stability control, hill descent control, hill start assist, anti-rolling protection, and trailer sway control.
The Z71 variant has more active driving aids such as forward collision alert, front and rear parking assist with reverse camera, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring system, and remote engine start that allows the driver to start the engine by using the key fob, so as to cool the cabin before the family enters the vehicle.
The Z71 has only two airbags like the LT, although in other markets, seven airbags are standard.
Moreover, the Trailblazer’s headlamps are halogen, giving weak night illumination compared to its competitors’ bi-xenon HID or LED projection headlights that produce much less heat and require less energy.
Unlike other SUVs that have power tailgates, the Trailblazer’s heavy tailgate still has to be opened manually.
The newly redesigned door window seals have an automatic window drop function that lowers the window glass by more than an inch when the door is opened.
Not only does this allow rain, noise and air pollution to enter the cabin, sometimes the window glass malfunctions and does not return to its closed position.
But these shortcomings are more than counterbalanced by the 2017 Trailblazer’s excellent points.
The new Chevrolet Trailblazer is vastly better in terms of driving refinement, handling, safety, versatility, towing and off-road capability, plus it offers a lot of high-tech kit as standard equipment.
With a retail price of P1,881,888, the Chevrolet Trailblazer Z71 4×4 offers superior value for money compared to its 2.8-liter 4×4 top-of-the-line turbo diesel rivals that cost a lot more.