FOR every ten customers that visit a Toyota dealer and drive out in a Fortuner, just one customer drives out of a GM dealer in a Trailblazer. There’s another foe in the equation called the Ford Everest which completes a similarly-priced and similarly equipped triumvirate but this model too is left in the shade, sales-wise, by the Japanese contender.
So, as far as the Chev is concerned, is the relatively low off-take a true reflection of its abilities compared with the Toyota? Having driven two versions of the latter recently, I have to answer the question with an emphatic “NO.”
Both vehicles belong in what I think is a particularly South African 7-seat SUV category which I’ll describe as relatively unsophisticated for the simple reason that it is bakkie-derived. The major benefit, I guess, is that costs are reasonably contained but this containment comes at the expense of pure driving dynamics which are somewhat flawed in this class of vehicle, full stop.
The Trailblazer has been around for some four years although it only seems like two since I went to the Eastern Cape to sample it, and it’s recently undergone a facelift which runs deeper than a casual glance might indicate.
Aside from being offered in five different specs, the ‘Blazer has been cosmetically tweaked inside and out with the latter encompassing a new face and daytime running lights while some mechanical elements have also been enhanced, but more of that in a moment.
In its guise as a 7-seater, the Trailblazer is quite a hunk and is not the best vehicle to try and squeeze into typically tight urban parking lots, even allowing for the provision of rear parking aids. Instead, it’s much better suited to carrying up to seven occupants out on the open road. If some of those occupants can be ditched and the seats folded, the load area increases from a sparse 205l to 1230l to 1830l with just two on-board.
Let it be said loud and clear that the Chev arrangement for the third row of seats is streets better than the after-thought, side-folding, vison-obstructing devices on the Fortuner. In the GM vehicle, the seats fold easily into the floor and leave a nicely-carpeted flat area which loses just a little in height but makes up for that in area. The second row of seats, with a 60:40 split, also tumbles at the pull of a lever to reveal acres of space.
It’s all very convenient and practical but GM has tried to add a bit more ambience by including charcoal-grey leather-clad pews. The front seats are large and accommodating and include electric adjustment for the driver, but I do think they’re a little unyielding and shapeless even if they do offer decent under-thigh support. The second row will accommodate three abreast or two with an armrest, while row three is really for youngsters.
I have nothing but praise for the absolutely excellent tailoring of the seat covers which feature shapely panelling and double-row stitching. They certainly pass the aesthetics test with something to spare.
Most obvious inside is a newly-wrought dashboard which seeks to rid the ‘Blazer of its bakkie origins. The vertical surface of the dash on the passenger’s side features a pleasing soft-touch insert but almost everywhere else, you’ll find relatively hard cladding that’s been disguised to a degree by grained surfacing.
While the overall ambience could be described as pleasant, closer observation reveals cost-cutting at play, albeit that there is absolutely no problem with fit and general sturdiness. How you judge the presentation is entirely based on the level of your expectations but my view is that it’s a tad more utilitarian than I would expect, especially in terms of tactility.
Full marks though for the excellent 7-inch touch screen display which incorporates sat nav, infotainment and phone details, the latter activated by Bluetooth aided and abetted by USB connectivity. The sat nav is easy to operate and earns full marks for the ease with which destination searches can be finalised.
The air con controls too are very easy to figure out and the system, which also extends to the rear, dealt easily with baking Cape heat. I was also very happy to find a dash-mounted rotary light switch as well as clearly if sparsely-marked analogue instruments supplemented by a digital display. Curiously, I noted the front door pockets were nicely lined with soft flock but the rears were not.
The quality of the roof lining earns top marks as does the leather-bound steering wheel with controls for sound, cruise and phone and the incorporation of double door seals all round is a huge plus.
Externally, the Chev sports multi-spoked alloys shod with 265/60R18 tyres. And in the case of the test unit, nicely-applied white paint showed off a good gloss while neat chrome inlays added a touch of sparkle together with daytime running lights and main beams which proved very effective at night.
Panel gaps passed muster even if they are not razor thin and happy to report, this vehicle was devoid of irritating rattles and squeaks despite having seen fairly extensive press use prior to my tenure.
Moving along all this equipment, which now also includes lane departure warning and blind spot alert, is a 2.8 litre Duramax turbo-D which is of the old school in that the level of combustion clatter when cold is enough to disturb nearby neighbours. Fortunately, the grumbling subsides somewhat when heat seeps through the block but at idle, this motor never manages to hide the type of fuel it’s burning.
Importantly, it’s more settled on the move when the 500Nm torque peak allows for the use of relatively high gearing. Indeed, at the national speed limit, progress is nicely hushed albeit that a mildly irritating drone from the engine permeates the cabin at around 110 km/h. This I guess coincides with the rotational speed that betrays the inherent imbalance of a four cylinder engine. For the statisticians, this Chev will hit 180km/h and despatch the 0-100 dash in 10.4s and it will also tow not far short of three tonnes.
At low revs, response can be a tad lethargic as the turbo spools up but thereafter, gaining speed is effortless notwithstanding the use of a torque converter auto that slips a fair bit but in so doing, slurs most changes to make them largely imperceptible. As for fuel consumption, the ‘Blazer averaged 9.7l/100km over a week’s use which is very acceptable for a big 7-seater.
I thought the power steering set up was very good for this type of vehicle being endowed with decent feel and nicely-judged gearing. Likewise, the isolation of wind and road noise is good thanks in part to the fitment of dual door seals and the use of decent quality floor carpeting. I also found the brakes to be entirely up to the job and nicely weighted to boot.
As for ride, my views on high-riding body-on-frame vehicles need little elaboration. You simply are not going to get the comfort and control inherent in lower-set passenger cars of monocoque construction. Nonetheless, the Chev does well with the tools at its disposal and on reasonably smooth surfaces, the underlying feel is quite cushioned, thanks in part to the deep side walls of those 18-inch tyres.
However, when undulations, camber changes or broken surfaces are encountered, you’ll soon be aware of a fidgety reaction from the underpinnings which makes for a rather restless feel in the cabin. Initial roll when entering corners too fast is also present but is checked soon enough to avoid alarming occupants.
The reality is that while elements of the ride and general dynamic performance of the Trailblazer are flawed in terms of standards expected from saloons and hatchbacks, this Chev at least holds its own against obvious rivals such as the Fortuner and the Everest. It simply is not possible for a high-riding 7- seater sitting on old school underpinnings to perform otherwise but potential buyers should be aware of these inherent shortcomings before making purchasing decisions.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed my week with the Trailblazer which offers excellent equipment levels, a well-engineered seating arrangement in the rear and an honest disposition in that it hasn’t been over-dressed to try and disguise its now rather mature design. For those who are partial to 7-seater SUVs, it deserves closer attention