BEGGING FOR THE ROUGH STUFF: The Chevrolet Trailblazer is one of the most underestimated SUVs in its segment, but it is one heck of an off-road machine! Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Cape Town - When you mention the Chevrolet Trailblazer to a car enthusiast, you'll hear comments regarding its 'rugged nature' briefly before someone brings up the Toyota-badged elephant in the room - the Fortuner.
There is no escaping it, the Fortuner is the market- and sales’ leader in this very tightly contested segment... and that was before the new generation arrived on our shores earlier in 2016.
In the luxury SUV/4x4 segment, even the formidable Ford Everest is measured against the popular Fortuner and given early sales of the new model (more than 1000 units!), the SA buyer will continue Toyota's flagship SUV's success in SA.
The current Trailblazer has its work cut out for it - it doesn’t look as good as its rivals and compared to the Everest it's lagging in the tech department.
Is Trailblazer still in the fight? Chevrolet certainly believes its flagship SUV can still slug it out. We put the Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4x4 auto to the test.
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Still throwing punches
The Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4x4 auto is a heavy vehicle, yet it doesn’t feel like it when the throttle is applied. Weighing 2.1-tons, a big engine is needed to propel its bulk. The 2.8-litre diesel may be an old engine, but its capable of 144kW/500Nm. That's more power than the Fortuner and Everest (132kW/420Nm and 147kW/470Nm, respectively).
Behind the gear lever is a little rotating knob with three functions. Engage neutral and use the knob to toggle between two- and all-wheel drive - the latter in either high or low range. It works a charm and the functionality is very user-friendly.
The Trailblazer is built on the same ladder-frame architecture used in Isuzu KB. This chassis provides adequate ride quality regardless of the surface traversed, especially when tackling off-road challenges.
Add to this its relatively short front- and rear overhangs, approaching and departing steep inclines/declines are relatively easy. With a ground clearance of 218mm it handles dips and undulations with ease. Interestingly, the 2.8 LTZ two-wheel drive has a ground clearance of 253mm...
Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
Finding something to excel in
Although the ride quality of the Chevrolet Trailblazer is remarkably good on tar, it's when the going gets tough that the vehicle really comes into its own.
I drove the Trailblazer on a recent trip along the West Coast. The setting was magical! The coast had received its first pre-winter rains and the gravel roads were an absolute gift to the likes of the Trailblazer. The sand along the off-road tracks was loose and the smell of adventure hung in the air.
Driving to where I needed to be required taking a gravel road, but the rain made the route as slippery as your average Amusement park waterslide. 'Caution and vigilance' is what was called for in these wet conditions, though despite the amount mud and pools of water, I never had to engage all-wheel drive. Wheel-spin, no front-end bite and lots of sliding was at the order of the day as I navigated my way through the tricky conditions.
READ: Gravel travel! Top 5 off-road routes in Southern Africa
Traversing through slippery conditions was one thing but it was a whole new ball game to not avoid being stuck in the sand. I set off in two-wheel drive, gracefully rumbling through a tight off-road track. Momentum was key as I pushed on. As the sand became thicker, I stopped the SUV and engaged AWD with low-range.
A soft zing-like sound entered the cabin as the system engaged all four wheels and I gently applied the accelerator. Onward Trailblazer!
The SUV manged to overcome the worse the tough terrain had to offer but, alas, what would a 4x4 journey be without a few close encounters.
Moment of reflection
After lots of laughter, many hair-raising moments, and loads of 'how will I make this!' thoughts, I reached one of the most beautiful scenes. The ocean in the front, the dunes to my side, and in the middle rides the Trailblazer - a capable, underrated, albeit dated in terms of tech, SUV.
In a motoring market where "capable and practically" is steadily overlooked in favour of 'need to haves', with no fancy gadgetry or tricks, the Trailblazer is out in the cold. It's a shame really, because the Trailblazer serves as reminder that simplicity can be incredible effective. Need a capable, rugged, practical SUV? The Trailblazer makes for a great choice.
If you find yourself facing an arduous route or facing adverse weather conditions, the hulking Chev isn't afraid to get its rubber dirty. The Trailblazer will remain composed regardless of the ground it faces. And isn't that what a robust SUV is supposed to do? Perhaps Chevrolet will build on its Trailblazer biggest selling points and deliver a next-generation SUV that's even better, and hopefully, packed with the latest tech.