- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

If you're a high jumper at a track meet, you know the rules. You can pass on lower heights, but sooner or later, you've got to jump. And once you do, your competition does too: The bar is raised, and you do it all over again.

Launching a new model vehicle into the competitive sport utility market segment is a lot like high jumping, with one big difference. In jumping, you get three chances to clear the height. In the market, you really get only one shot! So it is for Chevy's new entry. The 2002 TrailBlazer joins a field where the number of competitors increases all the time, and the bar gets raised rapidly. My road-test in Chevy's new, mid-size sport ute suggests that the automaker has done its homework and come up with a solid new offering.

TrailBlazer is available as a four-door only, in three trim levels, and two- or four-wheel drive. Compared to the Blazer, the new model is longer (8.5") and wider (6.8"), with a wheelbase half a foot longer. TrailBlazer is a truck and not a hybrid. It rolls on a newly designed hydroformed ladder frame with eight cross-members between the side rails. The frame's high degree of structural stiffness allowed GM engineers to design the suspension without having to compensate for frame flex. The result is a fine riding SUV, on or off pavement.

The new Chevy uses GM's Autotrac four-wheel drive system. There are four settings, engaged by a simple twist of the dash-mounted dial. Four-wheel drive "high" and "low" settings are available, as well as a 2WD high and Auto 4WD. The latter is a "set and forget" function that will automatically shift from two- to four-wheel drive as conditions dictate.

Brakes are disc at all four corners, with ABS as standard equipment. For off-roaders, a skid plate package is available to provide protection for the transfer case and fuel tank. The approach angle is 29 degrees; departure angle is 23 degrees and there's 8 inches of ground clearance underneath.

Driving in the dirt, TrailBlazer feels big but surefooted. The motor is a new design Vortec inline six-cylinder. The 4.2-liter six puts out V8-like numbers for horsepower (270) and torque (275 lb.-ft.). Torque is what we experience as low-end power, and TrailBlazer's peak torque arrives at 3,600 rpm. In a typical off-road situation like a slow ascent up a rutted, steep road or trail, the muscle is right where you need it.

Despite horsepower ratings that rival an eight-cylinder ute, the Vortec six is a shade better at the gas pumps. EPA rates the TrailBlazer at 15 mpg city/21 highway, and I managed a little under 18 mpg in a mixed bag of city/country, on/off road rambling. For those who tow, TrailBlazer has a maximum trailering capacity of 6,200 pounds as a 4x4, and 6,400 pounds as a 4x2.

Inside, the TrailBlazer seats five adults without complaint. The driver's seat will comfortably fit both the short and tall. Up-level models offer luxury goodies like leather seating and memory control to recall seating preferences for two people at the touch of a button. Dual front and side-impact airbags for front seat occupants are standard equipment.

Dual zone HVAC controls can be set to vary as much as 25 degrees on the driver/passenger side, which ought to be enough to create cloud formations inside the vehicle! The optional side running boards on my test truck were actually wide enough to be useful unusual in steps these days. Controls and switches are easy to access. Visibility is typical for the breed: fine front and side, tougher rearward.

Storage space abounds inside. The center console has multiple containers, and all four doors have molded side pockets. Cargo space in back measures 39.8 cubic feet with all seats in place, expanding to 80 cubic feet with rear seats folded forward. Access to the rear compartment is by means of a one-piece, swing-up hatchback.

The lift-over height is low, and a pullout shade shields contents from inquiring eyes. Additional storage compartments are placed on either side in back, as well as underneath the floor. There is also an auxiliary power outlet in back for tailgaters.

In TrailBlazer, Chevy fields a strong new entry in the mid-size SUV market. The package is off-road capable and on-road comfortable, and wrapped in clean Chevy truck lines.


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