- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Chevrolet's new TrailBlazer is a throwback to the days when a sport utility vehicle described a vehicle that could go just about anywhere and in any weather.

It is rugged and has the capability of traversing almost any terrain, but at the same time it is as fresh as tomorrow's newscast and offers all the amenities that sport utility buffs have come to demand in their vehicles.

SUVs originally were downright primitive but they were rugged. The new TrailBlazer is rugged but primitive it ain't.

It is available as a two-wheel rear drive or with four-wheel drive. The test car was a top-of-the-line LTZ version with Autotrac 4WD. It can be operated as a two-wheel-drive vehicle, all-wheel drive or 4-high and-low. Unlike the old days, it is not necessary to get out of the SUV and change the position of the wheel hubs.

To change there is a switch to the right of the instrument panel. Just turn it to the system you desire and it is done automatically and quickly.

If you are a normal driver you'll have little use for 4-low. It is there for the roughest going and statistics show that fewer than 5 percent of SUV owners ever venture into true off-roading.

The TrailBlazer is the successor to the smaller Blazer that remains in production. It is one of three variations of the platform, the other two being the Oldsmobile Bravada and GMC Envoy.

The difference among the three is in styling and drive systems. The Bravada offers an all-wheel-drive system while the Envoy is provided with a 4WD system. A seven-passenger version will be offered later in the model year.

I liked the styling of all three GM models with the Envoy being my favorite. The new models offer improved vision and a commanding view of the road.

All three offer different exteriors and interiors but share the new Vortec inline six-cylinder engine that provides the power of a V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a six-cylinder.

The engine, mated to a new four-speed automatic, delivers the most horsepower in its segment, 270 brake horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 275 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm.

It features electronic throttle control and variable valve timing.

The ride, handling and power of the TrailBlazer is excellent. It is one of the smoothest rides I've had in a midsize SUV and the acceleration is excellent from both a standing start and in passing situations.

I'm impressed with the engine. It is much smoother than a typical V-6 unit and provides excellent fuel economy for a SUV and strong trailer-towing capacity. Expect to see this engine in many future GM products.

I've been told a five-cylinder version is planned and it is my opinion that if it is placed in a midsize sedan it would provide GM with a true sports sedan.

The TrailBlazer has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. The test vehicle averaged 17.6 mpg in combined town and highway mileage.

Towing capacity of the TrailBlazer is 6,200 pounds in the 4WD version and 6,400 pounds in the 2WD model.

Another new feature in this SUV series is the industry's first fully hydroformed platform.

It forms a strong foundation for the TrailBlazer's overall strength and ride quality.

A five-link rear suspension combined double-A arm front suspension along with rack-and-pinion steering leads to excellent responsiveness, quietness and performance.

Stopping power is excellent with four-wheel vented anti-lock disc brakes. Other major safety features include dual-stage air bags, side-impact air bags for front-seat passengers plus three-point restraint systems for all seats.

The interior provides roominess and comfort for both front and rear passengers. I liked the complete instrumentation that does away with most warning lights. All controls are within easy reach of the driver.

TrailBlazer features an enhanced driver information center (DIC) that offers a 22-character message display, giving drivers feedback on dozens of vehicle systems and conditions.

Provided as standard equipment is the next-generation On-Star system, which provides hand-free calling, information services and other features.

There is no doubt that this new series of midsize SUVs are the best vehicles from General Motors in many years.

The TrailBlazer may be the entry-level version but it offers an excellent ride and handling plus abundant power and I can find little to fault.

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