- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

For 2003, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer lineup receives some minor drivetrain improvements, an optional V-8 for the new EXT extended-seating model, as well as few new comfort and safety features. As last year's winner of the North American Truck of the Year award, with its Vortec inline-six award-winning engine, it adds just the right new features to capture even greater attention this year.

Introduced a year ago as a 2002 model, the TrailBlazer carves a small new niche within the Chevrolet/GMC SUV lineup. It is less sporty and more upscale than the Blazer, smaller but sportier than the Tahoe, larger and more capable than the Tracker. Its primary competitors include Toyota's 4Runner, Jeep's Grand Cherokee, Ford's Exp

The GM SUV lineup is within itself a reflection of the overall SUV market, which includes numerous competitors with similar features, options and performance at every level, from full-size luxury to compact economy. Especially today, with such a large selection of SUVs on the market, it's more important than ever for each model to fill a niche or offer unique capabilities. The TrailBlazer gives Chevy buyers a new option that is more upscale than the Blazer but not as large as the Tahoe.

Chevy's latest SUV is available in three trim levels, plus the TrailBlazer EXT, which seats seven and competes with the extended-seating versions of the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer, as well as the upscale GMC Envoy XL.

On the outside, the 2003 TrailBlazer lineup, including EXT, has a restyled trapezoidal front end that is an updated version of the current, rectangular Tahoe and Blazer. Overall proportions are similar to the Tahoe, but this vehicle has sleek hood and wheel well seams that improve on the Tahoe's more blocky appearance. Five-spoke; 17-inch aluminum wheels are optional on basic models and standard on EXT, as is a roof luggage rack.

A new addition for this year is the North Face Edition package, a co-branded version available on both two- and four-wheel-drive TrailBlazer, with both the base and EXT trim levels. This trim-and-badge package is layered on top of the Leather Plus feature package and includes lower accent-color body cladding, body-colored exterior mirrors, running lamps, a liftgate luggage rack, headlamp washers, B-pillar badging and, as a quirky touch, a clothesline.

A Vortec 4200 4.2L inline six-cylinder is the standard engine, while the EXT offers an optional Vortec 5300 5.3L V-8. The inline-six delivers 275 horsepower and 275 foot-pounds of torque and can tow up to 5,900 pounds with 2WD (5,000 with 4WD). The V-8 makes 290 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds. and can haul a 7200-pound trailer.

Both engines are matched to a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with overdrive, and both are available in either two- or four-wheel-drive versions. Models with 4WD include GM's Autotrac transfer case system. Traction control is optional on 2WD models.

An independent front suspension and five-link solid-axle rear suspension provide support, and rack-and-pinion steering keeps the vehicle fairly tight through turns. With a wheelbase of 129 inches, this light truck has a stable stance on the road. Its braking system includes front vented discs and rear drums with four-wheel ABS, and standard tires and wheels are 17 inches.

Inside, the EXT "midsized" SUV are seats for seven. Storage capacity is 100.2 cubic feet of space with the second and third rows folded, 22.3 cubic feet with just the third seat folded. An 85-inch cargo floor allows for stowage of 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood or several pairs of skis. Controls are easy to reach and good-sized dials make them easy to adjust.

Throughout the cabin, dual-zone heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems heat up and cool down faster than any other system in the segment or price range, says General Motors. Safety features include driver and front passenger airbags and a three-point seat belt in the center seat position in the second row.

Overall, the TrailBlazer EXT is a sport utility vehicle for Everyman. There are those who need extra-high ground clearance, advanced 4x4, headlamp protectors, DVD systems and other bells and whistles in their sport utes, and then there are still plenty of others. With 275 horsepower, trailering capacity of at least 7200 pounds, seating for seven and average looks, the TrailBlazer EXT is not a true standout, but it is certainly ideal for many.

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