Chevrolet Trailblazer: big & capable

Out of the blue, Toyota’s legendary Fortuner has a head-to-head competitor. Gavin Foster was at the launch of the new Chevrolet Trailblazer, and came away highly impressed.

The Trailblazer is a highly capable bundu basher that can accommodate seven adults.
Photo: Gavin Foster

General Motors has set the cat among Toyota’s pigeons with the launch of its new Chevrolet Trailblazer, a bakkie-based family SUV offering a choice of two diesels and one petrol engine. The line-up comprises five models, including two 4×2 versions for South Africa. The top-of-the-range V6 petrol model is available only with a six-speed auto gearbox, while vehicles fitted with the diesel engines offer a choice of five-speed manual and six-speed self-shifting transmissions.

The engines themselves are all capable of doing the job. The least powerful, the four-cylinder 2,5l Duramax turbodiesel, produces 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque, which is pretty impressive as an entry-level model. Next up is the 2,8l Duramax with 132kW and 470Nm of torque in the automatic, with the torque toned down to 440Nm for the manual transmission model. The quad-cam 3,6l petrol V6 develops a lusty 176kW of power and 329Nm of torque.

The factory claims average fuel consumption of 8,2l/100km for the 2,5l diesel, 8,8l/100km for the manual 2,8l diesel, 9,8l/100km for the 2,8l auto, and 11,9l/100km for the V6 petrol engine, for what these figures are worth. The launch of the Trailblazer was held at Bonniedale Adventure Farm in the Attaquaskloof near Mossel Bay, the same venue where the Toyota Fortuner was introduced to the press in 2005. Any doubts that this was mere coincidence were dispelled during the presentation: GM made no bones about naming the Fortuner as their target.

After this, we set off on some fairly demanding trails, yet it immediately became apparent that these posed no threat to the Trailblazer’s claims as a seriously capable off-roader. The 4×4 Chev has all the ingredients to be a formidable performer in the right hands, with its body-on-chassis structure and 267mm of ground clearance, along with short front and rear overhangs that give it 31° and 26° approach and departure angles respectively. A five-link independent rear suspension refines the ride, and the vehicle is fitted with stabiliser bars – front and rear – and coil-over twin-tube shocks.

The Trailblazer has a part-time 4×4 system that in four-wheel-drive mode distributes torque between the front and rear wheels via an electronically actuated two-speed transfer case. The system can be switched between two high, four high and four low settings, with a neutral position also available on the rotary dial electronic selection switch. The transfer case can be switched on the move between 2H and 4H modes at up to 100km/h.

There are unfortunately no differential locks fitted as standard – GM insists that the plethora of modern electronic driving aids render such an agricultural device unnecessary. The manufacturer recognises that many people will disagree, however – I certainly do – and so offers a diff lock as an option.

Big and adaptable
The interior of the Trailblazer is spacious and the dash layout uncomplicated. Load space varies from 205l to 1 830l, depending on how many of the five rear seats are folded away, and GM is proud of the fact that all seven seats can accommodate fully-grown adults. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls are fitted in the rear compartment – very handy indeed. Visibility is also good, thanks to the rear seats being elevated above the front ones.

According to GM, there are 32 compartments of various sizes in which you can misplace your cellphone, wallet and camera, and about a dozen cupholders. I didn’t bother counting them. After negotiating the dirt at Bonniedale, we set off for the farm Misgunst 35km from Mossel Bay to drive on sea sand, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours on the Vleesbaai Dune Route, one of only four places in South Africa where one can legally drive on dunes at the seaside.

This is private property and the owner, Riekie van Rensburg, kept an eye on us to make sure nobody strayed off the trails. The farm has been in his family’s hands since the mid-1800s, and the beach recently gave up a long-buried cannon from the French man o’ war, La Fortune, that was shipwrecked off the beach in 1763. Riekie is a keen conservationist, so both the cannon and the dunes are in safe hands.

Many of the journalists at the launch had little or no off-road driving experience, especially in sea sand, but as far as I recall nobody became stuck. The Chevrolet Trailblazer is a competent, well-built family wagon at a reasonable – for 2012 – price. If you’re looking for more than an all-wheel-drive soft roader but less than a Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery or Land Cruiser, this is a very good option. Pricing starts at R364 000 for the Trailblazer 2,5 LT 4×2 and tops out at R479 500 for the 3,6 LTZ 4×4 AT. My choice? The 2,8 LTZ 4×4 manual at R454 500.

The Trailblazer comes with a five-year/90 000km service plan and a five-year/120 000km warranty.