The Chevrolet Blazer has remained a mainstay of the midsize SUV market by providing durability, utility and, especially last year with the newly introduced Trailblazer, a touch of luxury appointments. Its traditional contours are overdue for reshaping. Indeed, a Blazer new from the ground up is not far away, but the Blazer's classic rectilinear shape appeals to those who like a truck that's shaped like a truck and not something squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.
4x2 2-door LS ($19,495), 4x2 4-door LS ($24,995), 4x2 4-door LT ($26,795), 4x2 Trailblazer ($29,995), 4x4 2-door LS ($22,495), 4x4 2-door ZR2 ($26,695), 4x4 4-door LS ($26,995), 4x4 4-door LT ($28,995), 4x4 Trailblazer ($31,995)
Chevy Blazer is a traditional SUV, all truck with separate body-and-frame construction. The entry-level LS is distinguished this year by a dark argent grille, while the fancier LT has a body-color grille. The Trailblazer goes all-out monochrome, replacing the chrome front bumper with body color.
All Blazer-class GM SUVs are powered by a 4.3-liter Vortec V6. This 90-degree V6 has a cast-iron block and head and overhead valves, and runs happily on 87 octane. Although the redline is 5600 rpm, the power peak of 190 horsepower comes at 4400 rpm. And, with a very useful 250 foot-pounds of torque at 2800 rpm, there's limited need to rev the engine to the redline. GM's 4-speed electronic automatic transmission is standard on four-door Blazers, though a 5-speed manual transmission is now available on the two-door Blazer.
The four-wheel-drive Blazer LS comes with push-button Insta-Trac, which allows shift-on-the-fly between 2WD and 4WD. However, the LT has the Autotrac four-wheel-drive system as standard equipment. New last year, Autotrac adds an Auto 4WD button. In this mode, the transfer case remains in 2WD until wheel slip is detected. The transmission shifts automatically into 4WD until prop shaft speeds are equalized, and then returns to 2WD. If multiple slip events are detected, the transfer case remains in 4WD for a longer time. Autotrac also has a transfer case neutral for towing behind a recreational vehicle.
All Blazers use a short-/long-arm front suspension; 4x4 models are sprung by torsion bars. At the rear, the TrailBlazer has a live rear axle with variable-rate multi-leaf springs. The standard suspension setup is the Z85 Touring Suspension. Using firm de Carbon shock absorbers and stiffer spring rates, the Z85 package has a more controlled ride than the optional and cushier Smooth Ride Suspension. Aluminum wheels are standard on all Blazers, differing in design according to model. Four wheel disc brakes are standard, and the system was upgraded for the 2000 model year.
Expect to step up to get in the Blazer. Though not as radical as larger 4x4 rides, the Blazer has a higher seating height than the typical sedan. The payback is that commanding view of the road that SUV owners cherish.
Inside, the LT features standard premium cloth high-back bucket seats with 8-way power standard for the driver. Power is optional for the front passenger seat, and two-setting memory seat adjustment is available for the driver's seat.
The front seats are broad with limited bolstering. They are more like comfortable chairs than sports car bucket seats. An annoying bulge in the front passenger's footwell accommodates the Blazer's exhaust. The rear bench is low; it is comfortable for two adults, though three will fit. The rear seatback splits and folds 60-40 for cargo flexibility.
The Blazer comes with full instrumentation that is well laid out; it shares its instrument panel with the other Blazer-class trucks. General Motors has made major strides in its minor controls, and the dash of the TrailBlazer is an excellent example. The switches, knobs and levers for the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and audio controls look and feel good and don't require a correspondence course to learn how to operate.
The LT also includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power locks and windows, power heated mirrors, rear window defogger and wiper, cruise control and lighted visor mirrors. Tilt wheel, two auxiliary power outlets, AM/FM stereo with CD player, and an overhead console with an outside temperature readout are also standard. Tilt wheel and speed control, power windows, locks and mirrors are also included. Air conditioning is standard on all Blazers, with automatic climate control optional on the LT.
The engine fires off eagerly with a twist of the key and settles to an idle that's steady but telegraphs some of the basic imbalance of a 90-degree V6. That smoothes as revs increase, and in the operating range between 2000 and 3000 rpm the Vortec is a friendly companion. Full throttle causes the V6 to accelerate with a healthy growl that gets louder as revs rise. The Blazer's acceleration is more than adequate to keep up with traffic.
The Blazer's Touring Ride suspension is firmer than the optional Smooth Ride setup. Some may not appreciate the additional road feel. But the reward is an easily discernable improvement in responsiveness, a reduction in float and, thanks to greater roll resistance, less lean in the corners. The result is an overall greater feel of control and confidence at a minor cost of slightly bumpier ride. I preferred the crisper responses of the firmer suspension on winding mountain roads.
The Auto 4WD mode can be used at all times. It keeps the transfer case in two-wheel drive until slip occurs, so there's no fuel mileage penalty. Yet it reacts instantly to loose gravel or wet or icy pavement, shifting seamlessly into four-wheel drive. If there's any shortcoming in the system, it's that the driver isn't alerted when the system is shifting into four-wheel-drive mode (as on cars that use warning lights to indicate traction control is functioning).
Out on the Interstate, the Blazer cruises effortlessly. The V6 operates in the low 2000-rpm range at highway speeds and, except for a subtle bass line from the engine and a steady road rumble up through the suspension, the ride is quiet enough for easy conversation between front and rear passengers. The tires selected by Chevrolet are free of whine and aren't so heavy as to overwhelm the suspension. A slight whisper of wind noise around the A-pillars is the only other distraction. The ride, though firm, is not at all harsh or jiggly. Not all sport utilities are this civilized over the road, and we wouldn't hesitate to drive a high-mile day in the Blazer.
Loading for a big trip would be easy. Access to the commodious cargo compartment is via a rear liftgate. A cargo cover is standard; unlike those that require you to climb into the cargo area to unreel them, the Blazer's cover goes from side to side. Nothing is in the way when you want to lower the rear seats to load large cargo: the cargo cover reel need not be removed and become another piece of cargo. With the spare mounted under the rear, a flat tire won't mean unloading all your cargo.
The Blazer is one of the reasons so many people use a sport-utility in place of a car. It will do everything a car will do, and almost as well. Plus it adds almost unstoppable mobility in the worst weather and the capability to go where the roads don't. The LT offers a long list of standard equipment popular with buyers, meaning no excuses in day to day use or when trading it in. Although with a list like the Blazer's, that day won't have to come too soon?unless it's to step into the Blazer's replacement.