SAN DIEGO, CA – I didn’t think there were any gaps in Chevrolet’s lineup of SUVs with an offering in every size starting from the subcompact Trax to the three-row Traverse. Want even bigger? The Tahoe and Suburban have you covered there.
So if you’re Chevy where do you add another? Their money is on the surging popularity of the two-row mid-size crossover that over 32 percent of Canadian buyers are choosing. Chevy’s also banking on style as it’s a key factor in the decision making process for consumers. And I believe that. Design is big these days and can easily make or break the sales of a car.
Look at what Peter Schreyer did with Kia; he took them from a fleet of forgettable cars like the Sephia (you forgot about those didn’t you) to the new Stinger in just over a decade. Hyper-speed in the automotive world.
The Equinox and Traverse are good vehicles, but they aren’t terribly exciting to look at. To draw new customers away from other brands requires something that stands out. Something with a bit more curb appeal. And the new Blazer might just be that vehicle for Chevrolet.
At the media launch in San Diego Jawook Koo, Lead Exterior Designer, walked us through the rather striking design of the Blazer that is quite a bit larger than the Equinox with which it shares a platform. Compared to its stablemate the Blazer’s track has been widened by 44mm giving it a more aggressive stance. The lighting elements front and rear, large grille opening and sculpted hood all visually add width. Jawook pointed out the rising beltline that dramatically sweeps upwards over the pronounced rear fenders drawing your eyes to the roof that appears raked and visually separated from the rest of the body.
There’s a lot of Camaro inspired styling flourishes inside and out and they’ve really managed to capture that sporty look but in a package that will appeal to a larger audience.
Three distinct personalities will separate the different trim levels: Blazer, RS, and Premier. Base Blazer trims get plastic body moulding and generally less equipment, as well as a cloth interior versus leather on the RS and Premier. The RS gets darkened chrome accents, red interior trim, a more aggressive look grille with blacked out trim and wheels, while the Premier adds more chrome inside and out, body coloured trim pieces and a premium tan leather interior with suede accents.
What you thought were the headlamps, are actually dedicated DRL (daytime running lights) elements that have been separated from the actual headlamps. Those reside lower in the front bumper a move that might seem odd at first but one that makes sense because placing headlamps lower to the ground, especially on taller vehicles, puts the light on the road where you want it and not directly into the eyes of the poor bloke in front of you.
The new styling is dramatic and a big departure from all of Chevy’s other crossovers and trucks and it might not be for everyone but it will definitely turn heads, rather than blend in with everything else, and I commend them for taking a risk here.
Just a name
I had to ask Jawook, if there was any inspiration drawn from the old Blazer/GMC Jimmy twins, last sold in North America in 2005. Based on the old C-10 pickup, the body-on-frame rear-drive architecture of the previous generation was a big part of its charm. A front-wheel drive crossover did little to excite enthusiasts who were pining for a sort of retro-revival that could possibly compete with the Jeep Wrangler.
Unfortunately for those loyal fans, the only thing that’s come back is the name. According to Jawook, a rear-drive truck based crossover would have appealed to a much smaller market than the one they wanted to target. A market that includes the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. With the resurrection of this old nameplate, they felt they couldn’t go backwards.
Still, you can’ t help but imagine how cool a Colorado-based Blazer might have been, or better yet a Blazer ZR2 with spool valve suspension. Now that would be the bee’s knees, but they would probably end up selling 5 of them.
Camaro Interior, updated infotainment
Nowhere is the Camaro-like styling more obvious than in the interior. The centre section housing the HVAC controls have literally been dragged and dropped into the Blazer. But it looks great, and rotating the circular air vent’s bezel to change the temperature is a slick piece of design. Unlike the Camaro, there is lots of space in the front and rear with a large cargo area and available cargo fence option that helps to compartmentalize the load floor and stop objects like your groceries from flying around. It’s adjustable and can be stowed away when not required.
An electrically released glovebox opens with the push of a button on the dashboard. Like on some Cadillacs. And while it seems a bit gimmicky at first, no handle mechanism means a bigger glove box and there’s the additional bonus of being able to lock and unlock through the infotainment system without the need for a key. Perfect for valets or for anyone you don’t want rummaging through your stuff.
Version 3 of Chevrolet’s infotainment comes standard on all Blazers; displayed on a super sharp 8-inch centre display. Higher-end trims get a version that’s more feature-heavy with connected navigation and the ability to create separate user profiles for multiple drivers. These profiles go much beyond storing just your radio presets, but also things like your Spotify account information, navigation settings, favourite places, vehicle settings, and system settings. It then uploads it all to the cloud so you never lose the data. And if you were to drive another GM vehicle with the same system, a rental perhaps, it would then allow you to sign in to that one and access your profile and settings there.
It proved responsive and fast, had excellent colourful graphics, and was a very easy system to use. Truly night and day from some of the earlier attempts.
Southern California has some beautiful driving roads; you tend to notice this even more if you’re from Southern Ontario where flat and straight is the name of the game. Not what you would call inspiring for spur-of-the-moment drives.
Road scars, the product of repeated harsh winters, aren’t a thing here. Smooth, sinewy tarmac, snaking through mountains sprinkled with popcorn-like boulders precariously placed like they could roll down at any moment, is.
Just about the perfect place for an open 2-seater with a manual gearbox but one where most SUVs are out of their element.
The Blazer was surprisingly good though. Most of my driving time was spent in the sportier RS model, but I did get about 10 minutes behind the wheel of the entry-level front-wheel drive Blazer that was equipped with a 2.5 litre 4-cylinder producing 193 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. Power was ok but don’t expect to be racing for pink slips with this one.
The 9-speed automatic is a smooth shifter and makes the most of power there is. On the upside, a combined fuel economy rating of 9.9 L/100 km sorta makes up for it.
I have a feeling that a mid-level Blazer that swaps the 4-cylinder for a 3.6 liter V6 coupled with all-wheel drive will be the bigger seller here. In the great white north four driven wheels have become a pre-requisite to buying a car.
RS models are V6 only and add an even more sophisticated Twin Clutch AWD system, that allows torque to transfer left and right on the rear axle providing a torque-vectoring effect that aids the driver in high-speed cornering. The rear axle can also be disconnected for better fuel economy, a neat trick that’s not very common in this class of vehicle.
The V6 produces a healthy 308 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque and feels much better suited to the character of the Blazer, also making a much better sound than the buzzy 4-cylinder in the base model.
All Blazers get Macpherson front struts and a 5-link independent rear suspension but the RS gets its own specially tuned dampers that have 40 % more compression control in the front and 15 % more in the rear. The RS also gets a quicker steering ratio.
Body roll mitigation was one of the engineering goals, and they’ve achieved that here. The Blazer stayed remarkably flat through even the tightest corners we encountered and my driving partner and I both noticed that the more you push this SUV the better it gets. Well weighted steering, lackluster around town, also came alive when the speed picked up.
The RS soaked up most of the road imperfections but there really weren’t that many. Ontario’s roads might prove a bigger challenge, but they’ve struck a good balance between comfort and sport here and I suspect customers are really gonna enjoy the drive in this one.
While this new Blazer’s front wheel drive underpinnings might not satisfy fans of the old one, it will likely only be an issue in fan forums and not so much on the sales floor. Chevy has created a crossover that has some real style and it will only strengthen their portfolio.
The 2019 Blazer is due to arrive in dealerships in late spring.