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Chevrolet TrailBlazer is smooth and powerful, with a stunning straight-six engine, a stiff chassis, a sophisticated suspension, powerful brakes and impressive details. It's capable of off-road travel, but feels stable and comfortable on the highway.
For 2003, the TrailBlazer adds an extended-wheelbase model with seating for seven, and an optional all-aluminum V8 for more towing power. The fuel tank is larger. And there's even a new North Face Edition with exclusive interior and exterior trim.
The V8 delivers strong torque for towing, but the six-cylinder engine delivers plenty of power for the TrailBlazer. The long-wheelbase TrailBlazer EXT sacrifices handling for third-row seating.
The Chevrolet TrailBlazer does many things well. It is totally rugged and capable, while being totally comfortable and civilized. That assessment is based on a hundred miles of driving on rough and fast Mexican two-lanes, flat and climbing, straight and twisting, and a few laps around an off-road course with steep climbs and descents and 50-mph washboard trails.
The inline-6 engine feels more powerful than a V6 with the torque of a small overhead-cam V8. It's so smooth that it doesn't sound like much of anything. And the faster it goes, the smoother it gets. With an official Mexican Highway Patrol escort along on the test drive, we felt free to briefly run the TrailBlazer up to 100 mph, and it was above 80 where the inline engine really showed the silky side of its character.
It showed the beefy side down low. Our LTZ test model was equipped with the optional 4.10 rear differential, and was able to blast past Mexican trucks on steep uphill two-lanes with calm confidence. It surges with acceleration performance without a downshift, as the ample low-end torque doesn't need it, and therefore the four-speed automatic transmission isn't programmed for it. Ninety percent of the peak 275 pound-feet of torque is available at 1600 rpm, and it's still there at 5600 rpm. The full-throttle upshift comes at 6000 rpm, and the engine is still only striding, not screaming.
The smooth-shifting transmission is the proven Hydra-Matic 4L60-E, used in GM applications from Corvettes to Cadillac Escalades.
Towing was a high priority with the TrailBlazer. Six-cylinder models are rated at 6300 pounds with 2WD, 6200 with 4WD. The six-cylinder engine is designed to run cool (thanks in part to that big seven-quart oil pan) and efficient.
Big ventilated disc brakes provide stopping power and four-wheel ABS is standard. Under hard braking, the nose didn't dive, keeping the TrailBlazer remarkably level and stable.
We found the ride excellent, very smooth: in a word, carlike, without being too soft. TrailBlazer was designed to roll (lean) exactly five degrees in the corners, and then stop leaning. The track is the widest in the class, 2.2 inches wider than the Explorer in front and 0.9 inch wider in rear. This, coupled with the lowered engine position, drops the center of gravity. A vehicle with a low center of gravity is generally less likely to roll over than a vehicle with a high sense of gravity.
The Chevy TrailBlazer is designed to be driven off road. We found the TrailBlazer impressively stable on washboard surfaces. It bottomed on dips, however, signaling that the optional skid plates are necessary for off-road driving. Our test model (equipped with 17-inch BFG Rugged Trail radials) had the skid plates, of course, which we dragged in soft sand, chugging easily along at 5 mph in Auto4WD.
As impressed as we were with the TrailBlazer, we've been less impressed with the TrailBlazer EXT. The long-wheelbase EXT lacks the responsiveness and stable handling of the standard TrailBlazer. EXT feels long and narrow. That's not surprising, given that EXT is longer, narrower and taller than the Chevy Tahoe. TrailBlazer EXT's wheelbase is stretched dramatically, by 16 inches. It's suspension is soft. It wallows in corners. On exit ramps, when braking and turning at the same time, it does not feel as stable as a TrailBlazer or Tahoe. On the highway, the EXT wanders around in the lane. Stability is also affected by strong crosswinds at high speeds. Even equipped with the optional V8 engine, the TrailBlazer EXT feels distinctly underpowered. It weighs nearly 300 pounds more than the standard TrailBlazer.
Chevy TrailBlazer is among the best of the mid-size SUVs. Smooth, stable, and powerful, it works well around town, on the open highway, and in the back country. Almost none of that applies to the long-wheelbase TrailBlazer EXT, however.
TrailBlazer sports a nice design and a well-executed interior, though GM's seats could use some improvement.