Heritage, modernized. Trailblazer - it's a name that's tinged with nostalgia. Sold between 2002 and 2009, the original Trailblazer generation was a popular choice in that time of cheap gas and insatiable demand for capable, powerful SUVs.
Chevrolet killed off the model in the late Aughts, and the name had since been dormant - until last year. Now it's back as a micro-crossover competing against the likes of the Nissan Kicks, Ford EcoSport, Subaru Crosstrek, and Hyundai Kona. The price? Less than $23,000 to start.
Though the new model can't hold a candle to the old one when it comes to high-clearance, four-wheel-drive hijinks, it has style in spades and some excellent available features to boot. This alone makes it a tempting little runabout in a trending segment. But is it perfect? We wouldn't necessarily go that far.
Pokey powertrains, decent fuel economy. If Chevrolet is still the heartbeat of America, the Trailblazer's pair of three-cylinders has us concerned with the long-term prognosis. Let's start with the base 1.2-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, which generates 137 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque.
Those figures are actually decent by the standards of this modest segment, but somewhere along the drivetrain that meager power output is sapped and muted. It feels like it takes an entire time zone to get to 60 mph from a standstill.
The optional 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder isn't much better, using its 155 horsepower to deliver 60 mph in 9.4 seconds. We that Chevy offered a four-cylinder - something that can be had in the competing Ford EcoSport, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks, and a host of other competing - and more refined - vehicles. A fourth cylinder is sorely missed in the Trailblazer.
On the transmission front, models with front-wheel drive get a CVT; all-wheel-drive models use a nine-speed automatic and mandate the 1.3-liter engine. We heavily preferred the latter for its crisp shifting and decisive nature, two attributes missing from the CVT. The optional powertrain is worth it for the gearbox alone.
As for fuel economy, the Trailblazer returns up to 28 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with the base engine. That's not bad - and better than competitors such as the Ford EcoSport - but opting for the optional 1.3-liter engine actually improves things to 29/33 mpg. A more powerful engine getting better gas mileage defies convention, but it's a reflection of how hard the 1.2-liter engine has to work to motivate the Trailblazer.
Roomy, attractive interior. Step into the Trailblazer and you'll find one of Chevy's better budget interiors. Material quality is commendable, especially on the higher trims - a top-spec RS model doesn't disappoint in its choice of plastics and textiles. Build quality is likewise better than expected for its segment and price point.
We're especially enamored of the airy, spacious cabin. No, you won't seat five adults in comfort, but that's the standard in this segment - the middle rear seat is only to be used in a pinch. Big windows and a tall roof - benefits of the squared-off design - ensure nobody will suffer from claustrophobia.
Legroom in the rear measures out to 39 inches in the rear, which is palatial compared to most models in this segment. Alternatives like the Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-30, Kia Seltos, and Hyundai Kona can't measure up in the back seat.
Behind the rear seats is 25 cubic feet, which opens up to 54 cubes with the seats folded. That's again an impressive figure for this pint-sized class.
Eroding value proposition. The base L - the bottom-trim model that managed to start at less than $20,000 before destination charges - has been discontinued. We think the sweet spot is the LT, which costs about $23,000 and includes cruise control, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, and remote start. Alloy wheels and choice of paint color are also part of the deal. If you want the bigger engine, that's on the books as well - but opting for it brings the price to $25,000 or more.
At that point, we're a bit leery of the Trailblazer; after all, there are plenty of larger SUVs that feature more refined powertrains and similar gas mileage. Beyond $25,000, the only reason to buy the Trailblazer is for the styling - which, we admit, might be the best in the segment. But when vehicles like the Kia Seltos, Subaru Crosstrek, and Mazda CX-30 all start around $22,000, the value of a mid-trim Trailblazer is dubious.
Somehow, Chevy has the audacity to charge $33,000 for a totally-loaded Trailblazer. Of course, you get a host of great features that larger SUVs at the same price can't offer. But that comes at a cost - in this case, refinement and drivability. You'll still have a crossover that uses three cylinders to crudely crawl to 60 mph, and to us that isn't acceptable. Style does not trump total value in the long run, a lesson the priciest Trailblazer is yet to learn.
Final word. The Trailblazer has mighty good looks and offers some great features, but the pricing goes from bargain to baffling in the span of a few trim levels. We'd love to love a loaded Trailblazer RS, but the two underpowered engines won't allow us to do so.
With a bit more displacement and another cylinder, we'd laud this baby crossover. For now, we suggest staying to the more modest end of its trim ladder and upgrading to the all-wheel drive, 1.3-liter powertrain.
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