Old name on a new face. The "in" thing among automakers these days is slapping old names on new products. So what if it doesn't jive with hardcore gearheads? Automakers are corporations, not fanboys, and sacrilege is nothing new.

Case in point is the new 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer. The name used to denote big, hulking, truck-based SUVs with true four-wheel drive. For 2021, the Trailblazer is reborn as a compact crossover with a three-cylinder engine than can be optionally fitted with all-wheel drive.

That's quite a departure from its history, but the new Trailblazer is nonetheless a smart entry in a burgeoning segment. Small crossovers with a bit of stylistic flair have become all the rage among buyers. For proof, see the popularity of the Kia Soul, Hyundai Venue, Nissan Kicks, and the like. This segment is where it's at, and Chevy wants a piece of the pie.

Style points. Though compact crossovers have been around some time, the latest entries in the segment have been fashionistas. The Chevy Trailblazer joins that stylish crowd but doesn't feel like a copycat; rather, it might have the best aesthetics in the class.

A lot of credit for its attractive look is due to its squared-off, blocky shape. There's also the wide stance and the truck-ish front end to drive home the look. Ultimately, the Trailblazer succeeds in taking what people like about bona fide SUVs and distilling that into a smaller package.

The Activ trim hones in on this; it gets meatier tires, unique wheels, and a contrasting-color roof with matching mirror caps. The look is mini off-roader, even if it has no business on real 4WD trails.

The RS goes the opposite direction with 18-inch wheels, street-spec rubber with narrower sidewalls, and sportier trim. Urban chic, in other words. The rest of the trim levels don't try quite so hard but still look good in our book.


Chevrolet Trailblazer

Slow going. The Trailblazer might look sharp, but performance is anything but. That's due to two rather underwhelming engine choices: a 1.2-liter or a 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder.

The 1.2-liter turbo three-cylinder is the base engine, found in the bottom three trims. It makes 137 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. That's more power than either the Kicks or the Venue, but what's lacking is refinement.

The standard continuously variable transmission doesn't help – it makes the engine feel even more bogged down, resulting in a slow crawl up to 60 mph. This powertrain is thankfully limited to front-wheel-drive models; the extra weight of the all-wheel-drive setup wouldn't make things any better.

Were it our money, we'd upgrade to the 1.3-liter turbo three-cylinder. It churns out 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, which is a strong showing for a turbo-three. That doesn't equate to fast, however, and the 0-60 mph requires a bit less than 10 seconds.

While the base engine uses a CVT, the 1.3-liter gets a nine-speed automatic. This is our favorite bit among all the hardware here – it shifts smoothly, almost invisibly. It pairs well with the AWD.

Overall refinement for the 1.3-liter is decent, considering the segment and price point. It makes a fine competitor to the Japanese offerings in this class, though the lack of a four-cylinder engine will remain a bit of a psychological hurdle.

Voluminous interior. Space efficiency matters in this segment, and Chevy thankfully got the memo. The well-designed cabin uses its tiny footprint effectively and is one of the roomiest compact crossovers on the market: 54.4 cubic feet of total cargo space, or 25.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat.

Seating four adults isn't an issue either, with nearly 40 inches of rear leg room – a massive amount for something this size. Seating five is doable, but the compact dimensions impede on width, making three abreast a bit of a tight squeeze. There's room to stretch the legs out all day, though.

Up front, the driver will enjoy a well-designed dash that incorporates either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen, depending on if you buy the base model or any other trim, respectively. Chevy's latest infotainment is easy to use and gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment.

Material quality is on par with the competition. Considering base models start at less than $20,000, Chevy did a decent job screwing together the cabin.

Final thoughts. The 2021 Chevy Trailblazer is yet another small and affordable crossover, but its good looks set it apart. It's also distinguished by its underwhelming three-cylinder engines, which work well enough but ultimately leave us wanting for a better driving experience.

That leaves us torn. On the one hand, for the shoppers for whom the driving experience still matters, we'd certainly cross-shop the competition before making any decisions. But if style and roominess are the main priorities – and for more and more buyers, this seems to be the case – this macho little Chevy checks all the right boxes. Shop accordingly.

Check prices for the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer »