DRIVING IMPRESSION: Chevrolet TrailBlazer 2.8 Duramax LTZ 4x4

BY CHARL BOSCH - MARCH 24, 2016

It continues to remain somewhat of a head scratcher why the Chevrolet TrailBlazer has failed to capture the popular body-on frame SUV market’s attention in the same way that’s its soon-to-be replaced arch-rival from Toyota has.

A quick tally up of the monthly NAAMSA sales figures from last year shows that while Toyota shifted a total of 8 385 Fortuners throughout the twelve months, only 861 TrailBlazers found new homes over the same period, despite it being more powerful, better equipped and more modern on first glance than its circa 2006 rival.

With competition in this segment getting ever tougher, Chevrolet sprung an early surprise just over two years ago by introducing a number of tech and mechanical upgrades to the TrailBlazer, the most notable being the marque’s MyLink infotainment system and upping the power output from 132 kW to 144 kW.

It was a recipe that proved frankly astonishing when the revised Chevy arrived from a weeklong stay in July last year. Not only did it turn out to be easy to manoeuvre around town and surprisingly frugal given its size and weight, its off-road prowess came in for considerable praise as a water-logged Baviaanskloof failed to deter it one bit.

Eight months down the line, and with Ford having returned to segment in a massive way with its radically re-developed Everest, the TrailBlazer’s second step on the podium it likely to become a hard fought contest over the next few months.

That said, there was little to prevent me from smiling when, rather surprisingly, a Summit White TrailBlazer arrived for a weeklong stay.

Aside from being the very first vehicle I reviewed when starting out now almost four years ago, the real difference laid with the drivetrain setup as this flagship 2.8 Duramax LTZ 4x4 featured a six-speed manual gearbox instead of the two six-speed automatic versions I previously drove.

Although images of the new TrailBlazer with a completely redesigned front facia leaked online earlier month - it will only arrive next year - little in the way of criticism can be heaped on the current model’s appearance.

Taking a number of styling hints from the Brazilian Chevrolet S-10, the sister version to our Isuzu KB, the TrailBlazer continues to strike an imposing figure thanks to those mean-looking tear drop headlights, chrome dual port grille, long clamshell bonnet, flared wheel arches and 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 265/60 Bridgestone all-terrain rubber.

Borrowing most its underpinnings from the KB, the TrailBlazer’s interior is a further nod to its bakkie sibling, with the only difference being the aforementioned seven-inch MyLink touchscreen display and the piano key black finish on the hangdown section. While hard plastic adorned most of the interior’s surfaces, built quality was not found lacking as the materials felt rugged and solid.

As with our previous TrailBlazer, the seven-inch MyLink system continues to rate as one of the best by being both easy to navigate and intuitive. In addition to doubling up as the display for the reverse camera, it also features pre-loaded apps for Stitcher, TuneIn digital radio and BringGo navigation.

Befitting is flagship status, standard items on the LTZ include a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth audio streaming, USB and Aux input, cruise control, climate control, six-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, Hill Decent Control, auto lock / unlock doors, electric mirrors, rear parking sensors, Hill Start Assist, ABS with EBD, ESC and six airbags.

Measuring 4 878 mm in length with a height of 1 847 mm and width of 2 132 mm, space in the TrailBlazer is certainly not lacking with head and leg in the middle row being practically impressive. Featuring a 60/40 split, the row can also be titled forward individually to aid third row access, or folded flat to increase loading capacity from 205-litres with all seven seats up, to 1830-liters with all five down.

As to be expected, the third row is mainly reserved for small children as both and head room can become a problem for full-grown adults. Still rating as a clever feature, the luggage cover, with all seven seats up, can be put in a floor-mounted storage box while still allowing for some packing space.

Turn the key, the TrailBlazer’s 2.8-litre Duramax engine, co-developed with Isuzu and Italian diesel specialists VM Motori, fires up to a very agricultural tone, before settling down to a typical diesel rumble. As with the automatic, the powerunit churns out 144 kW but torque falls from 500 to 440 N.m due to the Eaton sourced manual being unable to cope with the extra amount of twist harnessed by the 6L50 self-shifter.

On the move however, the torque deficit is hardly noticeable thanks to the gearing in third and fourth. Hit the accelerator, the engine reacts with virtually no turbo lag and feels willing to rev way past the 3 000 rpm mark.

Despite being not being the slickest and needing a firm hand to change cogs like the Isuzu, the manual makes up for the torque shortfall in a way the auto box, even in Sport mode, could not never match. Fuel consumption was just as impressive with the trip computer eventually reading 9.0 L/100 km, not far from Chevrolet's claimed 8.0 L/100 km.

Using a combination of independent double wishbones as the front and five-link coil springs at the rear, the TrailBlazer’s ride comfort was nothing short of excellent by being soft yet informative.

It long list of attributes has once again proved why the Chevrolet TrailBlazer deserves to sell more than 800 units a year. With a gem of a turbodiesel engine, enough comfort and spec and a spacious interior to boot, it makes for an enticing buy if its rivals don’t cut the mustard.

 

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4
DISPLACEMENT 2,776 cc
MAX POWER 144 kW @3600 rpm
MAX TORQUE 440 N.m @2000 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Rear-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual
ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H] 11.4 sec
TOP SPEED 180 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION 8.0 L/100 km*
EMISSIONS 215 g/km
PRICE R572 300

*As tested