DRIVING IMPRESSION: Chevrolet TrailBlazer 2.8 Duramax LTZ 4x4 AT

BY CHARL BOSCH - JULY 22, 2015

When it was first shown as a concept at the 2011 Dubai Motor Show, the hype surrounding the Chevrolet TrailBlazer was such that many believed a worthy rival to the Toyota Fortuner had finally arrived.

At its official local launch a year later, General Motors South Africa (GMSA) Marketing Manager, Alastair Ironside, made no secret of what the TrailBlazer was intended for when he remarked, “We are going after Toyota’s Fortuner. It’s the TrailBlazer’s reason for being”.

South Africans are however famous for being notoriously brand loyal and would often stick with a certain make or model, regardless of what the other might offer. Despite what the monthly sales figures say, the TrailBlazer has proved itself to be a worthy rival during the countless shootouts against its Japanese rival, not only impressing fans and foes alike, but coming out tops in certain areas.

In addition to the Fortuner, the TrailBlazer also had to shake off the old “you never meet your heroes” adage when it became my first ever test vehicle later that same year.

Naturally, the experience was both daunting and overwhelming, but my brief time spend behind the wheel highlighted several key drawing cards such as the imposing styling, comfortable ride quality, spacious interior, high specification level and the sheer grunt of the 132 kW 2.8-litre Duramax turbodiesel engine up front.

It was fair to say that the TrailBlazer lived up to the expectations I had while at the same time, proving that you could meet your heroes and not be disappointed.

Frankly, there was no use hiding my excitement when a Blue Mountain coloured range topping 2.8 Duramax LTZ 4x4 AT recently arrived for a weeklong stay.

The recipient of a surprise mid-life facelift early last year, the TrailBlazer has remained externally unchanged, yet still strikes an imposing figure with its mean looking teardrop headlights, chrome surrounded dual-port grille, outstretching clamshell bonnet, flared wheelarches and that rising rear hip line.

Where things have taken a considerable change, is when you step inside. The previous dot matrix sound system has been replaced by a modern seven-inch touchscreen display which features the best execution of Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system to date.

Not dissimilar to sister company Opel’s Intellilink system, the TrailBlazer’s MyLink relies only on the screen interface instead of the buttons used in the Cruze, with the system also doubling up as a display for the reverse camera.

In keeping with the times, the fitment of MyLink sees the TrailBlazer doing away with a CD player in favour of Bluetooth audio streaming or via the USB and Aux input in the centre glovebox. The system also features pre-loaded apps for Stitcher and TuneIn, the latter once again put to good use over the seven day tenure.

Notable standard equipment includes climate control, auto lock/unlock doors, rear parking sensors, cruise control, electric driver’s seat, Hill Decent Control, Hill Start Assist, ABS with EBD, ESC and six airbags.

Speaking of gloveboxes, the TrailBlazer is left for nothing when it comes to interior storage thanks the aforementioned box between the front seats, a split glove compartment on the passenger side, a small cubby on top of a the facia, and coin trays underneath the air vents, which also doubles up as cupholders.

As comfortable as it is upfront, the TrailBlazer really shines when it comes to second and third row seating. Not only is space in the middle row generous, but pulling a lever reveals a 60/40 split seat that can either tumble forward for easy third row access, or be folded completely flat for carrying items.

Another nifty feature is that the boot cover, when all seven seats are up, can be put into floor-mounted storage box while still allowing some packing space.

The interior changes are of little significance however when you exercise your right toe. As part of the upgrades, the Duramax now churns out 144 kW and a colossal 500 N.m of torque. Co-developed with Isuzu, whose KB underpins the TrailBlazer, the engine does a frankly excellent job of propelling the 2.7-ton SUV forward with hardly any turbo lag and a great surge of power.

Although about as slick is you could wish for, the characteristics of the six-speed automatic gearbox does take some getting used to, however, pulling power in top gear without a significant drop in speed or increase in noise, was nothing short of astonishing.

Where the TrailBlazer really did its name justice, was off the black stuff. Even though the foray into Baviaanskloof was limited to the main gravel road, which had become a mud-fest in certain parts, the TrailBlazer took the water-logged rutted roads in its stride by being not only comfortable, but pulling like the proverbial train when in four-wheel drive mode.

Heading back home, both my father and I were in admittance that the TrailBlazer’s off-road performance had bettered its on-road prowess, and that any potential buyer would be doing it an injustice not venturing off the beaten track.

A week behind the wheel once again highlighted why the forthcoming all-new Fortuner should remain wary of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer. With enough standard kit, space and that powerhouse up front, dismissing the bowtie badged one is no longer an option.

 

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4
DISPLACEMENT 2,776 cc
MAX POWER 144 kW @3600 rpm
MAX TORQUE 500 N.m @2000 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Rear-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Six-speed automatic
ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H] 10.6 sec
TOP SPEED 180 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION 9.5 L/100 km
EMISSIONS 254 g/km