Think back a decade or perhaps even two, and the rugged 4WD sector was catered to only by the grey-import Toyota HiLux Surf and a few ragged Mitsubishi Challengers beaten to within an inch of their lives. Now, the 2017 Holden Trailblazer LT enters a segment more competitive than ever before
In the intervening years, segments have grown, changed shape, lost and gained entrants, and moved up or down to accommodate the insatiable thirst for all things SUV – soft road or otherwise. Now though, the rugged 4WD segment is back in a big way.
Toyota has the Fortuner, Mitsubishi the Pajero Sport, Ford the Everest, Isuzu the MU-X, and now Holden offers up the rebadged Colorado in the form of the virtually identical Trailblazer, which we test here in entry-level AWD diesel guise – the LT. Competitive? You’d better believe this segment is the embodiment of it.
This rugged SUV battleground is also an interesting nether region between medium SUVs, which in reality are mostly soft-roaders, and large 4WDs, like the market favourite Prado, which are hardly ‘affordable’ in 2017 and don’t quite appeal to the budget-minded family buyer.
Each entrant has its own strong points too, at the risk of fence sitting. There really isn’t a ‘bad’ option among the bunch listed above.
The Fortuner benefits from Toyota’s expansive network and proven HiLux underpinnings; the Pajero Sport is the unquestionable value leader, packed with gear if not style; the Everest is more expensive than the others, but has an exceptional turbo diesel engine; and the MU-X delivers on the promise of value for money and a virtually indestructible drivetrain. There really is something for everybody.
Pricing for the Trailblazer LT starts from $47,990 (before on-road costs) and standard equipment is the key to appealing to buyers in this segment. If you want a comprehensive list of standard equipment, you can read our pricing and specification story.
Off-road work and towing are often the stock and trade for buyers in this segment, meaning what's under the bonnet is particularly important.
The Trailblazer is powered by Holden’s familiar 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine, which knocks out 147kW and 500Nm in completely unruffled fashion. Peak torque is available between 2000-2200rpm, meaning you’ll use precious little fuel at highway cruising speeds. It also means the Trailblazer will easily haul its rated 3000kg towing capacity. We didn’t tow or head off-road for this review, but we know what the engine is capable of having tested it extensively in both situations previously.
Like the engine, the six-speed automatic gearbox is unchanged from the Colorado, and it works smoothly enough to suggest you don’t always need more ratios just for the sake of it. It’s got a manual shift mode too, for instances where you want to control exactly what it is doing. More on the driving experience in a minute.
Cabin ambience is – unsurprisingly – very much like the Colorado. Added sound insulation from the 2016 update has made it a pleasant place to be and the diesel engine rarely interrupts the sense of insulation inside the cabin either.
Interestingly for this segment, tyre noise is minimal too, even at 110km/h on coarse chip. I say intersingly, because the Trailblazer rolls on light truck spec tyres. You will get some wind noise on the highway, but overall, the Trailblazer is better than par for the course.
I canvassed other members of the CA team and it seems the taller you are, the less ideal the driving position. It’s not a deal breaker, but with a steering wheel that will only tilt and not reach adjust, I couldn’t quite get into the position I like behind the wheel. Ideally, taller drivers will want to get further away from the dash, something a reach adjustable steering wheel would cater for.
At base model LT spec, there are plenty of cheap plastics and hard finishes, despite the dash having a soft look (with stitching) and not actually being hard. It does look like it’s at the cheaper end of the spectrum though. Up front, there’s a USB input, along with auxiliary and twin 12V inputs.
The steering wheel controls are basic but they work snappily and are easy to decipher. The same resonates for the basic driver gauge display despite the old style feel to them. The digital speedo is a clever addition. The 7.0-inch centre screen on the other hand is excellent, and we found Apple CarPlay to work faultlessly. Remove that smartphone connection though, and you have a basic infotainment system in both appearance and functionality.
Audio response was well above average too, when we cranked some of our own music through the system. On that note, Bluetooth also worked faultlessly when we opted for that method rather than CarPlay, and the same goes for audio streaming.
The rear-view camera is adequate but certainly not the best in the segment, there’s no keyless entry and not much useful storage in the cabin – certainly not for a large 4WD. Door pockets are small, the glove box is tiny and the console bin is also small.
If you’re cross-shopping with higher specification vehicles, you’ll find the basic air con a bit low rent, but I don’t mind the lack of climate control if the system in place works well – and the Trailblazer’s does.
Once you get moving, the seats are excellent, comfortable and fashioned out of hard wearing material that doesn’t feel cheap or basic. We appreciated the complete lack of fatigue even after a few hours on the road, and both front seat occupants will be comfortable at all times. The front seat passenger gets plenty of legroom too.
Better than average leg- and headroom in the second row, means the Trailblazer will carry four adults in comfort and certainly three children across that second row, too. The second row backrests recline, and there are air vents and temperature controls (by way of basic dial) in the roof for passengers.
The second row seats themselves aren’t quite as comfortable as the fronts, and could do with a taller backrest. There are similarly tiny door pockets in the second row as well, and one 12V outlet only.
Moving back to the luggage compartment, the third row folds effectively flat but does rob some floor to ceiling space, but there is an excellent luggage cover back there keeping valuables out of sight.
There’s an LED light in the luggage area, three cup/bottle holders, bag hooks, and one 12V input. We’d like the hatch to open a little higher, so taller owners – idiots like me – don’t nail their head on it when loading and unloading bags.
Once you head off into the cut and thrust of city traffic, you realise just how refined a cost-effective, modern turbo diesel can be. This is no big dollar Euro powerhouse, but rather an affordable family conveyance, and it’s more than refined enough for the daily grind.
Overall it's not a refined engine compared to the best on the market, but it hides its gruff nature well enough from inside the cabin. Open the windows and you’ll hear some diesel roar under load, but with the windows up, it’s pretty insulated.
There’s a solid surge of power and torque on offer, such that you never have to nail the throttle to get moving. I liked the way the 2.8-litre delivers its torque, working sweetly with the six-speed auto. The gearbox can shift a little harshly at low speed on deceleration, but it's not a major concern. Hill start assist worked seamlessly under all conditions too.
Crucially for buyers in this segment, the engine and gearbox combo is efficient. Against an ADR claim of 8.6L/100km, we used an impressive 11.6L/100km purely around town in traffic, dropping to 9.9L/100km after about 100km on the freeway.
During our freeway drive, we noticed the 2.8-litre churns along comfortably below 2000rpm at 100-110km/h. That is part of the reason the engine is as efficient as it is at speed, but you will experience some initial lag until you get into the meat of the torque delivery (at 2000rpm) if you need to accelerate quickly to overtake, for example.
The Trailblazer’s suspension has been specifically tuned for local roads and as such, you’d expect it to be competent. Double wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs underpins the front end, while out back there’s a five-link, coil spring live axle setup. That hardware is as good as the segment gets and combined with a local tune, the Trailblazer makes short – and mostly comfortable – work of our road network.
It irons out every surface with ease, and is generally very composed. If you hit cross corrugations mid corner for example, it will jiggle from side to side and front to rear a little, but that's as much to do with the ride height and suspensions that must work double duty between on-road comfort and off-road competence. You can float over most inner city roads without any loss of composure in the cabin though, making it an excellent family truckster.
We liked the effortless feel to the steering at parking speeds, with the electric rack tuned to firm up as speed increases, so it doesn't deliver any of that weird floaty feeling you can sometimes experience. It's also a system with fewer turns lock-to-lock compared to the old platform and as such, you can run through a three-point turn easily.
I don't think there's any doubt the 2017 Holden Trailblazer LT does everything it needs to do to appeal to the Aussie family looking for a roomy, capable SUV under that 50-grand mark. That's why we've scored it at 7.5 overall.
Its only issue really is the quality of the competition. There's plenty to choose from and plenty to like across every option. You won't be disappointed if you opt for the Trailblazer though.
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