Like 4x4 utes, their wagon-shaped siblings have a tough gig. Along with being a safe, relaxing and competent family hauler, buyers are expecting them to be good off-road, torquey tow rigs. While having an all-purpose vehicle sounds appealing, you can wind up with something that’s a jack-of-all and master of none.
Holden’s own ute-based wagon spin-off is called the Trailblazer. Using the same running gear and interior of the Colorado, it swaps out leaf springs for coils and squeezes in seven seats where a tub used to be. We’ve got a Z71 specification, which has a $53,490 price before on-roads. However, it’s worth noting Holden’s website has it for $52,990 drive-away at the time of writing.
There is barely a better testing ground for a 4WD than the Victorian High Country. It’s a decent-length drive from the Melbourne CBD (3–4 hours), and has all kinds of conditions and tracks for testing. We headed up into the mountains with enough supplies for four nights of camping, along with an itinerary set to scrutinise the Trailblazer’s credentials.
Don’t believe the ‘Duramax’ marketing guff that comes with the Trailblazer’s 2.8 oiler. A true Duramax is the product of a collaboration between Chevrolet and Isuzu, which spawned a lineage of big diesel V8s for full-sized American utes. We’re talking 6.6 litres and enough Newton-metres to accommodate four digits and a comma.
After the long-standing collaboration with Isuzu dried up, Holden renamed the Rodeo as Colorado. In 2012, the Isuzu-sourced engine was later replaced with a 2.8-litre unit from Italian engine manufacturer VM Motori. It uses a familiar recipe of a high-pressure, common-rail fuel system with piezoelectric injectors and double overhead camshafts netting you 500Nm at 2000rpm and 147kW at 3600rpm.
It’s a nice and composed engine, which brings on that big shunt of torque quickly after pedal depression. It’s managed well by the six-speed automatic gearbox, which is your one and only choice of transmission.
Although it reads like it’s only a low-rev lugger on paper, it does feel pliable through the rev range. There’s more rattle in the engine compared to more modern offerings from Ford and Toyota, but I reckon it’s still good nonetheless. Bonus points for a high-mounted alternator and a protected air intake as well.
Like most other ute-based wagons, the Trailblazer ditches leaf springs in favour of a five-link coil spring set-up for the rear live axle. Up front, it’s the same independent suspension as the Colorado. It’s a well-sorted set-up too. It rides pretty well and absorbs big bumps without too much fanfare. There is still a reminiscent jiggle that reminds you of its ute-based lineage, but it’s nothing overly bad.
Ford’s Everest is more refined, but the Trailblazer easily holds its own against the MU-X, Pajero Sport and Fortuner. Articulation is average for the class, and we didn’t come across any fading issues from our off-road driving – conditions weren’t really that tough in that regard.
The on-road driving experience improved with a big leap from the use of a new electric power steering set-up, which replaced the old hydraulic system. It feels sharper overall and gives variable weighting between low-speed and high-speed driving. It’s not just marketing talk either; it’s really tangible and beneficial.
Holden’s iteration of infotainment is called MyLink, which runs through an 8.0-inch display. It’s a decent system that isn’t really anything special, but it does have the capability to run Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Below there sits a nicely laid out collection of buttons and dials that are functional and intuitive.
There are two 12V cig plugs up front, along with a single USB port. There’s another cig plug for the second row, along with one in the tub. The rear plug is wired separately to the ignition, which is handy for something like a 12V fridge. But if you don’t have some kind of low-voltage cutout, you run the risk of draining your only (starter) battery.
Seating is comfortable enough, but is probably a bit flat and lacking in thigh support for my tastes. You miss out on reach adjustment with the steering wheel, but I got dialled in pretty nicely for a long drive regardless.
When all three rows are deployed, you only have room for a couple of small bags in the boot. The third row is pretty poky, which is line-ball with the competition. If you’re throwing kids in the back for short runs, it’s no issue. They’ll probably appreciate the air-conditioning vents at the back, too.
In terms of payload, a 2203kg kerb weight and 2820kg GVM leaves you with 617kg of payload. Not great, but liveable. A three-tonne towing capacity is supplemented by 5700kg worth of Gross Combination Capacity. We didn't tow with the Trailblazer this time, but have done it before.
Off-road, the main limitation and bugbear of the Trailblazer is ground clearance. While it’s listed at 218mm, the design of the underbody means you’re hitting obstacles off-road more often than other vehicles.
This is when taking on some pretty challenging tracks, but the design and location of the crossmember around the gearbox, which isn’t flat, mean the car hits where others don’t, or where a better underbody design would slide. It’s also worth noting we didn’t accrue any damage with these hits, but big hits are still a bit disconcerting nonetheless.
The off-road traction-control system gets the job done, but does lack some of the finesse that better systems out there have. While an LSD is certainly more beneficial than an open differential, it’s not able to fully lock the rear end like a locker.
And when the traction-control system needs a few wheel rotations to brake wheels effectively enough, you’re left with a fairly lurching nature of driving through low-traction spots and lifting wheels. It works, but it’s behind the best in the class. It’s worth noting again that this is right towards the pointy end of how challenging you’d want to go.
It’s also worth noting that a limited-slip rear end does bring benefits on-road that a locking diff cannot provide. When you’ve got a fairly responsive diesel motor anxious to lay out its 500Nm, the helical LSD in the rear does stop the propensity for excessive single-peggers and allows you to get away more smartly and easily. Helical-style differentials are a more maintenance-free option compared to viscous or clutch-pack set-ups, and beneficial in the way they just work without any buttons or driver input.
Low-range gearing on the Holden is pretty decent, and matches well to the low-revving nature of the 2.8-litre motor. You’re able to depend on low-speed crawling and compression braking nicely on the steep stuff, and still have an easily accessed surge of torque available when you need it. Hill descent control is there, and it works pretty well. It’s not as good or functional as other systems with speed control and lower minimum speeds, however.
The Trailblazer starts with the LT specification, which is noted mostly for its cloth seats, 7.0-inch infotainment unit and 17-inch wheels. Step up to the LTZ and you get faux leather, 8.0-inch screen and 18-inch wheels. Along with a few aesthetic tweaks, the jump in spec also nets you safety features like FCW, LDW, RCTA and my favourite, TPMS.
Z71 specification is an aesthetic treatment only, with black wheels and bonnet decals being the chief points of concern.
Despite having a good motor and sharp pricing, the Trailblazer sells markedly worse than its direct competition: Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Isuzu MU-X, Ford Everest, and even the slow-moving Toyota Fortuner manages to outsell it. Look more broadly at less off-road options like the Santa Fe and Outback and that chasm widens.
I can’t help but think the Trailblazer gets overlooked a bit too much. The torquey engine is great, and is managed well by the steering and gearbox. And regardless of the listed prices, current market conditions and Holden’s own predicament of slumping sales mean the buyer is in a strong position to negotiate.
The Trailblazer has Holden’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which puts it right at the pointy end of the segment. Others are five years but with limited kilometres.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 12,000km, whichever comes first. Each service under Holden’s capped program costs between $299 and $499 for the first five years, averaging out at $427. Total servicing cost is $2135.
If you’re in the market for a 4WD wagon, you’d be well advised to investigate it as an option. I’d be looking at an LTZ specification, and be spending a few hours on the phone to see which dealership has stock (just about all of them, I imagine), and who is most keen to cut a deal. As usual, think about some suspension and rubber if you’re heading off-road.
That torquey engine, combined with a nice driving character and solid off-road capability, leaves me thinking the Trailblazer is a bit of a dark horse in the seven-seat 4x4 segment. It’s good value and does all of the right things well.