The latest Blazer's transition from trucky 4x4 to sporty-ish crossover works surprisingly well.
Joey Capparella • What did you want the reincarnation of the Chevrolet Blazer to be? A mud-slinging, open-air Jeep Wrangler competitor to invoke the spirit of the old K5 Blazer? A truck-based relic from the dawn of the SUV era like the S-10 Blazers from the '80s and '90s?
Chances are, your idea of what the Blazer should be doesn't sync up with what the actual 2019 Blazer is: a unibody crossover fitting neatly between Chevy's Equinox and Traverse in size.
The sales data for mid-size two-row SUVs doesn't present a clear picture of what people want, either. Unlike the compact-crossover segment, where nearly all competitors hew to a particular formula, there's no single recipe for success here.
The top sellers are a diverse bunch, ranging from the ancient, body-on-frame Toyota 4Runner to the rugged and refined Jeep Grand Cherokee to the car-like Ford Edge and Nissan Murano at the crossover end of the spectrum. Even the Subaru Outback, a lifted wagon that's quite popular in its own right, fits into this category.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You're reading a story by American title Car and Driver. We're bringing you a handful of C/D stories each month, focused on vehicles we've either not yet driven, or models not offered in Australia. Where appropriate, we'll add metric measurements for reference, but grammar and terminology will otherwise remain unchanged.
The new Blazer, riding on the same underpinnings as the GMC Acadia and the Cadillac XT5, sits nearest to the Edge (Endura) and the Murano on paper. Chevrolet makes no off-road pretensions, and it's dimensionally close to those two competitors. Although it is arriving late to the party, the Blazer attempts to make up for lost time with an aggressive, overtly sporty mission that starts with its rakish looks.
While some design elements such as the grille and taillights come across as overwrought, we do like the Blazer's athletic stance on the road. Its track is wider than those of its platform-mates, and the overall shape and side surfacing give it plenty of presence.
Inside, inspiration comes from the Chevrolet Camaro's cabin, which isn't the first interior design we'd borrow from given its wonky ergonomics. The Blazer's packaging, however, allowed designers extra space to fine-tune the execution, with the only real point of weirdness being the circular air vents mounted low on the center stack.
Forward visibility is good thanks to the side quarter-windows, and the chunky D-pillars don't impede the rear view too badly.
Material quality is below average for this class, though, with some soft touch points higher on the dash but plenty of hard plastic lower down, and none of the trimmings are particularly inspiring. GM's latest infotainment system, called Infotainment 3, is chock full of connectivity features, responds quickly to inputs, and has clearly organized menus.
The cabin's space is well utilized, with plentiful legroom and headroom front and rear and multi-adjustable rear seats that slide, recline, and fold flat to create an uninterrupted cargo floor.
V6 Model Provides Some Fun
In base form with the standard naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four, the Blazer impresses with its quietness and its compliant suspension tuning, if not its quickness—no surprise given that this engine makes only 193 horsepower (144kW).
Blazers with the optional V6 have a more competitive 308 horsepower (230kW) and 270 lb-ft (366Nm) of torque from GM's familiar 3.6-liter engine, which makes a throaty growl and produces a fair amount of forward gusto. Zero to 60 mph (97km/h) took 6.3 seconds in the 4293-pound (1947kg), all-wheel-drive V6 RS model we tested, which is toward the quick end of the class.
A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and it mostly operates unobtrusively, although it's a bit slow to kick down during more enthusiastic driving; manual gear control is only possible via a clumsy +/- rocker switch on the shift lever. Four-cylinder models come only with front-wheel drive, while choosing the V6 brings all-wheel-drive options.
The standard AWD setup is fairly conventional, with a manually selectable front-drive mode that disconnects the rear axle for better fuel economy. The upgraded system in the top RS and Premier models has the same torque-vectoring twin-clutch rear differential found in other GM products that can apportion power side to side to each individual rear wheel, which helps impart a more agile feel in corners.
We most enjoyed driving the V6 – only Blazer RS, which has stiffer damping and a quicker steering ratio. Both mechanical changes were especially welcome considering that most crossovers' sport-oriented trim levels are just appearance packages.
The Blazer RS is too tall and heavy to evoke thoughts of the lithe Camaro from behind the wheel, but it has significantly sharper responses than cushier cruisers such as the Nissan Murano and the Hyundai Santa Fe, with body motions that are well managed and steering that is solidly weighted if a little dead in terms of feedback.
The RS model we tested, which wore optional 21-inch wheels (20s are standard on the RS) wrapped with 265/35R-21 Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires, generated a respectable 0.87 g of stick around the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in a solid 165 feet.
Desirable Upper Trim Levels Are Costly
The main hiccup in the Blazer's otherwise appealing package is its steep pricing. Chevrolet structures its trim levels so that they appear roughly competitive MSRP-wise; front-wheel-drive models start from just under $30,000 (AU$42,720) and are priced up to the mid-$40,000 range. But not much equipment comes standard, even on higher trims, and the options are quite costly.
A few examples: All-wheel drive costs $2700 to $2900 extra, about double what it costs on other mid-size SUVs, and most active-safety features such as adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking are bundled into expensive option packages that are only available on the higher trim levels.
At our all-wheel-drive test car's $44,695 (AU$63,655) base price — which swelled to an as-tested $50,765 with the $3575 Enhanced Convenience and Driver Confidence II package (a premium audio system, the Infotainment 3 system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, a host of active-safety systems, and more) and the $2495 Sun and Wheels package (a power panoramic sunroof and the 21-inch wheels) — the Blazer is poor value.
It not only costs thousands more than its competitors but also pushes well into the territory of luxury crossovers such as the Lexus RX, which offers nicer interior materials, a premium dealership experience, and a more upscale badge on the hood.
As for content, the Blazer makes a strong case for itself with a capable driving experience, bold styling, and spacious interior packaging. It's an appealing vehicle that aggressively elbows its way into the crowded and diverse field of mid-size-SUV offerings, even though it demands a potentially steep price for its most attractive presentation.