The TrailBlazer name was introduced in 1999 as an up-market Blazer, and in 2002, the TrailBlazer turned into a separate model. My experience of the TrailBlazer began in 2005 in the USA, when I hired one for a family touring vacation. I liked it, but found it heavy on fuel and hated the horrible ride on dirt tracks. But it was very comfortable everywhere else and I grew to like it, but not love it.
My latest experience with the 2014 2,4 diesel auto model included a ten-day trial in Namibia in 2014. I drove it on a wide variety of roads and tracks, including thousands of miles of tarmac, close to thousands of miles on gravel roads, and some off-road tracks and sand dunes.
If ever there was a time in my 20 years as a specialist 4×4 motoring journalist that I’ve been more surprised at a vehicle’s performance, I can’t think of it. I didn’t expect much from the Chev. Maybe it was because I’m not a Chevy man. The brand has never appealed to me. And maybe it’s because, like so many of my peers, I suffer from Top Gear indoctrination; where we are told again and again, that the Americans “Can’t make good cars”. I say, “Nonsense”. The Chev TrailBlazer is not just a good car, it is a great SUV. It does exactly what it says on the tin – and a bit more – for a very good price.
For a full ten days I tried to find things that annoyed me, so I could have my usual rant. But nothing. Even the things that normally drive me crazy, did not. Like the ‘ping’, warning if the key is left in the ignition. It goes away after a short while, so I can sit in the car, with the door open and not be annoyed.
But I am going to have a rant after all, so here goes: The ride on gravel is excellent, the four-wheel drive activation is fast and never failed once, the ride on tarmac is very good, and firm, which I prefer. American SUVS are often spongy and far too soft, and this one isn’t. The space feels large inside, easily more roomy than a Fortuner and maybe even the Pajero. The traction control works quickly and is effective, although it has only a single setting, which worked well on a lumpy hill-climb. It did not interfere with progress in thick sand, which it handled well. I even pulled out a bogged Land Cruiser who was being a little too adventuresome. Its low range gearing is well geared, and not too high. The radio was easy to figure out without the need of an instruction book. I synced my phone on its first attempt, although I never managed to play music via the iPhone to the car’s entertainment system. But I didn’t try very hard. The rear load bay is not hampered by odd shapes of plastic trim, the tailgate is large and access is easy. The 2,8 turbo-diesel’s fuel consumption averaged 11,4 kms per litre, respectable in anyone’s language. Overtaking acceleration from say, 100kph to 120 is outstanding and the gearbox kick-down is smooth and it does not have any tendency to change gear unnecessarily. The engine is quite and unobtrusive, even at high speeds.
Now for the not so great bits: The seats are ordinary. Comfortable but plain. The rear tailgate is a tad low when fully opened, so I bumped my head a few times. Unlike the Nissan Pathfinder is does not have any sharp edges on the tailgate so I never hurt myself. The visibility is okay and I found the wing mirrors a bit on the large size, hampering visibility, although I got used to it quickly. On gravel roads, in 2-wheel drive, it has an oversteer tendency, which is not surprising. Click it into 4-wheel drive at any time and any speed and the TrailBlazer is the perfect platform where the safety advantages of four-wheel drive on gravel at high speeds can be demonstrated. If you are a keen off-roader, I think the auto gearbox model might be more your style, as the manual has a few clutch issues that prevent clutch-out reverse hill starts. But it’s not a significant drawback, more of a minor irritation when off-road.
And now for the bad bits . . .
There have been some reports of transmission failures with Trailblazers used in thick sand for long periods, and with those pulling trailers on long sandy tracks. It sounds like the transmission is not particularly robust.
Designed in 1979 by American Motors Corp for the US military as a ‘High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or HMMWV pronounced Humvee. Over 200 000 have been produced and the Gulf Wars have made ‘Humvee’ a household name. Engines include a V10 diesel and full-time four-wheel drive transmission. There are several derivatives including a civilian version. For expedition use this version is particularly unpleasant to drive as the wide track does not fit into the average dirt or sand track. The H1 civilian is no longer made.
I drove the H1 and found it a difficult vehicles to drive because of its sheer size. The V10 engine has huge torque, but with very slow throttle response, so that it was as it it was either maximum power, or nothing at all. The few that were brought into South Africa were not a success, again because of size. On normal Kalahari sand tracks the H1 really struggled because only two of its wheels could track at a time, the other two out on the edge of the track picking up slicks, bushes, rocks and punctures.
In 2002 the Hummer H2 was launched and two years later the H3. The H3 is the smaller, less expensive, more practical and less show-offy vehicle, built in South Africa, mostly for export. Powered by a 5-cylinder, 3.7 litre petrol engine, a diesel engine option once announced never materialised. It is the first Hummer with manual transmission although automatic is an option. It has full-time four-wheel drive and three buttons operate its three main functions: high-range 4×4, high-range 4×4 centre diff locked and 4×4 low-range, also locked. A locking rear differential is an option, clearance is good, approach angle is good and departure angle is fair. Interior space is mediocre for such a large vehicle and the load bay is taken up by bulky plastic panels that seem to serve no other purpose than to take up useful space.
On the road the ride is ordinary, comfort ordinary, handling a little worse than ordinary, visibility poor, but off-road it is pretty good, but not up to Jeep Wrangler standards, but good. The rear diff lock is necessary if you want to show off, off-road. But as a package, I can’t say I like the Hummer very much at all, because it’s a very ordinary car in a fancy skin.