Reborn car brands are like movie remakes – they have a familiar name and cast of characters, but seldom the spirit of the original.
Sometimes that’s a good thing, as the new Chevy Blazer affirms. As fondly as we may remember the original, the things that made the Blazer attractive in the 1980s wouldn’t fare so well today. Such as the fact that it was based on the long-gone S-10 pickup.
Other than its name, the 2019 Blazer is about as similar to the original – last seen in 2005 – as a Dreamliner passenger jet is to a first-generation 747. It shares the same function as its forebear, but the new SUV is all modern.
For example, it uses unibody construction, instead of the heavier body-on-frame in the original, and harvests a cornucopia of technology to be smoother, faster, lighter and altogether more pleasant to travel in. It’s thriftier on fuel, too, thanks to stop/start technology and cylinder deactivation in the V6.
Blazer, the remake, is a polished and well-mannered five-passenger, two-row crossover sized between the compact Equinox and three-row Traverse. It whisks passengers along a highway in comfort and relative quiet (thanks to active noise cancellation in all trim levels). In its new sport RS mode – far and away my favourite of the three trim “personalities,” as the marketing folks like to call them – it also lets out a playful growl while athletically charging through tight turns.
Part of what makes the RS attractive is actually skin deep – it is arguably the best looking of the three trims. The blacked-out front end and black upsized 21-inch wheels (from standard 18-inch) are particularly striking when paired with Chevy’s fire-engine red body colour. Although the looks speak the language of off-road, the street tires and low front end signal this is a highway cruiser only.
Fans of glitter can opt for the fancier Premier, which has a healthy heaping of chrome on the outside and yet a tastefully high-end accented leather interior treatment. All models have HID headlamps mounted low and LED daytime running lights.
The devil is always in the details, and Chevy has been devilishly clever in this mid-priced vehicle. For example, a hands-free power liftgate comes standard on all models – but this time equipped with a little light that shines a Chevy emblem on the ground to show you where to swing your foot.
Inside, the rear seat slides forward to allow more cargo space and tilts back to allow extra headroom – unnecessary, since a six-footer can fit comfortably with the seat upright.
On the Blazer, Chevy moved the wheels 44 millimetres further out than the XT5 and Acadia models, said Larry Mihalko, the company’s vehicle performance manager. In the RS model, it also added high-rate suspension springs, heavy stabilizer bars, sport-turned dampers and oversized shock absorbers. The combination gives the vehicle a well-planted and solid feel.
Mihalko said the vehicle’s body is also built with more construction adhesive and spot welds than other models to add rigidity. The active yaw control system inputs traction data 100 times a second and adjusts power to each wheel. In hard cornering, it sends up to 80 per cent of the power to the outside rear wheel to essentially push the SUV in the right direction.
The all-wheel drive systems (there are two) both allow drivers to switch to front-wheel drive to cut fuel consumption.
Journalists took the Blazer into the curvy and hilly roads east of San Diego, Calif. The conditions showed just how well even the basic two-wheel drive vehicle can corner, but also how sprightly the V6 could be when pushed. As with many of the new generation crossovers, it handles much more like a sports car than an SUV.
At a starting price just a notch over $30,000 in Canada, the basic Blazer is well-equipped and offers good value. The sporty RS, however, weighs in at $50,000, which puts it near some pretty heady competition.
It’s audacious to think it’s ready to take on alpha dogs such as BMW and Acura – that’s a field better left to a rumoured upcoming Cadillac version of the vehicle. The Blazer is better placed head to head with such admirable and affordable competitors as the Mazda CX-5 or Ford Edge. In that field, it certainly presents a credible alternative.
The Blazer is available for order in Canada now.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
- Base price/As tested: $35,200/$50,765
- Engines: 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (Blazer level only); 3.6-litre V6 both available on other trim levels
- Transmission/Drive: nine-speed automatic/Front-wheel and all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): four cylinder: 8.8 city/9.9 hwy. (FWD); six cylinder: 9.0 city/10.6 hwy. (FWD); 9.5 city/11.3 hwy. (AWD)
- Alternatives: Ford Edge, Mazda CX5, Subaru Forester, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander
Chevy’s styling choices play it safe, adopting many of the generic styling cues found in most mid-sized crossovers. On a visceral level, I found the rounded front hood and slit-like running lights mildly off-putting, but not enough to influence a buying decision.
Even the basic interior conveys a sense of quality, with upgraded materials. Automatic heated steering wheel and heated/ventilated front seats tie in with the automatic climate control system. The windows can be opened remotely to let cabin heat out as you approach the car. An adjustable sliding rear seat adds flexibility, and the Blazer has up to 1,818 litres of storage with the rear seat folded.
The 305-horsepower V6 and nine-speed automatic respond aggressively, especially in sport mode on the RS package. Handling on the RS is exceptionally good, with vectoring that adds extra power to the rear outside wheel in hard cornering, essentially pushing the vehicle in the right direction. The 193-horsepower turbo four was not tested.
The Blazer has the latest Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system with 8.0-inch touch screen, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. There are up to six USB ports, wireless phone charging, and a subscription-based 4G LTE WiFi hot spot. Active noise cancelling is standard on all trim levels. The rear-view camera “hitch view” could save many marriages by removing the need for a second person to guide the vehicle to the trailer.
A rail-based system allows the space to be configured and blocked off as needed to secure items, and the rails can be stored in front of the spare tire when not needed. Very convenient.
The verdict: 8.0
The Blazer offers good value at the entry level in a very tough and crowded field but gets into some heady competition at the higher price points. Although the entry level Blazer handles well, the pricier RS version is pure joy. The Blazer offers the best of current convenience and safety technology and feels like an extremely sturdy and stable vehicle designed for city and highway driving.
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