Do you suppose General Motors is tired of seeing the Ford Explorer at the top of the compact sport/utility sales charts? OK, that’s obviously a rhetorical question.
But judging by the new Chevy Blazer - and the Jimmy, its identical twin from GMC Truck - GM is beyond merely being tired of this phenomenon. GM has actually done something about it.
The new Blazer/Jimmy rolls into 1995 as a legitimate contender for the Explorer’s sales title, even though a new Explorer will step into the ring to defend that title.
Although that may not be very good news for the rest of the compact sport/utility crowd, it’s excellent news for you. Whether you pick Ford or GM, you’re going to get a better sport/utility than you would have last year.
And even though we can’t make that choice for you, we can say this: If you buy a Blazer or Jimmy, we don’t think you’ll regret it.
You’ve probably noticed there’s no prefix attached to the Blazer nameplate for ‘95 - no S-Blazer. The qualifier used to be necessary because there were two Blazers in the Chevy family - the big one and the compact. Now there’s just one and this is it. The full-size Blazer has been rechristened the Tahoe.
The Blazer's track - the lateral distance between the wheels - has been widened, the suspension components have been completely overhauled, the steering has been refined and the frame itself is far stronger.
Judging by these wholesale improvements, we expect the new Blazer will be able to take much more of a beating than the previous generation.
The exterior has also been brought up to date. The boxy lines of the previous Blazer have been rounded and smoothed, giving the new edition a much more aerodynamic look, and better aerodynamic performance to go with it. Flushmounted glass and reduced noise frontal area are key elements in subduing wind noise, a reduction that’s consistent with the Blazer’s primary role as an all-around family wagon.
Like its predecessor, the new Blazer comes in 2- and 4-door versions; the 2-door edition is styled to reflect a slightly sportier character. There are three trim levels: base, LS and LT.
Engine options have been simplified: There’s only one - a good one. GM’s high-output, 4.3-liter V6 generates 190 hp and, more important, 260 pound-feet of torque. Torque is the low-rpm grunt that’s essential to hauling, towing or just getting going, and the GM V6 is very close to the Jeep Grand Cherokee V8 in this department.
Transmission choices are also simple. The initial run of Blazers will all have GM’s smooth 4L60E Hydra-Matic 4-speed overdrive automatic. A 5-speed manual will be offered for 2-door Blazers in the spring.
GM’s Insta-Trac system is the choice if you want 4WD. Like most current sport/utility 4WD setups, it’s an on-demand system designed for part-time use with shift-on-the-fly capability. However. GM is planning to offer an optional full-time system midway through the '95 model year.
There’s more. The Blazer offers five different suspension packages, some designed for off-road use, some designed for a cushy ride, some in between. Our 4WD LS test model was equipped with the Zq-1 package as standard, designed for good quality and heavy towing.
Redesigned throughout, the Blazer’s interior feels open and airy. The sense of increased roominess, however, is due largely to the increase in width. There’s definitely more hip and shoulder room, but the Blazer still lags the Explorer in legroom in front and rear. Rear-seat legroom, in fact, has been fractionally reduced in the new Blazer.
Cargo room has been expanded, largely by stowing the spare tire beneath the vehicle, but here, too, the Explorer is the leader of the pack.
However, the Blazer’s split-folding rear seatback design does lend itself to storage versatility, and the whole thing folds forward easily to provide a flat cargo floor.
We rate the Blazer’s redesigned seats as good but not outstanding. Our test vehicle had twin bucket seats up front, and the consensus was that they were a little short in under-thigh support.
The Blazer’s new dashboard, on the other hand, is very good indeed - a garden of ergonomic delight compared with the previous Blazer.
The climate controls have also been reworked; they are now simple rotary knobs you can operate even when you’re wearing gloves. Our only criticism here is that they’re at at extreme right of the center panel, requiring a bit of a stretch to reach.
Perhaps even more important than the control improvement is the performance of the heating/ventilation system itself. Airflow to rear-seat passengers in previous Blazers was poor, particularly at floor level, and that’ been corrected.
The Blazer finally joins the sport/utility passive safety mainstream with the addition of a driver’s airbag, although we’d like to see one for the passenger as well. Child-proof rear door locks are standard, and side-impact door beams were already in place in the previous Blazer.
There are lots of small bins and pockets for stowing stuff, as well as several cupholders.
An example of the many thoughtful detail touches in the new cabin is the presence of not one but two 12-volt power accessory plug-ins. And we’re also very happy to report that GM is finally abandoning its two-key system. One key does it all.
It took only a few miles in our test Blazer to appreciate its two biggest dynamic improvements.
The first is ride quality. Where the previous Blazer was harsh and choppy, the new one is smooth and supple, soaking up nasty pavement in a manner we’d associate more with a sedan than a sport/utility vehicle. This makes plenty of sense because most 4-door sport/utility vehicles are employed primarily as station wagons.
The second positive trait was the new Blazer’s quiet interior. GM has done an excellent job here. Wind noise is down and there’s lots more sound-deadening material packed around the passenger cabin.
GM has improved the steering of its new compact sport/utes. The previous edition had poor self-centering characteristics. If you turned the wheel slightly and released your grip, the vehicle wouldn’t track back to straight ahead. The new Blazer’s revised variable-assist power steering cures this problem.
Handling is improved, although here the gain is smaller. High weight and ground clearance keep the new Blazer from being nimble, but it’s better than most sport/utes.
Weight is also the enemy of engine performance, but our Blazer’s V6 gave a good account of itself. Its abundant torque gets it from 0 mph to 60 mph in about 10 seconds, and it’s one of the very few sport/utilize engines that delivers acceptable performance at its maximum towing capacity.
For versatility, muscle, good looks and a civilized driving experience, the new Blazer/Jimmy is far better than the old one. In fact, it’s as appealing as any vehicles in its class.
GM’s production startup has been slow, which may make it difficult for you to find the Blazer you want.
But this vehicle has unquestionably vaulted into the sport/utility front rank. If you have an Explorer or Grand Cherokee on your shopping list, we think a stop at your Chevy or GMC Truck dealer is in order.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|3 years/36,000 miles|
|Moraine, Ohio; Linden, New Jersey|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Options as tested:|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|4.3-liter OHV V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|190 @ 4500|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|260 @ 3400|
|4-speed automatic overdrive|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|Independent with unequal length control arms, torsion bars, antiroll bar|
|10.5-in. disc/9.5-in.drum in.|