Chevrolet's now-designated S-Blazer and its GMC Jimmy are scheduled for major restyling and upgrading in 1995. That's not a bad idea, because with only two safety features -- side door guard beams and a high center mounted stoplight -- as "new" for '94, these models are badly in need of updating to remain competitive. Although lacking some important sport-utility innovations, the S-Blazer/Jimmy should continue to enjoy brisk sales in the 1994 model year due to their performance and great price edge on the competition. Our test 1994 Chevrolet four-door S-Blazer 4X4 with the LT packages, including leather seating, carried an MSRP of $24,686. That makes it more than $4,000 less than Ford Explorer Limited or the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited.
Circle a 1994 S-Blazer and you see erect, boxy but crisp looks. Not as sleek as the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited or as well-detailed as the Ford Explorer Limited, the S-Blazer has changed little since it was introduced years ago. Our test vehicle had the LT trim package. In the ever-popular color of forest green, it sported a contrasting silver metallic lower body across the fenders and rocker panel.
Chevrolet stylists apparently made a conscious decision to avoid the popular matte black paint, moldings and fascia for bumpers, lower fenders and lower body sides. Except for some black around a lower bodyside molding, the lower body is paint-accented with bright metal. It looked good, but we wondered about its durability offroad. We judged Blazer's fit and finish to be good to excellent for this segment. While a hinged spare tire carrier at the tailgate is a popular option, our test vehicle had the spare mounted upright in the cargo area. More on this later. The black roof luggage carrier is standard with the LT package; otherwise, it's an option.
The Inside Story
The four doors provide easy access to the cabin and passengers have handgrips to help. Seating for four is roomy and comfortable. The leather seating, including that in the LT package, is in gray Ultrasoft finish. The folding rear seatback in the LT package includes a folding center armrest -- a seeming admission that this really is a four-passenger vehicle. A fifth passenger here would be crowded against the folded center armrest. The seatback is not split to allow for seating and cargo room for items such as skis.
Gauges, controls and switches are well-located and functional. When tilted all the way down, the tilt wheel does obstruct some instruments and control, but this is our common complaint throughout the sport-utility segment. Our S-Blazer had the option of electronic instrumentation -- something you either love or hate. We grew to like the digital instrumentation with its waterfall graphics for mph and rpm. Another feature we liked was touch-button conversion from the U.S. to metric system. The rearward travel of the front bucket seat adjustments seemed too short.
Visibility was excellent with one exception: the spare tire mounted upright on the left side of the cargo area. It blocked our vision in the inside rear-view mirror. We drove one with the optional outside spare mount, but it also blocked some rearview vision. (Ford Explorer seems to have the best answer to this: The spare is mounted flat outside beneath the cargo floor.) We found the Blazer's tailgate arrangement to be outdated and inconvenient. The tailgate drops down and the backlight lifts up, blocking the way for loading or accessing cargo.
Ride & Drive
Performance is the S-Blazer's strong suit. It has a substantial 107-inch wheelbase -- surprisingly, 1.1 inches longer than Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. The ride, even in off-road situations, is smooth and without the choppiness often associated with mid-size sport utility vehicles.
Our S-Blazer had the enhanced engine package -- a $1,390 option. Mated with a four-speed automatic transmission, this increases the power of the 4.3 V-6 Vortec engine from 165 to 200 horsepower. It also adds extra-capacity engine and transmission cooling and increases trailer towing capacity from 4000 to 5000 pounds. We feel this is a very worthwhile option, especially for towing or off-road use. With this enhancement, S-Blazer has 10 more horses than the Ford Explorer Limited and only 20 less than the V-8-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The independent suspension provided a smooth, stable car-like ride for street use. Off-road, the suspension travel was up to handling steep ruts, rocks and potholes. There was little body roll or lean when cornering. The power steering provided good feedback yet quick, smooth operation. The front disc/rear drum brakes had a standard anti-lock system and performed well with little or none of the shudder sometimes felt with these systems.
The Insta-Trac 4WD system is a breeze to use. You shift the transfer case from 2WD to 4WD High while on the move. To shift into or out of 4WD Low, you must slow to less than 3 mph. Diving the S-Blazer after recent rains, we went through some really deep mud in 4WD Low and had no problem. We also negotiated a rain-slick grade with some fishtailing, but we never felt out of control.
We admit to approaching the S-Blazer with a feeling that here is a vehicle past its prime, in need of major overhauling. But our test changed our mind -- not completely, but a lot. The powertrain really is worthy and does a lot to keep S-Blazer in the hunt. If you never drive off-road but want the security of 4WD for weather and road conditions, this vehicle merits strong consideration. If you do go off-road, the S-Blazer lacks refinement but does perform well.
The powertrain is only part of the S-Blazer's success. The suspension, steering and brakes also play important roles. The styling, though, is outdated, as are the tailgate system, the load-carrying capabilities and the seating.
The bottom line is an S-Blazer asset. Our 1994 four-door S-Blazer 4X4, with LT trim and enhanced engine packages, priced out at $24,686 MSRP. As we mentioned, this is substantially lower than the Ford Explorer Limited or the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even loaded, this was the second-lowest price for any mid-size sport utility we tested. The only one lower was the Jeep Cherokee Sport at $20,768.
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© 1994 New Car Test Drive, Inc.