On seeing and being seen.

by Dan Lyons

As SUVs have grown in popularity, they have spawned a seemingly endless supply of niches and sub-niches around them. Bigger than big sport 'utes. Station wagon sport-ute hybrids. And, sporty sport-utes, like the Chevy Blazer Xtreme.

We know that very few of the people who are buying SUVs are taking them off-road. Some folks also don’t want or need four-wheel drive. The Xtreme targets those that like the SUV look, but would gladly trade the backwoods traction and chunky styling sameness of most utes for something a little different. The Blazer Xtreme is a sharp looker, playing to a very specialized audience.

Semi-custom styler

In a world of SUVs so high that they block out the sky, Blazer is a low rider. It sits hunkered down on its sport suspension, surrounded by deep dish five-spoke rims, shod with 235/60R-16 Goodyear Eagle LS tires. The front end features a wrap-around lower fascia with integrated fog lamps. The side view is all angles and flares. Ground effects and body cladding tugs the Xtreme’s profile even lower. Wheel arches curve out to swallow the low profile tread.

The wide, angular c-pillar common to all two-door Blazers, splices the glass sections into uncommon geometric shapes. The D-pillar is wrapped in the same heavy tint shade used in all the rear windows. Blackout glass caps the top of the clamshell tailgate too. A textured step integrates with the rear bumper, just above the heavy-duty platform hitch.

Check off the Extreme Equipment Group option 1SY and pony up an additional $2,040 and you have a very well-equipped vehicle, with power windows and door locks, heated outside mirrors, cruise and tilt and a six-way power driver’s seat. Seating is comfortable for trips long and short, and controls are in easy, fingertip reach. Storage spots large and small abound and cupholders are spotted fore and aft. Any sound system in the GM audio arsenal is available to soothe or damage the ears of the Xtreme buyer. For those who wish to trade the overhead console for some sun worship, a sunroof is available.

The downside on the inside includes a lumpy passenger side floor (to accommodate the catalytic converter below) and rear seat access that requires more limberness than many people can muster. As with the standard two-door Blazer, once ensconced in back, there is plenty of head and leg room for adults in the Xtreme, but accessing it is the key. Buyers of two-door vehicles of all kinds are generally happy to trade easy entree to rarely-used back seats for the smoother looks of a double portal vehicle. Ditto, and more so for specialty models like Xtreme. Sufficed to say, if you need to pack people in back on a regular basis, you’re probably thinking four-door, not two-door. And, if it takes you longer to get in or out of the Xtreme’s back seat than it does for you to read this article, you most likely aren’t in the target demographic for this vehicle anyway.

Looking good vs. seeing well

On the highway, Blazer Xtreme is considerably more fun to drive than the average sport-ute. The lowered stance and a reasonably stiff suspension give it fine for the breed handling. Ride quality is firm, but far from punishing. Under the hood, Chevy has placed a 4.3-liter Vortec V-6. It is in fact the only engine offered across the entire Blazer lineup. The Vortec pumps out 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque at a very usable 2800 rpm. My test truck had the four speed automatic transmission, a $1000 option on Blazer. The powertrain combination was very responsive, and returned typical, SUV-so-so fuel economy (16/22 city/highway, by EPA’s reckoning). The Xtreme is rated at a maximum towing capacity of 5000 lb with automatic, 4000 lb with standard transmission. Brakes are four-wheel disc with four-wheel ABS and feel well up to their assigned task.

Cargo space ranges from 30.2 cubic feet with back seats up to 66.9 cubic feet, with rear seats folded forward. Access is via a two-piece tailgate. Lifting the glass and dropping the gate is obviously one step less convenient than a single swing up or side opening door, but the lift over height is comfortably low. The back storage space is shared by the spare tire, which is part of the rub with the two-door Blazer. The combination of wide, angular C-pillars, heavy tint glass, rear seat head rests and the side-saddle spare tire in back make rear and side/rear visibility tough to come by. Drivers must learn to use their mirrors and peek through small openings to keep tabs on goings-on behind and beside them.

Sporty specialty

The Xtreme is a good-looking, specialized addition to the Blazer family. Were it the only offering in that family, some of the fashion vs. function issues would be a lot more objectionable. But of course, it is not. If you need four doors, there’s a Chevy Blazer that has ‘em. If you want four-wheel drive, you can get that too, with two or four doors. Luxury features? Yours for the asking. What Blazer Xtreme brings to the table is an option not often seen in SUVs: attitude. Chevy did a nice job of putting some jut in Blazer’s strut. In the process, they dealt themselves a favor, at the expense of the aftermarket. After all, when customers can get semi-custom looks at off the rack prices, why would they shop elsewhere?

2001 Chevy Blazer Xtreme

Base price: $21,235
Price as tested: $24,850
Engine: 4.3 liter V-6, 190 hp
Transmission: Four speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 176.8 x 67.8 x 64.9 in
Wheelbase: 100.5 in
Curb weight: 3518 lb
EPA city/highway: 16 city/22 highway
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, four wheel disc brakes with ABS
Major standard equipment: Vortec V-6, Goodyear 235/60R16 Eagle LS tires on five-spoke aluminum rims, exclusive front fascia, body side cladding and wheel flares
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

© 2001 The Car Connection

 

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