The Blazer marches on.
by John Matras
Base Price (MSRP) $19,170
As Tested (MSRP) $29,700
Blazer is not the newest mid-size SUV you could buy. Indeed, Chevy is launching the all-new 2002 TrailBlazer, a bigger four-door model to better compete with the Ford Explorer. But the Chevy Blazer still has a loyal following, particularly among younger buyers, and it will continue to be sold until 2003. The Blazer remains a competent vehicle and it costs much less than the new models.
After simplifying the Blazer lineup for 2000, Chevrolet has added a new Blazer variation for 2001. Called Xtreme, it is available only as a two-door, and only with two-wheel drive. A California Cruiser's dream machine, Xtreme comes with a special Z87 lowered suspension; low-profile P235/60R16 Eagle LS tires; deep-dish aluminum wheels; and an aggressively spoilered, clad, and color-keyed exterior. Xtreme prices start at $21,125.
The rest of the model line continues unchanged. The two-door LS sells for $19,170 with 2WD or $22,170 with all four wheels driven. The super-heavy-duty ZR2 comes only in two-door, 4WD form and sells for $24,170.
Four-door Blazers come in LS, LT, or TrailBlazer trim, each available in 2WD or 4WD. Prices range from $24,770 for the 2WD LS up to $32,125 for the 4WD TrailBlazer.
Chevy Blazer is a traditional SUV, all truck with separate body-and-frame construction. Variations in the grille, bumper, and wheels distinguish one trim level from another.
All Blazers are powered by a 4.3-liter Vortec V6. This 90-degree V6 has a cast-iron block and head and overhead valves, and runs happily on 87 octane gasoline. Although redlined at 5600 rpm, it reaches its peak 190 horsepower at 4400 rpm. And, with a very useful 250 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm, there's little need to rev it into the red. GM's four-speed electronic automatic transmission is standard on four-door Blazers, although a five-speed manual transmission is available on the two-door models.
The four-wheel-drive Blazer LS comes with push-button Insta-Trac, which allows shift-on-the-fly between 2WD and 4WD. The more sophisticated Autotrac four-wheel-drive system is optional on the LS and standard on LT and TrailBlazer. Autotrac combines the best of full-time and part-time 4WD by adding an "Auto 4WD" button. In this mode, the transfer case remains in 2WD until wheel slip is detected. An electric servo then shifts the transfer case into 4WD until prop shaft speeds are equalized, and then returns it to 2WD. If multiple "slip events" are detected, the transfer case remains in 4WD for a longer time. Autotrac also has a transfer case neutral position for towing behind a recreational vehicle.
All Blazers use a short-/long-arm front suspension and a live axle on leaf springs at the rear (variable-rate, multi-leaf springs on TrailBlazer). 4x4 models are sprung by torsion bars up front, while 4x2's have coil springs. Last year's optional Smooth Ride Suspension is no longer offered, so most Blazers come with the Z85 Touring Suspension. Using firm de Carbon shock absorbers and stiffer spring rates, the Z85 package has a more controlled ride than the old Smooth Ride Suspension. The only suspension variations available in 2001 are the super-heavy-duty ZR2, and of course the street-performance Z87 suspension that comes exclusively with Blazer Xtreme. ZR2 substitutes stronger parts throughout the chassis, plus skid plates, a track bar for the locking rear axle, a 3.9-inch wider tread and stiffer springs with Bilstein gas-pressure shocks.
Aluminum wheels are standard on all Blazers, differing in design according to model. Four wheel disc brakes are standard, and the braking system was upgraded for the 2000 model year.
Expect to step up to get in the Blazer. Though not as radical as larger 4x4 rides, the Blazer has a higher seating height than the typical sedan. The payback is that commanding view of the road that SUV owners cherish.
Inside, the LT features standard "premium cloth" high-back bucket seats with eight-way power standard for the driver. Power is optional for the front passenger seat, and two-setting memory seat adjustment is available for the driver's seat.
The front seats are broad with limited bolstering. They are more like comfortable chairs than sports-car bucket seats. An annoying bulge in the front passenger's footwell accommodates the Blazer's exhaust. The rear bench is low; it is comfortable for two adults, though three will fit. The rear seatback splits and folds 60-40 for cargo flexibility.
The Blazer comes with full instrumentation that is well laid out; it shares its instrument panel with GM's other Blazer-class trucks. General Motors has made major strides in its minor controls, and the dash of the TrailBlazer is an excellent example. The switches, knobs and levers for the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and audio controls look and feel good and don't require a correspondence course to learn how to operate.
The LT also includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power locks and windows, power heated mirrors, rear window defogger and wiper, cruise control and lighted visor mirrors. Tilt wheel, two auxiliary power outlets, AM/FM stereo with CD player, and an overhead console with an outside temperature readout are also standard. New for 2001 is OnStar, GM's remote communications system, standard on LT and TrailBlazer. Air conditioning is standard on all Blazers, with automatic climate control optional on the LT and standard on TrailBlazer.
The engine fires off eagerly with a twist of the key and settles to an idle that's steady but telegraphs some of the basic imbalance of a 90-degree V6. That smoothes as revs increase, and in the operating range between 2000 and 3000 rpm the Vortec is a friendly companion. Full throttle causes the V6 to accelerate with a healthy growl that gets louder as revs rise. The Blazer's acceleration is more than adequate to keep up with traffic.
The standard Touring suspension is very much in touch with the road, a characteristic not everyone will appreciate. But the reward is an easily discernable improvement in responsiveness, a reduction in float and, thanks to greater roll resistance, less lean in the corners. The result is an overall greater feel of control and confidence at the minor cost of a slightly bumpier ride.
The Auto 4WD mode can be used at all times. It keeps the transfer case in two-wheel drive until slip occurs, so there's no fuel-mileage penalty. Yet it reacts instantly to loose gravel or wet or icy pavement, shifting seamlessly into four-wheel drive. If there's any shortcoming in the system, it's that the driver isn't alerted when the system is shifting into four-wheel-drive mode (as on cars that use warning lights to indicate when traction control is functioning).
Out on the Interstate, the Blazer cruises effortlessly. The V6 operates in the low 2000-rpm range at highway speeds and, except for a subtle bass-line from the engine and a steady road rumble up through the suspension, the ride is quiet enough for easy conversation between front and rear passengers. The tires selected by Chevrolet are free of whine and aren't so heavy as to overwhelm the suspension. A slight whisper of wind noise around the A-pillars is the only other distraction. The ride, though firm, is not at all harsh or jiggly. Not all sport utilities are this civilized over the road, and we wouldn't hesitate to drive a high-mile day in the Blazer.
Loading for a big trip would be easy. Access to the commodious cargo compartment is via a rear liftgate. A cargo cover is standard; unlike those that require you to climb into the cargo area to unreel them, the Blazer's cover goes from side to side. Nothing is in the way when you want to lower the rear seats to load large items: the cover reel need not be removed and become itself another piece of cargo. And with the spare mounted under the rear, a flat tire won't mean unloading your load.
The Blazer is one of the reasons so many people use a sport-utility in place of a car. It will do everything a car will do, and almost as well. Plus it adds almost unstoppable mobility in the worst weather and the capability to go where the roads don't. The LT offers a long list of standard equipment popular with buyers, meaning no excuses in day-to-day use or when trading it in. Although with a list like the Blazer's, that day won't have to come too soon - unless it's to step into the Blazer's replacement.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.