AUTO REVIEW: The 2022 Chevy Trailblazer Is a Solid Choice in a Market Filled With Compelling Alternatives

(Tribune News Service/TNS) -
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The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV.

Having arrived in 2021 wearing a nameplate last used in 2009 on a midsize, body-on-frame SUV, the 2022 Trailblazer is now a subcompact crossover. Developed and built by GM Korea in Incheon, South Korea, it doesn’t feel much like its larger American counterparts. Instead, the Trailblazer is a modestly sized, modestly styled daily driving device, one that competes in an intensely competitive market segment against such stalwarts as the funky and endearing Kia Soul, the athletic yet upscale Mazda MX-30, the fun-to-drive Hyundai Kona, and such popular options as the stylish Jeep Compass and unglamorous Subaru Crosstrek.

Against these competitors, the Trailblazer comes off as a bit generic and charmless, a mid-pack competitor bereft of personality. But spend some time with it, and its charms become more apparent. It starts when you first get in. The Trailblazer’s upright styling makes entering or exiting a breeze, something you won’t find on competitors. Or try to schlep home an eight-foot piece of lumber; the Trailblazer’s cabin can accommodate an 8-foot-long item. Just fold down the front passenger seat and angle the wood from there to the rear driver’s side. It will fit with the doors shut. Sweet. And check out the cargo capacity on this Lilliputian: more than 25 cubic feet; that beats any full-sized sedan. And it’s surprisingly roomy in both rows for full-size adults.

Starting to look good, isn’t it?

The Trailblazer’s 1.2-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine funnels 137 horsepower through a continuously variable transmission to the front wheels. A better choice is the optional 155-horsepower 1.3-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine. Front-wheel drive is standard with either engine. All wheel drive is optional, but comes solely with the larger engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Towing is rated at 1,000 pounds with the towing package.

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Fuel economy is OK, but not as high as you might expect given its size. The EPA rates the Trailblazer at 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving with the standard 1.2-liter engine; 28 mpg with the larger engine and all-wheel drive. But opt for the larger engine and skip all-wheel drive and the EPA predicts you’ll see 31 mpg — not bad.

Chevrolet offers this affordable crossover in ascending LS, LT, ACTIV and RS trim levels, with ACTIV models getting off-road worthy tires, and RS trims receiving a blackout treatment. They’re priced identically, so it’s basically a question of your personal preference.

Chevrolet sent an all-wheel drive ACTIV model for a week-long drive.

The test vehicle was painted one four new colors for 2022, Vivid Orange Metallic, accented with a white-painted roof, giving it a far greater presence than it might otherwise have. And thankfully, the Trailblazer is big enough that a grown man won’t look silly getting out of one, something that can’t be said of the smaller Trax, which makes you look as if you’re getting out of a clown car. Of course, a man getting out of a Trailblazer painted Vivid Orange Metallic does suggest some sort of mid-life crisis, or perhaps a dose of color blindness.

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Interior ambiance is about what you’d expect of a vehicle that starts at around $21,000: there’s lots of hard black plastic. The interior’s design is decidedly modern in appearance, but lacking a point of view, rendering it utterly charmless. At least it’s functional, which is all that most buyers expect at this price. A 7-inch color touchscreen anchors the instrument panel. Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa capability are available, as is a worthwhile $1,620 Technology Package that enlarges the touchscreen to eight inches, and adds adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, Bose premium audio, HD Radio, SiriusXM, an SD card reader, an HD rear vision camera, 4.2-inch driver information display, and LED headlamps. You might also want to splurge for the $1,770 Sun and Liftgate Package, which brightens up the gloomy interior with a panoramic sunroof and adds a hands-free programmable power liftgate.

Despite the ACTIV model’s off-road pretensions, there’s no center-locking differential or special low gear. This is more the urban warrior, one that might find its way tromping across an odd field every now and then, or transporting its owner through foul weather. The Trailblazer’s three-cylinder heart provides responsive power around town, and at speed. But entering an interstate takes a bit longer than you might expect. Maneuverability is good thanks to Its size and tight turning radius, but it’s not a sporty handler. Body lean is evident once you crank the wheel, and the cabin becomes noisy at higher speeds and the ride occasionally harsh over broken pavement. Also, there’s an abundance of engine vibration, particularly around town, which explains why a massaging seat isn’t optional; you don’t need one.

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Chevrolet did do a good job of providing a decent amount of standard driver-assistance safety gear, including automatic emergency braking, front pedestrian braking, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, following distance indicator, forward collision alert and automatic headlamps. Rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, lane change alert with side blind zone alert are part of a $345 Driver Confidence Package.

While no longer the Trailblazer of old, the new one proves to be a solidly modern choice in a market filled with compelling alternatives. One is even made by GM: the Buick Encore GX, the Trailblazer’s mechanical twin. It’s worth considering if you’re also shopping for a heavily optioned Trailblazer. You may find little difference in price, making the fancier nameplate the better option.

2022 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Base price: $21,600

Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged DOHC three-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 155/174 pound-feet of torque

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 26/30 mpg

Length/Width/Height: 173.5/71.2/65.7

Ground clearance: 7 inches

Cargo capacity: 25.3-54.4 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds

Photos by Jim Frenak-FPI Studios/Chevrolet/TNS