AUT0 REVIEW: Practical Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV Goes to Head of Subcompact Class

By Henry Payne

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer (Henry Payne/The Detroit News/TNS)

(The Detroit News/TNS) — The Chevy Trailblazer fits like a glove.

On a cold, snowy Michigan night, driving requires special concentration. You want a car that is intuitive to operate, and Trailblazer complies. On 15 Mile Road in traffic, I simply punched the adaptive cruise tumbler on the steering wheel toggle and set my speed to 40 mph. The Chevy, unlike other makes, doesn’t require that you first activate ACC, then set the speed — a cumbersome process that forces you to take your eyes off the road. ACC is always at the ready; you just need to set the speed.

When the speed limit increased to 50 mph, I again felt for the raised tumbler — its surface dimpled so it’s easily located by your thumb in the dark — and scrolled it up by 10 mph. Dandy.

Time to listen to the weather report. Again, without taking my hands off the wheel, I felt for the volume buttons on the back of the steering wheel with my right fingers and turned the radio on. With my left fingers, I scrolled through my preset stations on the back of the other side of the wheel until I found 950 AM. Once the WWJ weather report was done, I toggled between other AM, FM and Sirius XM stations.

At a long stoplight, I reached over into my computer bag to check my schedule for the day. In the pitch black, I reached behind the mirror and punched the ceiling light — the light and button incorporated into one big, easy-to-find button. The console flooded with light so I could read my notes.

The icing on the cake? The Trailblazer is one of the few vehicles in autodom with a fold-flat front passenger seat. That means you can load long items (surfboards, lumber) through its cabin with first and second-row seats flattened — or just sit in the second row seats and use the front seat as an Ottoman for when you’re on the road and need to get some work done. It’s a hidden gem.

No one does ergonomics better than General Motors.

The perfect compact SUV recipe? Mix Chevy ergonomics, the performance of a Mazda CX-30 and minimalist Hyundai Kona design and you’d have a tasty dish.

But the Trailblazer makes a pretty good meal all by itself. When did Chevrolet get so good at compacts?

This is a brand that went through compact cars like socks. In recent decades, the Cavalier, Cobalt and Cruze came and went as competitors to perennial segment best-sellers Corolla and Civic. But with its switch to an all-SUV lineup, Chevrolet seems to have settled on a compelling formula: start with the terrific, affordable $21K Chevy Trax (a 2023 Detroit News Vehicle of the Year finalist), then offer a more rugged, all-wheel-drive Trailblazer at $28K.

So good is the Trax with its longer wheelbase that the base front-wheel-drive Trailblazer makes little sense from $24K-$27K (unless you prefer the styling and need that fold-down front passenger seat). But when Trax models top out at $27K, that’s where the Trailblazer ACTIV becomes relevant with its AWD (not offered in Trax), bigger 1.3-liter, 155-horse engine, two-inch-higher seating position, underbody skid plate and all-terrain tires.

My Trailblazer ACTIV tester has much more than an easy-to-use cockpit. The rear seat is palatial with 39 inches of legroom — a knee-breathing seven inches more than a Toyota Corolla Cross, and three inches more than my favorite CX-30.

I like to carve corners in the Mazda, but the Trailblazer ACTIV plays to Chevy’s strength, which is off-asphalt. To this end, the Trailblazer’s all-terrains complement its AWD in Michigan’s endless winters. You never know when the pavement runs out in Oakland County and you’re suddenly on a potholed, muddy wagon trail.

The Trailblazer’s Hankook tires have a nice, tall sidewall and grippy tread for just such roads — not to mention January/February snowfalls. With an additional one-inch lift over the standard Trailblazer, my ACTIV charged through slippery conditions with aplomb.

Back on clean asphalt, it likes to play. Credit a nine-speed automatic transmission that shifted gears smoothly under my size-15 boot. Under the hood is a measly turbocharged three to serve GM’s regulatory masters. But at least Chevy engineers have tuned it to bring on the 174 pound-feet of torque right away, complete with a growly exhaust note.

I wish Trailblazer would do an SS version (rather than the RS show horse) to compete with Mazda’s 310-torque, AWD Turbo model — but then, the CX-30 doesn’t come equipped with all-terrain tires.

The ACTIV model sums up Trailblazer’s approach to the segment. Front-wheel-drive Trax is Chevy’s entry-level subcompact, while the Trailblazer brings a more rugged personality channeling the brand’s reputation for making great trucks.

Truckiness is all the rage these days, with Ford offering the Maverick pickup as its starter vehicle and the Toyota RAV4 adopting the Tacoma pickup’s design cues.

Trailblazer fits the trend with its upright grille echoing the Silverado pickup — ditto the blocky fender wells, high shoulder line and square fenders. The mid-mounted front headlights also follow design cues from the truck-based 2025 Tahoe and Suburban SUVs.

My ACTIV tester came with a two-toned package that colored the body Cacti Green, then added white icing on top. Sweet. The blocky look is a nice contrast to the more streamlined Trax and mid-size Blazer.

Chevy has lagged its Japanese competitors in standard features, and the Trailblazer continues that trend. Neither blind-spot assist nor adaptive cruise control comes standard on the base model — or even on the upscale ACTIV. They will set you back (in addition to other safety features) $1,595. Meanwhile, the $26,370 Mazda CX-30 comes with both safety systems standard.

My tester was loaded with all the goodies for $33,175. But I wish Chevy would complement its Trailblazer’s superb ergonomics with a generous standard tech package. Still, the tough little Chevy is similarly priced to the AWD Hyundai Kona N Line.

Great to have Chevy back in the compact game.

2024 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $24,790 base, including $1,295 destination ($33,175 ACTIV as tested)

Power plant: 1.2-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder; 1.3-liter turbo-3

Power: 137 horsepower, 162 pound-feet torque (1.2L); 155 horsepower, 174 pound-feet torque (1.2L);

Transmission: Continuously variable (1.2L and 1.3L FWD); 9-speed automatic (1.3L AWD)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing limit, 1,000 pounds

Weight: 3,300 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA 29 mpg city/31 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (1.2L); 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (1.3L AWD); 436-mile range (ACTIV as tested)

Report card

Highs: Class-leading ergonomics; rugged ACTIV model

Lows: Base FWD model forgettable compared to Trax sibling; miserly on standard features

Overall: 4 stars

Photos courtesy of Henry Payne/The Detroit News/TNS

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