There’s been some snickering in the back of the class about the reborn 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer’s name.
Engine: 1.3L I3 Turbo
Output: 155 hp, 174 lb-ft
Transmission: 9AT, AWD
US fuel economy (MPG): 26/30/28
CAN fuel economy (L/100KM): 8.9/7.8/8.4
Starting Price (USD): $19,995 (inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (USD): $32,350 (est, inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $25,598 (inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (CAD): $37,478 (inc. dest.)
It borrows the badge from a one-and-done early-aughts model. That Trailblazer was an old-school SUV, a body-on-frame behemoth with big ol’ engines. It practically had “No Replacement for Displacement” as a windshield banner. For some, that’s enough of a reason for this smaller, turbocharged three-cylinder Trailblazer to draw their ire.
But they’re wrong. The biggest issue with calling Chevrolet’s latest, most affordable crossover “Trailblazer” is that it’s a misnomer. This pint-size model doesn’t cut its own path, nor march to the beat of its own drum. It’s a sub-compact SUV, a segment with a new player seemingly every week.
Chevrolet has done its homework here though. With news of it being the fastest-selling new car in America, we had to spend a week with it (in Canada) to find out what the big deal is. It turns out the Trailblazer is a likeable little package, with a healthy helping of tech, cute looks, and a very reasonable starting price.
Honey I shrunk the Blazer
Oh no. Somebody over at 300 Renaissance Ctr left the washer set to hot water. The Trailblazer looks like a smaller-scale Blazer, proving that the sharply creased design works at different sizes. The narrow headlights and familial Chevy smirk of a grille look good, and its boxy shape does hint at genuine utility—not always a guarantee in this segment. Our tester is the Activ trim, meant to be the off-road-ish pick of the litter. It leans into that role, at least visually, with chunky 225/60R 17-inch tires and a “simulated” skid plate. So maybe don’t aim it at the nearest rock patch. The contrasting white roof and mirrors are a nice touch, too.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Review
The son-of-Blazer vibes don’t really translate to the interior. Blame it on the space: while the Trailblazer is deceptively roomy for its footprint—more on that later—it doesn’t have the freedom to mimic the Blazer’s big circular vents. There are some strong points, like the flashes of bronze trim on the doors and the cloth/leatherette seats, but overall, the Trailblazer’s interior design is functional, if forgettable. It also produced a handful of odd rattles from the trim, specifically around the A-pillar and the rear hatch glass. At least there’s lots of little storage spaces.
Chevrolet is proud of the fact that the Trailblazer can swallow eight-foot items when you drop both the rear row and the front passenger seat. Sure enough, we had to lug around a large table during our week with the Trailblazer, and it did the job admirably. In measurable terms, the little Chevy offers 25.3 cubic feet (716 liters) of storage space behind the second row, and up to 54.4 cubes (1,540 L) with those seats folded. In segment terms that places it just shy of the Kia Seltos, which offers up 26.6 (753 L) to 62.8 (1,778 L), respectively.
Ease of use
Our tester comes with the upsized 8.0-inch touchscreen. It remains a solid, intuitive system thanks to clear graphics and snappy responses. It’s not particularly pretty, but functionality is more important here. Even better, all Trailblazers feature wireless pairing for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Dual Bluetooth connections are also possible, letting your co-driver handle the tunes while your phone is paired for calls, or vice-versa. You’ll still want to bring the cords though, as the wireless charging pad is only optional on the higher trims. At least Chevrolet fits both USB-A and USB-C ports in the Trailblazer, so you’re set regardless. And if you need connectivity on the go, a 4G LTE hotspot is also available.
Even with its sub-$20,000 starting price, the base Trailblazer L includes the Chevy Safety Assist suite of driver aids. This includes features like automated emergency braking, forward collision warning, front pedestrian braking, a follow distance indicator, and auto high beams. Adaptive cruise control is only available on the LT trim upwards: there it’s part of a $620 package ($695 CAD), but on the Activ you need to spend an additional $1,620 ($1,895) on the Technology Package for the privilege.
That’s a bit of a kick in the teeth, as competitors like the Toyota C-HR offer it standard, across the range. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are also relegated to the options list, in this case bundled in a $345 package (standard on the Activ in Canada). Our loaded Activ tester has it all, and everything works as you’d expect. You’ll just need to shell out extra for it.
The Trailblazer earned bonus points for its Sun and Liftgate Package though ($1,770 / $1,995 CAD). While pricey, its panoramic sunroof is giant, and the hands-free power liftgate is very useful. A small Bow Tie badge beams onto the ground behind the car, letting you know where to kick to open it, which means it works every time. Thank you, Chevy.
Hitting the tarmac trails
There are two engine options for the Trailblazer. Lower trims come with a 1.2-liter triple, send a surprising 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A larger 1.3-liter is optional, and standard here in the Activ. It produces 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, using a traditional nine-speed auto instead of the CVT. The larger engine is available in either front- or all-wheel drive setups; the 1.2-liter is front-drive only.
It’s a fine engine for duty in something this size. The nine-speed auto does shuffle through ratios often, tending to keep the revs hovering around 2,000, but it never feels rough or unduly noisy. The AWD system will send power rearwards only when it detects slip, but drivers also have the option to turn it off, rendering the Trailblazer front-drive only. We did that for most of its week with us: it was early autumn, and snow was still just a distant threat. The Trailblazer’s steering wheel prizes lightness over all, which should make it an easy day-to-day drive. This isn’t the sort of car you’re going to want to attack apexes with: the soft suspension will bow at the mere suggestion of a curve. Easy cruising is the Trailblazer’s happy place.
The benefit to that is decent fuel economy. We average 29.7 mpg (7.9 L/100 km) in a week of mixed driving, only just missing the official highway quote of 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km). If you want the most fuel-efficient Trailblazer, get the 1.3-liter front-driver, which scores a 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) average.
We never did take the Trailblazer off-roading during our week together. That’s probably for the best: hitting a particularly aggressive speed bump at a normal pace elicited an ugly noise from the rear suspension.
Verdict: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ Review
Despite the available AWD and those faux off-roader looks, the Trailblazer drives like a car, just a taller one. It won’t light up a driving enthusiast’s eyes, nor will it tame a tough off-road trail, but most buyers in this segment won’t care. Instead it’s about solid practicality, with a healthy dose of safety features, an easy-to-use infotainment system, and lots of space. It’s all wrapped up in a sharp-looking package too, one that’s affordable—at least in lower trims.
All in, our Can-spec tester would cost you 37,478 loonies, or $32,350 in US dollars. That puts it well clear of the Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30 we recently pitched against each other, and both have more personality (if not that hands-free liftgate). Heck, you’re not far off a front-drive Blazer 1LT at that point. If you’d rather the Activ than either of those sub-compacts, you’d need to forgo AWD and pay slightly more. That’s a tough ask.
The Trailblazer sweet spot seems to be the LS and LT trims, then. It’s a good addition to the sub-compact ranks, and arguably more competitive here than Chevy’s now-cancelled cars ever were in their respective segments. But to really live up to that name, it needs to offer something truly outstanding.
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