Chevrolet's eagerly-awaited brute in a suit Trailblazer has arrived in South Africa armed to the teeth to take on the local SUV market and to arm-wrestle Toyota's market leading Fortuner for a slice of the action.
The Trailblazer is not only a rough and tough dirt player - it behaves like a true gentleman on the tar.
Not only does it equal or better others in its class in the looks department it also knocks its opponents out with class-leading kit and muscle.
The five-model Trailblazer range offers the choice of five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, petrol or diesel engines and 4x4 or 4x2 to appeal to casual and serious off-roaders as well as to leisure drivers who want the rugged look and towing ability but don't really have the need for all-wheel drive.
Although Trailblazer is hugely popular, particularly in the USA and Canada, it is the first time General Motors South Africa adds an off-roader to its local model line-up. Interestingly enough South Africa is also the first country in the world, other than Thailand, where it is built, to get the latest Trailblazer.
Brutes in suits
The range comes in two specification levels, "LT" and "LTZ" with varying on-board kit, but all models are decked out with features such as power steering, air con, rear ventilation control, power windows, cruise control, rear window defogger, cargo cover, side steps, mud flaps, leather steering wheel with controls, adjustable seats, leather seats (which only the entry level model doesn't have), onboard computer, CD player, MP3 compatibility, Aux input, Mini USB port and Bluetooth.
The range comes in two specification levels, “LT” and “LTZ” with varying on-board kit, but all models come with an impressive range of features.
Also standard are ABS with EBD, electronic stability control (ESC), panic brake assist (BPA), traction control (TCS), hill start assist (HAS), hill descent control (HDC), trailer sway assist (TSA), limited slip differential (LSD), a host of airbags, front and back fog lamps, manual headlamp levelling, ISOFIX child seat anchorage, a collapsible steering column, side body protection and much more.
A five-year service plan and a five-year/120,000km warranty with roadside assistance are included in the price.
Smooth on tar, dirty on dunes
At the recent media unveiling I drove various Trailblazers on long stretches of tar as well as a tough grade four off-road course at Bonniedale Farm, situated at the food of the Robinson Pass, and also through thick sand and challenging dunes at Vleesbaai, one of South Africa's only four legitimate dune off-road courses. I was impressed by the power, comfort and willingness of these big and imposing vehicles.
Not once did the 4x4 Chev wagons even have to scrabble for a foothold and they dealt with the obstacles in such a relaxed manner that even a couple of experienced fo-baw-fo drivers nodded their approval.
The Trailblazer really shows it class when it comes to towing. OK, we know it's not towing anything here, but the fact is, however, that it does have formidable "yank" power.
But the latest Trailblazer is not only a rough and tough dirt player - it behaves like a true gentleman on the tar. The ride is smooth and the handling is as good as one can expect from a high-riding seven-seater. The diesel-engined vehicles can become a tad noisy when the revs are up, but the typical growl of the V6 petrol-engine is pure rock 'n roll to a petrolhead's ears.
If I had a choice (and the wallet to match) my model of choice would be the flagship V6 petrol automatic.
Spacey, and well laid out
As to be expected from a vehicle this size, the Trailblazer is spacious and really comfortable although the two seats at the very back will suit children rather than big okes on long trips. In spite of being highly capable off-road, the large people-carrier is also creamy smooth on the road.
The quality of its sound system excellent. The aircon is effective and the wipers and lights do a splendid job, particularly in the wind, rain and foggy weather we encountered on part of our launch drive in the George-Mossel Bay area. Even though it is a high body it sits quite comfortably through the twisties, even in strong winds.
The instrument lay-out is both functional and easy on the eye.
The instrument lay-out is both functional and easy on the eye and presented in striking black and white, beautifully off-set by cream-coloured leather trim (on the LTZ models). Visibility is also good all round which will add to the game viewing pleasure of meandering through the Kruger National Park. Where the Chev also scores well is the ease with which the cockpit is accessed, thanks to the side step and grab handles.
All told, Trailblazer is a pleasing combination of faded jeans and khaki shirt, and snazzy Hugo Boss suit with so much to offer that other players in this segment better sleep with one eye open.
Tow, tow, tow your boat, gently down the dune...
Although we didn't measure fuel consumption on the day we spent driving the various models, GMSA gives the combined cycle for the 2.4 4x2 as 8 litres/100km; for the 2.8 4x2 Auto as10 litres/100km, for the 2.8 4x4 manual as 8.5 litres/100km, for the 2.8LTZ 4x4 auto as 9.8l litres/100km and for the 3.6 4x4 AT as 11.1 litres/100km.
Performance figures are not too shabby either, ranging from the 2.5 4x2's 0-100km/h dash of 12.5 seconds to the top of the range 3.6 V6 4x4 auto's time of 9.7 seconds.
If you like space in your vehicle, you'll like the Trailblazer - it has bags of space.
Where Trailblazer really shows it class, is when it comes to towing. For example, the 2.8 litre diesel, either manual or automatic, has a towing capacity of 2,950kg - which, GMSA says, is 30% more than its major competitor. The 3.6 litre petrol models have a 2,500kg towing capacity, as does the 2.5 litre 4X2 diesel model, which, for this model, is 46% higher than its major competitor.
GMSA products are gaining popularity in South Africa and the Trailblazer slots into a previously blank space in the manufacturer's local model line-up, the closest other Chevrolet being the Captiva. However, taking on this segment of the market is a tough ask, particularly when it steps into the ring against Toyota's veteran Fortuner. The bow tie's smart and comfortable interior, its classy ride, outstanding towing ability, general off-road muscle, imposing presence and "newness" certainly counts in its favour but it would have been even more appealing if it punched the market a bit harder in the one area that always hurts - price.
Fortuner's seven models range in price from R338,600 to R483,300, compared to the Trailblazer's prices below. However price comparisons don't tell the whole story and prospective buyers should have good, hard look at other key factors such as features, performance and equipment levels. For example, Toyota's flagship 4.0 V6 4x4 Auto is priced at R483,300 whereas the top of the Trailblazer range sells for R479,500 - and even though it has a smaller engine it is more powerful than the one under the Fortuner's hood.
The models and prices are:
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.5 LT 4X2
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4X2 AT
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4X4 MT
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4X4 AT
Chevrolet Trailblazer 3.6 LTZ 4X4 AT
Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ1@Chokechai Farm
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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