In some ways, the first generation Chevy TrailBlazer represented everything that was wrong with American automakers in the 2000s. It contained a bargain bin interior filled with extremely low quality plastic. Reliability remained an issue throughout its run and GM didn’t feel compelled to substantially update the vehicle despite its decent sales figures. And it was unceremoniously killed after seven years without a true replacement, which gave competitors an opening they exploited. GM waited roughly ten years before reentering the mid-size two row segment and now they’re at a disadvantage.
But will an SUV shopper in 2020 be at a disadvantage if they purchase this Blazer of Trails? I don’t think so.
In 2005, my best friend at the time purchased a lightly used 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer. It was a pretty nice ride for a high school senior. But the interior failed to impress, with its comically oversized radio and HVAC controls and horrible ergonomics. It also smelled weird. I’m reasonably confident nearly all GM vehicles from this era emitted the same odor, because I experienced the same smell when I climbed inside a rental Chevy Malibu Maxx several years later. Was it the plastics or the cloth upholstery?
In any event, the car had some flaws. But the 4.2 liter Vortec inline 6 more than made up for it. With 270 horsepower and 275 Ib-ft of torque, the Chevy was one quick vehicle. That’s an output that most three-row crossovers couldn’t match until recently. For example, the 2020 Kia Telluride comes equipped with a 291 horsepower 3.8 liter V6. That output was actually matched by the Chevy after the 2006 model year. The Chevy definitely impressed my 19 year old self, and I found the TrailBlazer to exhibit a decent ride for what it was.
The question is, does this SUV make sense in 2020? It’s a four-wheel drive SUV that’s slightly larger than a modern Ford Edge, so its size is manageable. The front bumper has seen better days but the body looks clean. It’s an LT model, which included amenities like a leather wrapped steering wheel, OnStar, heated mirrors, cruise control, eight way power driver seat with lumbar support, and auto dimming rear view mirror. And according to the ad it “RUNS AND DRIVES GREAT” and has “GOOD HEAT AND AC.”
One minor issue is the seller’s assertion that this TrailBlazer has third row seating. It most definitely does not. Regardless, it sits at 160k miles, which is slightly below average for a fifteen year old car.
And according to Consumer Reports, the 2005 TrailBlazer had 40% fewer problems than the average vehicle that year. Does that mean it was a relatively problem-free vehicle? No. A quick jaunt over to the reliability chart reveals it suffered from a host of issues. But I have to believe that a clean looking fifteen year old example managed to beat the odds, otherwise it would have been junked by this point, right? I also have to imagine that every GM dealer and most independent shops are familiar enough with these models to understand their weak spots. Parts should be pretty cheap too.
At $1,500, is this a decent winter beater? Or should buyers stay away at all costs? I’m leaning towards the former, if only for the 4.2 liter I-6. In my opinion, this SUV was saved by the powertrain.
Source: HV craigslist
Wow. Who knew these came in any color other than that gray-silver every Trailblazer in Eugene wears?
My friend’s TrailBlazer was a very nice blue. Probably the major reason why I ended up liking it.
It’s funny that you mention this. I was just discussing this very thing with my coworker earlier this week when I counted no less than 7 Trailblazers in the parking lot at my work, three of them being that color.
After we started pointing them out to each other we discovered they come in a plethora of different colors (even two tone!) with the gray-silver, light tan, and black being the most popular around here.
These things are still quite popular in my neck of Wi despite the fact that the tin worm is starting to make a lot of them look pretty rough. Heck, I even see a few of the Saab versions on the road yet.
$1500 for anything bigger than Jim Klein’s Aspire junkyard find that actually runs seems like a good deal. I’m wondering what the catch is. Fresh transmission fluid masking a terminal impending failure? Floorboard rusted through? This is an SUV-hungry world.
This vehicle is somewhat interesting. A relatively low-stanced body-on-frame SUV with a more friendly step-in height and styling, but decidedly truckish mechanicals and demeanor. One of the evolutionary steps from old-school GMT400 SUVs to the unibody Traverse.
The straight-six holds some appeal, but in retrospect a new 2005 4Runner would’ve been the better buy.
As a winter beater, $1500 isn’t bad.
I was never much of a TrailBlazer fan and have learned if you got a good one, it was a reliable ride. But if not…
The Traverse replaced it in the lineup. Yes it would be nice to have also updated TrailBlazer as was done overseas.
I’ll take my Tahoe with its LS goodness. Fuel economy isn’t the only factor in overall cost to own.
What, no mention of its Scandinavian sibling, the TrollBlazer?
Tröllblazer. Nöw with möre metal.
I had the GMC version as a service loaner for a long weekend in 2006, and I didn’t hate it. Compared to the Saab 9-3 that was in for (extended) service, I thought the handling felt sloppy and the braking a little soft, but by the end of 3 days it had grown on me as a comfortable cruiser. My problem with it came from comparing it to a manually shifted turbocharged car, which it couldn’t have been further from.
$1500 is a pretty good deal, I’m thinking. I paid several times that back in 2013 for an ’02 Durango with 160k on the clock for my partner to drive, and that was not 4WD. At this price I’d consider it a perfect Winter beater, and if it makes it into Spring it’d be worth keeping around for Home Depot or Ikea runs until something major craps out, then jettison it.
I always liked these. Good looking, good performance, competent as trucks, and I don’t mind the interior at all.
But my neighbor with one was stranded a couple of times in parking lots. They didn’t have good reputations at the time. I’m surprised reliability is rated above average.
Yeah, a coworker of mine had one…it left her stranded quite a few times, she got rid of it after a few years.
I’ll never forget getting into a new TrailBlazer of this vintage and being so disgusted by the cheap plastic interior. I never expected a cheap Saturn interior in a vehicle so expensive. I sat in the way-back with my knees up to my ears and wondering how anyone could have deliberately chosen such a plastic lunch box to drive around in and waste $30,000 on.
$1500 is a good deal. Even for this rolling plastic bin.
My sister leased these for the entire time they were in production. I remember thinking they were a huge improvement in quality and driveability over the Blazer that proceeded them. At that time, I thought the interior was quite nice, with the console shifter and higher quality plastics and fabrics (than the previous generation). The I6 was smooth, but I don’t remember it being especially powerful, and the 4 speed auto hunted for gears quite a bit with any kind of terrain. I also remember thinking that the ground clearance was pathetic for a BOF SUV with a 2 speed transfer case.
Despite the poorer overall quality, I’d probably consider the previous generation over this one as a used vehicle (though I would be very unlikely to get either), as these strike me as being no more capable than an AWD CUV, but with much less room and much worse economy.
These were more capable than the AWD CUVs at that time. For example, Highlanders maxed out at 2000 pounds towing, vs 5300 for the Trailblazer. Economy was only down 1 MPG compared to a Pilot.
Leased three of these between 2005 and 2008 for our sales people. Cheap plastic interior bits and funky looks aside they were good vehicles that each of them liked. The V8 is the one to avoid as replacing the starter was an $800 job, most of it labor. Very comfortable seats and smooth ride were high points. All were factory ordered. One deep metallic blue, one dark cherry red and the other dark grey. They all bought them for personal use at lease end with more than 100k miles average on the trio
These were a major step up from tho old blazer for fit and finish.
The chevy traverse replaced these trailblazers and astro vans.
Cheap interiors, but pretty robust mechanicals, and better for towing than unibodies. Not the most fuel-efficient choice, but I’d take this over similar vintage Explorer, Grand Cherokee, or Durango.
The Toyota 4-Runner has a nicer interior, but as far as mechanical reliability, I think this vehicle represents GM on a good day, and it’s on par with the Toyota.
These, along with their brethren, are extremely common in the local junkyards nowadays (they’re the right age) and the interiors generally seem to hold up, i.e. it’s not at all unusual to see them in good physical shape. I’m not sure what the main failure points are.
All things considered if I was considering one I think I’d go for a badge a little higher on the ladder on the theory that those who pay a little more might be either inclined or able to be more conscientious about maintenance and repair if the mechanicals are the same between versions anyway. Then again, once it’s beyond the first owner all bets are off on that theory anyway.
I think the Equinox sort of replaced the two row as the Equinox seems a little larger than its direct competition and then the Traverse picked up the three row slack. While this one is not a three row they were certainly available in such form.
Despite my recommendation against it, my mother bought one of these new in 2005. Now, 15 years later, she’s still driving it, it only has 160,000 miles on it, and has (shockingly) only just started to even show the inkling of rust despite living its entire life in Michigan. And let’s be clear: My mother is not one to take care of vehicles, aside from gas and the (when she notices the sticker in the corner) occasional oil change.
When it was new, I liked the power it had, but I hated the interior. Dark grey, unattractive, felt cheaper than the ’96 Grand Am it replaced inside.
Now? I’m damned impressed by it. I still hate the interior, but on the flip side of that everything in the interior now is right as and where it was in 2005. The thing’s worn like iron. The seats, despite multiple golden retrievers riding in it, are a vacuuming away from looking new. The radio, after 15 years of fingernails pushing the buttons, still looks like it did in 2005. The engine still runs the same. The transmission (despite never seeing new fluid until at least 120,000 miles) shifts the same. Aside from front ball joints and a tie rod end, the car’s needed absolutely nothing.
Likewise, I see a ton of these things soldiering on in Metro Detroit, apparently unphased by neglect, hell-like roads, or anything else.
Seriously, these things have aged remarkably well, and despite the awful gas mileage, there are far worse ways to get around.
My parents bought the final-generation Bravada – the last gasp for Oldsmobile, and the last Oldsmobile that these Oldsmobile loyalists would ever own. Since GM had announced the division’s demise just before the Bravada was officially unveiled to the public, they were able to get a very good deal on it.
The drivetrain was the best part. The engine, in particular, was quite nice. The interior was a cut above that of the Trailblazer, but there was still the feeling that an investment of about $20 more per vehicle would have made it much nicer. I do remember the seats as being comfortable for long trips. With the suspension tuning, it seemed as though Oldsmobile was trying to create a four-wheel-drive Delta 88 Royale.
The Achilles heel was reliability. Before it was traded with a little over 100,000 miles on the odometer, it had experienced major mechanical issues, including a valve problem with the engine that left my mother stranded, and required major work to repair. The others were an HVAC problem and a problem with the transmission.
Perhaps the earlier generation enjoys greater mechanical simplicity or wider parts availability, but I see as many 1990s Blazers on the road as Trailblazers in Pennsylvania.
We have a “08 that was my wife’s until a stroke stopped her driving. Now, it’s the perfect size/seat height to load her, and her wheelchair fits nicely in the back. Has been reliable except for a bad engine controller that almost stranded me at Costco. As others have said, comfortable for trips, good A/C and a greenhouse one can actually see out of. Meth-dealer tint keeps the sun out. The Atlas engine is good, and I’m not sure why it was discontinued. Laugh if you will at the 4l60e tranny, but I’ll take it over a CVT any day. Even the 4×4 version has a very tight turning radius. Will probably keep it for a while, as it only has 52,000 miles. Yes, the gas mileage sucks, but not driving a lot makes it a moot point.
These are truly cockroaches of the road here in Phoenix; I can’t take even a short trip without seeing a couple. Most are white like ours, making one a perfect getaway vehicle.
Far from laugh, the 4L60E transmission was great. Not the most fuel efficient due to not having, what, ten speeds like today, just smooth and reliable. I never had a gear hunting issue with the ’93 C1500, and the “start in second” mode was helpful in winter.
That last feature is what I miss on the K2500 we now have with the 4L80E.
Still see a few of them on the roads around here. They’re cockroaches compared with everything else.
The state I live in is talking about doing away with annual safety inspections, but I think it has come too late for the Trailblazer. They’ve been in ‘not economic to repair’ mode for years.
Can anyone explain why the 2005 Honda Pilot is one of the most reliable CUVs and the 2005 Acura MDX is the least reliable one? True Delta’s numbers show no meaningful difference, and they’re basically the same cars. If anything, that model year is something of a sweet spot. The transmissions are reliable and the engines don’t suffer from low-tension oil rings and VCM like later J-series V6s. It’s sad what has happened to Honda since then, but I’d take a 2005 Acura MDX with 100K miles and a fresh rubber band over a new Telluride.
“It also smelled weird. I’m reasonably confident nearly all GM vehicles from this era emitted the same odor, because I experienced the same smell when I climbed inside a rental Chevy Malibu Maxx several years later. Was it the plastics or the cloth upholstery?”
Serious question – did it almost smell of used crayon’s? That’s what my dad’s S10 smells like, one of the many reasons to hate borrowing it, outside of it being useful to haul dirt in the spring.
I remember the interiors smelling like a hint of maple. All my Saturn S sedans and wagon had that smell too.
Had several friends/family who owned these things throughout their production run. Don’t think any had serious mechanical issues, I remember replacing a front driveshaft/CV joint assembly at over 100,000 miles on one, a water pump on another. A few random ignition coils. But, they did indeed have a horribly cheap interior. Brittle squeaky plastic everywhere!
I always thought it was kind of a shame that GM never went anywhere with this series of engines (were they called Atlas, or am I mis-remembering? I recall reviews in the day were positive, and a few hot-rodders managed to build them into reasonable power and shove them into cars to replace an old stovebolt six.
And then they were gone.
Bought a new 2007 in late 2006. Oddly it had a 2006 interior, proven by a brochure. It was very comfortable and I didn’t mind the interior at all. Biggest complaint was how difficult and messy it was to change the oil on the smooth running Atlas six. I stupidly traded it for a GMC Terrain seeking better gas mileage and more rear seat room, which it delivered. But I missed that six. One of the cars I now miss most.
It was the poor man’s Tahoe, then and now.
Spend $1500 on something interesting.
When I park at work these are on both sides of me. They don’t really do anything for me, but for $1500 (if it runs as they say) it’s probably a great deal. Lotta car for little money.
Edward, if it’s in rust territory I can mention a couple of potential trouble spots that would be worth checking. The power steering lines are prone to rust-through at the “cleat” located high at LF fender well. Ditto the transmission line cleat located RF at the oilpan rail. Both are a somewhat involved pain in the neck to fix. Check for heavy rot or fluid weeping near the cleats.
Transfer case shift motor, encoder, whatever, is problematic too. Not sure how to predict trouble.
Front axle actuator, disconnect, whatever, can go dry and fail.
Front differential isn’t the most robust drsign.; Tough task to replace. Maybe check for leaks or backlash?
My LTZ model was very nice and well finished out. Felt solid. I’d still have it if it hadn’t been wrecked.
I have an ’03 LTZ short-wheelbase 4WD Trailblazer. 270K miles.
I’d love to buy another one just like it, brand-new.
What they’re selling as a “Trailblazer” now is another in a horde of under-engineered, under-powered, unibody “crossover” junk.