In the seemingly never-ending quest to provide a CUV for every purse and purpose, it seems that many manufacturers are slicing the segments ever thinner in order to provide multiple overlapping options for potential buyers. While there’s something to be said for that as far as trying to offer as much choice as possible while keeping a buyer in house, it can seem a mite confusing. Witness this new Blazer, Chevy’s newest entry in the segment, but also one that likely has some people wondering how this fits in with both the recently renewed Equinox as well as the also recently renewed Traverse, to say nothing of the other vehicles in various sister divisions.
The most obvious differentiators to the Traverse are that the Blazer is quite a bit shorter and only offered in two-row form (at least in the US, the Chinese market is seeing a lengthened three-row version of this Blazer introduced). But in relation to the Equinox, itself perhaps one of the slightly larger vehicles in its own segment, the difference isn’t as obvious.
However, when looking at both, while just slightly larger, the Blazer is placed somewhat higher on the ladder with generally larger and more powerful engines available, and somewhat edgier styling as well as a somewhat more “premium” and “sporty” positioning. Perhaps a good way to consider it would be as a “PLCUV”.
The current GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5 ride atop the same basic platform and measure very similarly to the Blazer, but have quite different styling, i.e. it’s not at all obvious that they are related even if pricing can overlap in certain configurations.
Competition from other manufacturers likely include the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, the upcoming Toyota Venza, and even Acura RDX and perhaps the Hyundai Santa Fe. In other words, there’s no shortage of competition but the Blazer seems to be doing well so far, if one doesn’t count the abbreviated launch quarter of 2019 Q1, but adds the mostly intact 2020 Q1 for a running 12-month total, then that totals up to just over 77,000 vehicles sold in the US.
As regards that styling, the Blazer hews to the continuing somewhat experimental fashion of having headlights in a position where they initially appear to be fog lights, and LED accent lighting where one would assume the headlights would be.
Towards the back is a fairly rakish D-pillar with very small side window (also seen elsewhere) but the flanks are decently sculpted and overall it’s a shape that gives an impression of relative width and lowness as opposed to being skinnier and taller.
This lends itself well to the 20″ wheels fitted to my tester (although even larger wheels are available), and also works for the sporty RS version that is perhaps a little over the top stylistically for my own tastes but is apparently meant to invoke imagery of the Camaro.
Surprisingly though, even the more basic trims don’t suffer from this look and while it to some extent blends in with other CUVs, certain aspects of it, especially the grille with its small “diamond” highlights at either end near the lights make it instantly recognizable as only a Blazer when faced head-on which I found a good touch on Chevy’s part; there’s no reason every vehicle in a range needs to look exactly the same or feature an identical grille.
This particular vehicle was painted in a very dark metallic blue (appropriately named “Midnight Blue Metallic”), which sets off quite well with the restrained use of chrome trim on the grille, lower fascia, side strakes and the silver luggage bars as well as the aforementioned wheels (which thankfully are not chrome, just machined).
The inside was similarly striking at first glance, finished here in Jet Black/Maple Sugar, there’s for me just the right ratio of black vs. tan to make it a generally bright and airy place to be. There’s a small “signature” band of contrasting color swatch piping on part of the seat trim (just visible above in the upper section of the backrest) and the dashboard (pictured further below, keep reading) that is attractive and far more subtle (classy?) than something like embroidery on the seats. I presume this has to do with the “Premier” trim level of this particular vehicle.
While even the pillars and headliner are black the seats and door panels brighten it all up immensely, and this particular shade of tan looks quite good. This particular vehicle did not have any kind of sunroof, which both surprised (for a test car) and delighted (I’m not generally a fan) me.
The amount of headroom was excellent as a result and the windows are large enough and when blended with the lighter seat and trim materials make the cabin still look bright and airy. The little supplemental window ahead of the front side window was a welcome addition for slightly better front side visibility as opposed to either blanking the area out or mounting the mirror there.
I took an unrelated opportunity to visit the Chevrolet dealer during this week to take a look at some other Blazers on the lot just to contrast with this one and found that even the ones with cloth interior were decently trimmed inside with an interesting seat texture (sort of a diamond waffle pattern), although an all black interior option was obviously a darker and less inviting place to be.
Sitting in the driver’s seat there’s an abundance of space around one’s body, the seat is comfortable and easily adjustable, the center console is not intrusive, the steering wheel adjusts electrically (a quite premium touch, that), and the dashboard is more minimalist than busy.
The HVAC controls in particular literally present a new twist, with the two large center air vents adjusting the temperature by rotating the outside edge of them. The rest of the HVAC controls are arranged in a neat horizontal row under the center dividing line of the dashboard which looks very good however occasionally makes for slightly more difficult adjustments than if all were mounted in a more traditional form factor.
Above the HVAC controls is a well-sized 8″ screen that sort of splits the look of being built-in vs tacked-on, but features excellent resolution, multiple camera angles (when that feature is enabled), and an easy to use interface putting this “Infotainment 3 Premium” system on par with FCA’s UConnect and Ford’s Sync3 in general initial user-friendliness.
The radio is a BOSE system and after reading our own Eric703’s treatise on GM’s historical relationship with BOSE I was more intrigued with the system than I might have otherwise been. After playing with it and at first setting the individual sound controls where I generally put them in most cars, within a few minutes I readjusted them more towards the neutral position again as that was where the system seemed fairly well balanced (i.e. good for me) without having to try to push it toward an extreme. It sounded great, there was plenty of bass and the treble was good as well. I’m no audiophile as I’ve mentioned before but this system left me happy and enjoying music louder than usual.
Just to the left of the screen the engine starting button is visible, it is mounted very high which made it very visible and easy to use. The parking brake button is mounted to the left of the wheel, lower but easily visible and requiring the same push to engage and disengage rather than a pull vs. push motion for one vs. the other function which was appreciated and intuitive. The glove box opens with a touch of a button to the right of the screen, it can be locked via a touch command on the screen which is a novel approach and saves the cost of the a lock and latch mechanism on the exterior of the door.
Back at the bottom of the console is one of the better wireless charger ports I’ve seen in a while with a heavily recessed section in the rubberized mat that seems to “catch” the phone when it’s haphazardly tossed down there and starts to charge the device instantly as well as managing to keep it in place even when cornering spiritedly.
Coupled with two different sized USB ports immediately above (that are curiously oriented differently than any I can recall seeing anywhere else as well as relative to the ones in the back of the center console servicing the rear seats) this “media center” is simple, yet useful and well designed.
Up above is a camera mirror that can toggle between “Camera” and regular mode. Putting it in camera mode (above) displayed an exceptionally crisp, bright, and clear image that was significantly better than the regular glass mode (below) which looked darker due to the window tint and a much narrower field of vision due to the rear headrests and rear window shape nibbling away at the view. (Please note that in the image immediately below my camera is blocking much of the rearward vision on the left, the regular mirror image is not nearly that constricted)
Alas, as bright and good as the camera mirror image is, I (and this could be me) found myself with serious issues focusing back and forth between the camera image and the view forward, somehow the generated image (is it due to the pixels or the flatness of it?) made my eyes go all weird and required a lot more concentration.
Perhaps it’s me, or perhaps it’s 35 years of experience with regular mirrors or perhaps that’s how the system is, but after playing with it for a bit and finding it very difficult for myself to safely adjust to, I went back to the regular mode and left it that way. I suggest trying it for yourself if given the chance.
Just for reference the above image is the backup camera enabled in the same spot as the two mirror pictures were taken to demonstrate the differences in the field of vision between all three methods of looking back without actually turning one’s head.
The steering wheel has numerous controls incorporated within its spokes with audio adjustments being handled behind the spokes and the front controlling various things such as the adaptive cruise control, and the seemingly endless menu items and center instrument cluster display screen options.
Looking though the wheel the instrument panel features something that is extremely rarely seen anymore, that being an honest to goodness oil temperature gauge front and center with the water temperature gauge off to the side with the fuel gauge. I was in fact initially concerned that the car was overheating as I thought I was looking at the water temperature when it fact it was the oil that was displaying a bit more than halfway up the scale.
The gauge to the other side of it, also front and center, is an ammeter and it too actually varied its display, going from as low as 12.8V when the car was at rest at a light with the stop/start system having halted the engine but then steadily increasing to 14V once I started moving across the intersection and picked up speed. Most cars that have ammeters don’t seem to be very sensitive, i.e. the needle does not generally visibly move and both gauges were interesting (and welcome) additions to a vehicle such as this one, as if Chevy really meant this to be more of a driver’s car.
And in that regard it does very well. The 3.6l V6 produces 308hp and 270lb-ft of torque which makes for a very quick vehicle when prodded. The default setting on the user-controllable drive mode selector is 2WD in which with a hard launch there is a touch of torque steer and the vehicle will stay in 2WD.
AWD is as expected, with a split arrangement that adjusts the power flow based on need and situation and will go to full FWD on a steady highway cruise for example, Sport (denoted by a checkered flag) is also AWD but more of a 50/50 split that also adjusts as needed, then there is Off-Road which is also basically 50/50 but changes how and how fast it moves power when slip is detected and lastly there is Tow/Haul which makes things more RWD biased.
The neat part is that the rear has a dual-clutch arrangement instead of a standard differentisl that vectors the torque to help in corners as needed. This makes for a very reassuring and comforting drive when cornering hard with the outside wheel pushing more than the inside one and allowing for better turning performance. Driving this car up in the hills had the engine pushing hard and easily running for the redline while the steering was responsive and it stuck very well in turns with good feedback through the wheel.
I didn’t take the Blazer offroad beyond a dirt road as at least in this trim it’s fairly low and the tires are more on the performance end of the spectrum but there should be no reason that Chevy couldn’t offer a more off-road oriented version to bookend the racy RS version (which actually uses the same hardware as this Premier trim).
However, with plenty of power comes a flipside as well, that being fuel economy, or rather the lack thereof. While this car featured stop/start technology that was extremely unobtrusive (I often didn’t realize it switched itself back on) it often did turn itself back on quickly when I had the A/C and the ventilated seats running at a stop.
It also has cylinder deactivation, with an indicator light showing if it was running in V6 or V4 mode. Either way was absolutely imperceptible and the transitions were utterly seamless but it seemed to run in V6 mode far more than I would deem necessary, generally only being in V4 mode when between about 30 and 60mph at absolutely steady light throttle.
Even a very minor touch that barely called for any more power would see it transition back into V6 mode. While my own schedule this week only let me manage about 250 miles in this car, with about 60% of it in town mileage, 20% spirited driving but with a fair number of stops (mainly to put on my photographer hat), and the other 20% steady highway driving, it returned an indicated average of 17.2mpg. The official rating is 18mpg city, 25mpg highway, with a 21mpg average.
I generally get very close to the average during my testing but this time did bias the driving towards city, still I don’t think I’m often below the city rating. Note also that I was alone about 90% of the time so passenger or cargo weight was a non-issue. At least it only requires regular unleaded fuel but was a little disappointing.
As one would expect with a vehicle such as this, braking was via 4-wheel discs, and very good with the caveat being that they seemed to appreciate a little heat. They were not particularly grabby or overly reassuring when cold, manifested by a slightly soft pedal and lesser speed retardation than expected initially.
This may well have been due to some factor such as the first person to test the car abusing the brakes or some such situation but I repeatedly noted over the week that I needed more pressure to stop as intended than I had anticipated, at least at the beginnings of most journey segments.
The back seat features a manual sliding mechanism to vary the space between passenger and cargo room, when in its default rear-most position knee room for me was ample when sitting “behind myself”. With a 6’1″ height and a 32″ inseam, I had several inches of headroom (no sunroof, remember) and about 4″ of knee room. The seat also reclines if more headroom (or relaxation) is needed.
Cargo space seems generous, the adjustable gate to stop larger items from slithering about was a welcome feature that I’m not sure where it came from as it wasn’t detailed on the window sticker. Folding the rear seat backs is easily done with paddles built in to the cargo area’s sidewalls, pull them and the seats flop flat in a 60/40 split format. There is also a small cubby to either side of the main loading platform.
Lifting that platform panel up reveals the spare, jack, and some underfloor storage. There’s a little string with a hook so that one can lift this up and have it stay raised for loading or unloading purposes. Curiously, what was not included was any kind of a cargo cover although there was accommodation for mounting it molded into the paneling.
The Blazer lineup is available in a LOT of configurations this year as opposed to last with it being available in 2WD form as L, 1LT, 2LT, 3LT, Premier and RS trim levels. When selecting 4WD, then it is only available starting as a 2LT and continuing with 3LT, Premier and RS. L and 1LT are 2WD only presumably as they only pack the 2.5l I-4 whereas the other trims offer either the V6 or a newly introduced 2.0l turbo-4.
This is a bit of a shame as the base Blazer L (2WD) starts at $29,995 but to get an AWD model one is forced to pay an extra $6,000 (AWD and turbo-4 upgrade) which is a huge upcharge and I believe part of the reason these are not seen that often around here as of yet. $36k to start for a 4WD model leaves a lot of territory open to the competition since 2WD CUV’s do not sell and aren’t generally offered in the Mountain States.
Now, this being the Premier trim level in AWD, means that it costs a little more. Or perhaps more than a little, starting at $45,600 for mine. That does include a LOT of kit as standard, such as a 4500lb tow rating, a hitch guidance system in the camera setup, heavy duty cooling system, the 20″ wheels with a large-ish 18″ spare, the 8″ Chevrolet Infotainment3 system with Navigation (excellent screen clarity), Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancellation, Keyless everything including the leg swiping rear hatch opening feature, OnStar, 4GLTE WiFi, Leather seats and steering wheel, heated front and rear seats (as well as ventilated in front) and heated steering wheel, the BOSE 8-speaker sound system, dual-zone auto HVAC and power everything else imaginable. Headlights are HID, accent lights and taillights are LED, Rear park assist with blind spot and rear cross traffic alert are included as well as the ability to program a key for a teen driver locking down certain parameters.
The advantage of this type of scheme (lots of everything included) is that it makes for fewer build combinations and more likely to find what you’d like in stock on a lot, something the Japanese competition introduced and excel at, however the flipside is that sometimes you end up feeling that you’ve paid for items that you would not have any need for. Of course if everything was a la carte a lesser selection of items may end up costing the same or more if only due to the lack of economies of scale. Or end up less profitable for the maker which is something they are (rightly) focusing on. If people are buying, then the pricing would seem to be acceptable…
The only option on this one was the $2,165 Driver Confidence II Package which consists of the Rearview camera mirror, Safety alert seat (which actually vibrates under your nether regions when something dangerous is about to occur and was not altogether unpleasant…), the Wireless charging and Adaptive cruise control, Intellibeam headlights, Following distance indicator (a graphic that indicates if you are following too closely as well as a readout that displays in tenths of a second how close you actually are), Forward collision alert, Lane keep assist, Enhanced emergency braking, and HD surround vision for the camera system.
Adding destination of $1,195 makes for a grand total of $48,960 which seems like a lot for a mid-size 5passenger SUV wearing a Chevrolet badge. GM really should make the safety stuff standard, especially at this high of a trim level, and once it gets this lofty, as nice as the car appears (and is) there are obviously pieces shared with the $29k version that start to appear out of place at approaching $50k.
If comparing to the Equinox and Traverse it appears that as similarly equipped as possible, the pricing is much more reflective of the Traverse’s rather than the Equinox’s, the Traverse would share the same engine but be a larger and more spacious (3row) vehicle for basically the same or very similar price. The Equinox, albeit with the 2.0l turbo-4, would be significantly less expensive although not every feature is available on it. Frankly, a lot of the price premium for the Blazer is likely due to the style factor inside and out, an intangible that may or may not resonate with the market although results to date indicate that the market is accepting it.
As an aside (and this is the best place to put it) when looking at the VIN of this particular vehicle, I noted that General Motors did however (and I assume on purpose) engineer the Blazer to end up with a GVWR of 6001lbs which is exactly the minimum needed to qualify for the United States’ IRS Section 179 deduction as well as the bonus depreciation allowance that, if the vehicle is used for business, would allow a business owner to expense the entire amount if 100% business use and a sliding scale down proportionally to a minimum of 50% business use.
Please check with your accountant to confirm all this for yourself as I am not a CPA nor do I play one on T.V. but if for example one was a small business owner and “passed through” their income as is commonly done and ended up in the 25% tax bracket which might be reasonable for someone looking at $50,000 vehicles, then that effectively would become a $37,500 vehicle to the buyer/business owner. (It reverses at sale or trade-in time with any proceeds then subject to depreciation recapture at the current tax rate).
This can be a very big deal, and would certainly hand a competitive advantage to a vehicle that can take advantage of this over one that cannot, assuming similar prices and all other things being deemed more or less equal.
Getting back to the topic of materials that are perhaps somewhat lower grade than expected on a vehicle priced as this one is, those would include the rear door panels whose upper edges are trimmed in a harder plastic than the ones in front, as well as much of the black portions of the lower dash panel and other lower areas that are clad in what appears to be the same black pebbled plastic as seen back in the Cobalt for instance. Now these are either areas not touched much or deemed to be needing to be more durable but I think buyers tend to get more picky once the price goes up to this level, no matter how good the rest of the package is.
Build quality for this Mexico-assembled vehicle was very good (engine and transmission are made in the US, then shipped down there, then shipped back up once installed), with nothing out of place, rattling, or feeling about to fall apart. There are some interesting touches that are quite smart from a budgetary perspective such as the stitched soft panels on the dash front that wrap around the top edge, but when one feels beyond that, one comes across the flat dash expanse that is more or less a sheet of harder plastic with some give to it. Again, that’s something few will do besides when dusting it off (or paying someone else to dust it off), and likely saves money while looking just fine from the seat.
There IS a lot to like here though, and perusing the spec sheet for even the absolute base model indicates that it is far from stripped and actually quite well equipped, but a lot of the appeal of this Blazer is due to its driving dynamics and technology assuming one is enamored with the styling. If one is just looking for a way to move their family about, the Equinox would likely perform quite well also at a lower price point, albeit with perhaps a little less style.
But at this elevated trim level and its attendant pricing, there are a lot of other options available, not just in the GM stable, and the shopping list could become quite long depending how open-minded one may be and which features one might be able to do without. Of course that can be said from any of the competitor’s viewpoints as well, in the end more choice is always a good thing, and the Blazer has a few aces up its sleeve.
Thank you to Chevrolet for providing us with this vehicle and a tank of gas in order to evaluate it.