We’re shooting the last of the car-to-car action shots on the outskirts of Pune when I notice a Toyota Fortuner emerge in my rear-view mirror. I signal left and tuck into the slow lane to let the SUV overtake. But the Fortuner driver doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get by and only rolls up beside me a good few seconds later. The three passengers inside seem to be sizing up the Chevrolet Trailblazer I’m in. I see them give the big Chevy an interested nod before they finally power away. This goes to show that the Trailblazer has what it takes to get interest from the right quarters, and that’s heartening for Chevrolet because the brand has fallen below the radar and needs all the attention it can get.
The last few Chevrolet-badged products have essentially come from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation’s (SAIC) stable. The Chinese partner for General Motors (GM) insisted on bringing its line-up (Sail sedan, Sail hatchback and Enjoy MPV), but they simply haven’t been up to scratch. The rest of the Chevrolet model line-up (Tavera, Beat and Cruze) is quite jaded too and there hasn’t been an all-new launch since the Enjoy in 2013.
But now, that’s all set to change and GM India is geared up for a fresh innings. SAIC sold its stake in GM India and hence, the Chinese automaker no longer has an influence over the India operations, leaving Chevrolet to plot its own course in India.
In the coming years, you can expect a new product offensive from Chevrolet, the start of which is the tough body-on-frame Trailblazer SUV you see here, that goes on sale this Diwali. True, it won’t be the model that’ll give Chevrolet huge numbers, but it’s the first true-blue Chevy and hence, as an image builder, it’s a strong choice of product. A day’s driving on a combination of good, bad and no roads certainly convinced us so.
Our day starts early, but the schedule is tight. We have to share the Trailblazer with the TV crew and, to make matters tricky, it looks like it’s going to pour. But we can’t just jump in and drive off. The Trailblazer warrants a long, detailed look.
If you like your SUVs big, in all probability, you’ll be drawn to the Trailblazer too. The Chevy’s 4.8-metre-plus length and 1.9-metre height make it longer and marginally taller than a Toyota Fortuner, which, as you know, is a large SUV in its own right. The Trailblazer looks bigger still, thanks to its seemingly jacked-up stance. There’s a sizeable gap between the wheel arches and meaty 265/60 R18 tyres, and also between the body and the ground; the spec page we’ve been handed reads ground clearance is a class-best 241mm. The sheer size of the Trailblazer gives it amazing presence, but the design has more than a few good bits too. Chevrolet’s split grille gives the Trailblazer a suitably imposing face and the raised bonnet only adds more muscle. The Trailblazer will certainly get a lot of respect on our roads. But some of us do think the headlights look a bit ‘soft’ on something so big. There’s also a relative lack of flash elements at the front — chrome is used solely to line the grille and the shrouds for the fog lamp lower down on the neat bumper.
You also won’t find any cladding on the sides of the Trailblazer. It doesn’t look bad, just different from the norm. The rising window line is also unique in this segment and the sharp slash low down on the doors further helps jazz things up. What also looks really nice is the way the body widens from the rear doors towards the tail. Still, there’s something very Fortuner-like in the manner the rear quarter glass merges with the rear windscreen to give that wraparound look. In fact, the tail is quite generic and only stands out for the jewel effect of the brake lamps. In case you are wondering, the spare wheel is mounted under the boot and is a full-size alloy.
Off the beaten path
A nearby lake is selected as our first waypoint for the day. It’s not too far from GM India’s Talegaon factory where we’ve been handed over the Trailblazer, but we have to go over all sorts of kuchcha village roads to get there – ideal to give the suspension its workout first.
The suspension is a combination of double wishbones up front and a five-link setup at the rear, with coil springs at all four corners. As mentioned earlier, the Trailblazer is a body-on-frame SUV, so it’s built to take quite a beating. At slow speeds, the suspension and tyres soften the blow of the series of potholes that make up the initial bit of the path leading up to the lake. First impressions are positive, but with rising speeds, the Chevy starts to get increasingly unsettled. The ride gets choppy and the effect is amplified in the back. It’s certainly no Pajero Sport on these broken stretches.
The final approach to the lakeside isn’t what you’d classify as hardcore, but it’s enough to get a fair idea of what the big Chevy is capable of. Off-road, that is. At this point, you should know, the Trailblazer will be available only in 4x2 and automatic transmission form, at least initially. While it’s true the full 4x4 version would have been more in keeping with the Trailblazer’s rugged persona, most SUV buyers in India rarely venture off-road. The Trailblazer for India does boast Hill-Start Assist, Hill-Descent Control and the ability to wade through 800mm of water – useful on our waterlogged city roads. It may not have a low-range transfer case, but even this 4x2 Trailblazer feels quite capable in the rough. Wheel articulation is more than sufficient and there’s little drama while climbing a hillock. In all but really slippery conditions, the engine’s good low-end torque (you get as much as 51kgm from just 2,000rpm!) should help pull the Chevy out of most situations.
The Trailblazer’s engine and the performance it can deliver grabs the limelight the moment we leave behind the rutted tracks and drive on proper tarmac stretches. The engine feels very responsive, the build-up of speed is brisk and performance seems really impressive for a towering SUV that weighs in at a hefty 2,068kg. Against the clock, the Trailblazer’s sub-10 second (9.89 second to be precise) 0-100kph time makes it the quickest SUV of its class. Its quick in-gear timings also help establish the Trailblazer as the performance SUV of the segment. It’s all made possible by the sheer muscle of the Trailblazer’s 2.8-litre Duramax engine. Peak power is a class-leading 197bhp at 3600rpm, but to reiterate, the real number to make note of is the 50.99kgm of torque that’s available at a low 2,000rpm. For reference, the 3.0-litre Fortuner’s engine makes 35kgm at 1,400rpm.
The four-cylinder 2.8-litre Duramax engine used on the Trailblazer is relatively new and was last updated in 2014. It gets double overhead camshafts to operate its 16 valves and also features a water-cooled, variable geometry turbocharger and common-rail injection which operates at high-pressure 2,000bar. There’s a balancer shaft as well to cancel out undue vibrations. Speaking of which, engine refinement on the whole is better than most of the competition. It’s not a particularly quiet motor, especially when revved hard, where the roar of the 7-blade mechanically operated viscous fan can be heard above everything else. At moderate revs, there is a bit of clatter, but it’s not obtrusive in the least. What helps is the automatic gearbox that, on a light throttle, shifts up early and keeps the engine under 2,000rpm as much as possible. The six-speed torque converter automatic is actually cleverly tuned to bring out the best of the engine. Press down hard on the Trailblazer’s long travel throttle pedal and the gearbox will downshift to the right gear quickly enough. Upshifts in full auto mode take place at a fairly low 3,800rpm, but you can take manual control via the gearlever to have the engine rev all the way to 4,800rpm. That the gearbox won’t upshift on its own in manual mode makes it feel pretty much like a manual. It’s fun to hold gear on occasion and the ability to do so is something helpful off-road too. However, power tails off after 4,000rpm, so if it’s quickest acceleration you’re after, you’ll be best off short-shifting at this point. The engine may lack top-end punch, but the ample power in the bottom-end and mid-range more than makes up for it.
On the proper roads we’re on, the Trailblazer also feels more composed in the way it tackles the bumps. There is a degree of vertical movement and large potholes do thud through, but nothing manages to deflect the Trailblazer from its intended path. This gives a good deal of confidence out on the highway. What’s also noteworthy is that the hydraulic power steering is free from that looseness you get in most other SUVs in the segment. It adds to the feeling of control and stability at high speeds. Even around faster bends, the Trailblazer doesn’t feel ill at ease. Sure, there’s plenty of body roll and you can feel the weight transfer from one side to the other, but you still feel very much in control of things. Just wish the brakes were more feelsome. The all-round ventilated discs offer good stopping power, but the brake pedal doesn’t communicate leg force needed well enough. In a way, it’s reassuring to know the Trailblazer comes with anti-lock braking, panic brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control and cornering brake control. Dual front airbags are part of the package as well.
In town and amidst slower moving traffic, the Trailblazer feels its size. The steering’s weight calls for some effort and the turning circle is large too. To be fair, none of its big, burly competitors feel any better. For what it’s worth, frontal visibility is good and there’s a rear-view camera and sensors as well.
With a good deal of time spent behind the wheel, the Trailblazer’s cabin now feels like familiar territory. The cabin is high-set, so it’s a climb in – the sturdy footboard and grab handles on the A-pillar find good use – but the comfy front seats do make the short trek up worth it. They are large, well-cushioned and come finished in good quality leather. Drivers will also like the nice-to-hold steering wheel and the view of the Camaro-like hooded dials, complete with sporty blue backlighting. The rest of the dashboard is interesting too, largely thanks to the glossy black centre console’s design. Here, vertically oriented air vents flank a seven-inch touchscreen with a unique round platform for the climate control settings positioned below it. The air-con’s control dial comes inset with a digital readout for temperature and blower speed, and looks particularly nice. As for ◊ ∆ the touchscreen, it is easy to pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth and is simple enough to use on the move. In terms of features, the high-spec Trailblazer LTZ, the sole variant to go on sale in India, offers quite a bit. In addition to the touchscreen, rear-view camera and leather seats already mentioned, it gets projector headlights, cruise control, powered mirrors and electric adjust for the driver’s seat. A sunroof and onboard sat-nav would have been welcome too. Cars for India are to come with cabins finished in black and beige materials. While the dual-tone colour combination looks upmarket, cabin quality, on the whole, is good but not exceptional. Fit and finish is actually quite similar to what you get on the Chevy Cruze sedan.
The cabin also comes across as well thought out in terms of storage space. Each of the doors gets bottle holders, there’s a retractable cupholder at each end of the dash, there’s a recess above the centre console, a storage shelf under the steering column and even a handy bay below the headlight controls. All of the above are in addition to two (albeit medium-sized) gloveboxes and a usefully large storage space under the front centre armrest. Though it must be said, the lid on the latter feels quite flimsy.
Shifting focus to the middle row, the findings are quite pleasant – this is among the better second rows in the segment. There’s lots of space in every direction, the foldable centre armrest is at the right height and the seating position is good. The seat base is a bit short and the backrest angle can’t be adjusted, but even then, you’ll be quite happy here. The cabin’s sufficient width and flat floor also allows a third occupant to fit in here quite comfortably. Even the last row is more useable than it looks. Access is awkward, headroom is average and space isn’t generous, but it’s manageable for short intra-city stints. When not in use, the third-row seats that split 50:50 can be folded flush with the raised boot floor to form a sizeable loading area. Essential if you intend to take a holiday because, with all seats in place, luggage space is only good for a few soft bags at best.
I’ll be honest. The Trailblazer did surprise a lot of us with its breadth of abilities. We knew its large size would go down well with the ‘bigger is better’ platoon of SUV buyers in India, but beyond that, we didn’t know what else to expect. Well, over our time with it, the Trailblazer has established itself as a proper, no-nonsense SUV. It’s not revolutionary in any way, but comes across as quite sophisticated by current class standards. Overall comfort is good, though performance is the Trailblazer’s strongest suite. There’s also a nice air of modernity to the package and you just can’t ignore that after long, here’s a Chevy that really feels like a Chevy.
The Chevrolet Trailblazer (2WD AT only) is priced at Rs 26.4 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). Its direct rivals, the Fortuner 3.0 2WD AT is priced at Rs 25.17 lakh and the Pajero Sport 2WD AT costs Rs 25.35 lakh. The Trailblazer is priced competitively for a full-import but is still costlier than its rivals which could steer buyers away. But it’s not the pricing alone that will be a challenge for Chevrolet. Competition is going to intensify in the coming months with the launch of the new Ford Endeavour and the next-gen Toyota Fortuner looming on the horizon. It might not be easy going for it, but provided the Trailblazer can find a way past these obstacles, this well-rounded SUV can truly be worthy of the Chevrolet badge.