Braavleis, sunshine and Chevrolet was our way of life back in the days when women were fast, cars were big, fuel prices were low and we all had plenty of time to get out and enjoy the South African outdoor lifestyle.
Enter the new Chevrolet Trailblazer, a bakkie-based behemoth aimed squarely at usurping the Toyota Fortuner, which has become the vehicle of choice for those who enjoy roads less travelled, while towing caravans or boats and having bags of space to accommodate people and luggage.
Price-wise, the Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8D 4x4 LTZ tested here is priced slightly below the Fortuner 3.0D-4D 4x4, with the Chev costing R454 500 and the Fortuner R464 700.
The Trailblazer is built on the next-generation Isuzu KB bakkie platform. This ensures a rugged vehicle, but also one that, for a modern SUV, is somewhat crude and unrefined.
BAGS OF TORQUE
The 2.8 Duramax turbodiesel has bags of torque for towing, and pulls lustily enough on the open road, but when at idle it sounds agricultural.
It has the irritating – and potentially dangerous – habit of stalling on pull-away. This happened too frequently to be a coincidence, and on more than one occasion the driver behind me at traffic lights nearly drove into the back of me when the Trailblazer stalled.
With this turbo lag you need lots of throttle to pull away, and then shift up to second quickly, as the first gear is short. The five-speed manual gearshift is also bakkie-like, with notchy changes. During idling the gearshift vibrates, which gives you an idea of the roughness of the engine.
The first noticeable thing on getting into the Chev is that it is cavernous, boasting a seven-seat configuration with ample leg and headroom. But the abundance of hard plastics results in an interior that doesn’t feel upmarket, despite the uncluttered look and leather seats.
It is well specced, with a number of 12-volt power points, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and auxiliary controls for the audio system and cruise control on the steering wheel. But high on the irritation scale is the nanny warning buzzer that goes off when you switch off the engine or engage reverse.
The seven-seater configuration works well and is a cinch to use. The second and third rows of seats tumble and fold flat, which is done quite easily, requiring just a tug on a strap.With the seats flat, the Chev has a huge loading bay of 1830 litres, which drops to a cramped 205 litres when all the seats are being used.
Air vents for the air-conditioning system above the second and third row of seats add a nice touch. The Trailblazer is a large vehicle, and the rear park assist – which works on a buzzer but without a camera – helps with getting in and out of tight parking bays.
The vehicle feels far too soft and soggy. It wallows around corners, and pitches up and down like a small boat at sea when you stop at a traffic light. However, once on the dirt road, the vehicle simply wafts over corrugations and ripples, with none of the teeth-jarring you would expect on such surfaces. In fact, it is really offroad where the Trailblazer begins to live up to its name.
The part-time transfer case has a variety of options – 2-High, 4-High and 4-Low – all of which can be engaged by a simple switch. Although the Chev does not have a diff lock, it does have a limited slip diff, as well as traction control, panic brake assist and electronic stability control. The automatic versions also have hill start assist and hill descent control.
With a ground clearance of 267mm, and good approach (31º) and departure (26º) angles, the Trailblazer has serious off-roading cred. Towing is made safer with trailer sway assist, helping to keep the boat or caravan in place.
Fuel consumption is fair for such a huge vehicle, and driving around town we averaged 10.1l/100km, with consumption dropping to 9.4/100km on the open road.
The Trailblazer is a rugged vehicle with go-anywhere capability and plenty of space for the extended family and the dog. It has some great features, but is marred by the fact that it feels like a bakkie masquerading as an SUV.