Johannesburg - One of the things which motoring journos often get wrong when writing about vehicles is the context… both of the car itself and the general market.
That’s why, for example, Porsche has won the local Car of the Year award two years in a row. The Porsches are excellent cars and, judged solely on that, were worthy winners. But a car of the year is much more than dynamic performance. It’s about affordability, flexibility and, critically, the likely impact on the market.
Those, sadly, are not things which figure in the eyes of some of the journalists who constitute the Car of the Year jury – because they test all the cars on one day and emotions and subjectivity trump all other considerations. Think about it: getting out of a Porsche into virtually any other car is going to be a letdown.
Having been guilty of that myself in regard to the Chevrolet Trailblazer full-size SUV, I owe both the vehicle and Chev an apology.
Climbing into the big Fortuner wannabe at our offices in Sauer Street and heading home in the afternoon traffic, I was not happy. The thing is enormous. The steering felt woolly. The 2.8 litre turbodiesel engine felt rough and under-powered when compared to those in its rivals, most notably the Toyota Fortuner. The six-speed auto transmission, in urban use, felt slow and hesitant and allowed the revs to build to screaming level in some cases, almost as bad as a CVT transmission.
But I was judging the Trailblazer against soft-roader SUVs which are, I’ll admit, more my style. I own a Subaru Forester and it handles like a Subaru (which is to say very well indeed) in the city. We also have a Ford Kuga SUV on long-term test and that also provided a stark contrast to the big Chev.
The Kuga was much more street-friendly – easier to drive, with a better gearbox and more lively diesel engine.
As the days went by, though, I started to warm to the Trailblazer: you get used to the languid power delivery and work around it, but you start appreciating the comfy ride and the auto box in city driving. The car also has an excellent – one of the best around – infotainment system, which operates from a large touchscreen in the centre console, very much like a smartphone.
Good sound, a USB connection and easy-to-pair Bluetooth are things which should not be sneezed at in the daily urban grind.
On tar, the Trailblazer, with its long-travel suspension and high-profile tyres, was never going to be a sharp handler. That annoyed me at first… and then one day I did what I should have at the beginning of the test – I looked at the typical “mission profile” of such a vehicle.
The person buying a Trailblazer will want something more than a butch-looking “Mom’s taxi”. That person will want to get into the great outdoors which, as we all know, means less than wonderful roads.
The Trailblazer (in top range LTZ form at just over R521 000) is a full-fat offroader, with selectable four-wheel-drive and a low range transmission. (There are two-wheel-drive versions, too.) It does not have a locking rear diff, only a limited-slip item which works with traction control electronics to apportion power to the appropriate wheel. It does a pretty good job by all accounts. Competitors like the Fortuner have a diff lock, though, and that might sway some.
On the subject of places these vehicles might go to, I took the Trailblazer to the rough stuff.
Therein lies a sad story. When our kids were younger, we would often camp at Mountain Sanctuary in the Magaliesberg and would get there via the dirt road over Breedt’s Nek. We didn’t have a Subaru in those days and made the trip quite easily in a front-wheel-drive Opel Kadett and VW Jetta. Now, you need a full-on 4x4, or a vehicle with high ground clearance – and a good bit of skill and guts – to get over the pass.
Not surprising, given that there has apparently been no maintenance on the road for the best part of 20 years.
The Trailblazer took Breedt’s Nek in its stride.
Ahead of me on the pass was a Land Rover Freelander, which I caught up to quite easily because the driver was picking his way cautiously around and over boulders and holes. At the top of the pass, there was a group of hardy bikers on BMWs and KTMs who believed this to be more of a holiday weekend challenge than blasting along tarred roads.
Over the summit of the pass, things just got worse. It was then I apologised to the Trailblazer – and decided to evaluate it in its natural environment. The ground clearance meant the huge steps in the road could be tackled with confidence and the suspension coped easily with the axle-twisting situations. Handling was not an issue at crawling pace and even when the gravel improved, the Trailblazer was as sure-footed in 4WD high range as you could expect such a big, tall vehicle to be.
I never even needed low-range over the obstacles… But it is there and, when you engage, all the electronic traction control systems are automatically switched off. The Trailblazer also has a hill braking feature for those tricky downhill trails, although first gear low range and diesel engine braking also mean the car is controllable when going down.
As I headed down into the valley on the other side, there were two hardy Toyota Hiluxes heading the way I had come… one of them towing a trailer. This is definitely Hilux country… but the Trailblazer proved it has just as much right to be there.
The Trailblazer is a very real alternative to the Fortuner: just as rugged, just as capable, almost as many dealers. Before you opt for the Toyota, take it for a drive – but take my advice: do that on Breedt’s Nek…
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8D 4x4 LTZ AT
Engine: 2.8-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Fuel requirement: 50ppm diesel
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Power: 144kW @ 3600rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 2000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 10.6 seconds
Price: R521 600
Warranty: Five-year/120 000km
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/90 000km
Annoyingly, Chev’s cars from Korea only have trip computers which read in kilometres per litre, which means drivers are having to do their own calculations to correct to our litres per 100km standard – which almosts defeats the object of a trip computer. In the city, expect around 12 litres per 100km; on the open road, that could fall to 8l/100km or slightly below.
CO2 emissions (claimed): 254g/km
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2.5 DI-D 4x4 auto (131kW/350Nm) - R475 900
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5 dCi SE auto (140kW/450Nm) - R493 900
Toyota Fortuner 3.0 D-4D 4x4 auto (120kW/343Nm) - R514 100
Article by: Saturday Star