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Fortuner’s match? We test new Trailblazer Z71

Road tests

The four-year-old Chevrolet Trailblazer recently underwent a makeover in a bid to boost its sales in a body-on-frame SUV market dominated by the Toyota Fortuner.

Chevy's seven-seater was tarted up with a new look and increased options in terms of drivetrains and specification. The range now has five models comprising manual and automatic versions of the rear-wheel-drive 2.5-litre LT, rear and four-wheel-drive versions of the auto-only 2.8 LTZ and a new flagship in the shape of the Z71 on test here.

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Our test car was the blingy Z71 model, which features some sporty design touches.

The Z71 is based on the Trailblazer LTZ and is powered by the same 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine, but gets attention-grabbing styling courtesy of blacked-out wheels, door handles and mirrors, along with black bonnet decals to give the vehicle a custom look. All this extravagant plumage doesn't make for a subtle vehicle, and the strong visual statement is enhanced by a wider new bowtie bar and daytime-running lights that have been introduced across the Trailblazer range.

The cabin has been brought up to date with a newly designed dashboard and front console with a more upmarket feel, enhanced by soft-touch materials and contrast stitching.

Plenty of space and features

As before it's a very roomy vehicle with plenty of space for four or five adults in the front two rows. The third row is ideally for children but a pair of tall folk can still fit without advanced yoga techniques. These rearmost seats fold flat into the floor to open up a huge cargo area, and with the middle row folded down as well this Chevy turns into a veritable cargo-swallowing cave. Luggage capacity ranges from 205 litres with all three rows upright, 1229 litres with the third row down, to 1830 litres with the second and third row seats folded flat.

Comforts and conveniences are plentiful, including adjustable air conditioning for passengers in all three rows. Leather seats are standard fare across the Trailblazer range and the driver's seat is power adjustable in the 2.8-litre models.

A seven-inch touchscreen provides the audio and navigation interface pairable with smartphones via USB or Bluetooth, and it's a user friendly system that doesn't take a master's degree to figure out. I like that it sticks with a real volume knob, unlike the perhaps too-modern Fortuner where decibels must be controlled on a finicky touchscreen.

Burly 2.8-litre diesel

At the heart of this Chevy is a burly 2.8 litre Duramax turbodiesel engine with outputs 144kW of power and a class-leading 500Nm of torque.

We weren't wildly impressed with the now-discontinued manual 2.8 turbodiesel that we tested when the Trailblazer first hit the streets a few years ago, but this auto version was a better effort.

There is some turbo lag right at the bottom end but not enough to make you scream with frustration. Also, you don't have to live with the manual's disconcerting tendency to stall during pulloff. The auto gearbox does a good job of managing all that grunt, and this SUV pulls heartily in all situations. With those 500Nm it should make a great tow vehicle as well.

Our test unit averaged a decent consumption of 9.4 litres per 100km, giving it a distinct advantage over the 12.3 litres we achieved in the Ford Everest 3.2, and slightly better than the 9.9 litre of the Fortuner 2.8.

A parking camera makes this big Chev easier to squeeze into bays, while all 2.8 Trailblazers get Stability Control, Hill Descent Control, and Trailer Sway Control. Driver aids include lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, rear cross traffic alert and tyre-pressure monitoring. There are seven airbags including a driver's knee airbags, and Isofix child-seat anchors.

Active safety gadgets

Part of the Trailblazer's 2016 update is a new electronic power steering system with two features designed for a smoother driving experience: Active Pull, and Smooth Road Shake Compensation.

To reduce driver fatigue, Active Pull Compensation uses a motor to help turn the steering when it senses increased steering effort from the driver. To be honest I couldn't tell the difference between this and regular power steering but at least it didn't feel artificial.

Smooth Road Shake Compensation is said to reduce steering-wheel vibration caused by an imbalance from the front wheels.

I liked the Trailblazer's upgraded interior ambience and quieter-running performance, while improved sound deadening has muted the the agricultural sound of the diesel engine. This Chevy offers a comfy ride but it's no Porsche Macan or BMW X5 in terms of driving dynamics, and the soggy handling banishes any sporting pretensions in the corners.

But there's no criticising its offroad skills which, apart from a generous 221mm ground clearance, is facilitated by a part-time four-wheel-drive system with low range.

The LTZ sells for R613 200 while the Z71 package adds an extra ten grand. Prices include a 5-year/120 000km warranty and 5-year/90 000km service plan.

VERDICT

Both Chev and Ford have battled to break into the Toyota's hallowed sales territory with the Trailblazer selling 860 units and the Everest just 543 in South Africa last year, compared to the Fortuner's 8385 units.

These are sobering numbers and Toyota's hegemony is unlikely to be challenged now that the all-new Fortuner has been launched. But the updated Trailblazer has become a more enticing alternative with its improved refinement and technology, not to mention its better-than-average warranty and the gutsiest power in its class. And if you like blacked-out wheels you're at the right place.

FACTS

Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 Z71 4x4

Engine: 2.8-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel

Gearbox: 6-speed automatic

Power: 144kW @ 3600rpm

Torque: 500Nm @ 2000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 10.4 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 180km/h

Price: R623 200

TRAILBLAZER VS RIVALS

Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 Z71 4x4

144kW/500Nm – 5-year/120 000km warranty and 5-year/ 90 000km service plan – R623 200

Ford Everest 3.2 4WD XLT

147kW/470Nm – 4-year/120 000km warranty and 5-year/100 000km service plan – R634 900

Toyota Fortuner 2.8GD-6 4x4 auto 

130kW/450Nm – 3-year/100 000km warranty and 5-year/90 000km service plan – R614 800

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