Chevrolet brings back the iconic Blazer this year. Those hoping to see it revived as a rugged off-roader – in the spirit of the machine that earned a devout good ol’ boy following in the 70s – might be disappointed in its newest iteration. Instead of making fans want to crack out trucker hats and crack open a PBR in celebration, we have a five-seat crossover; a Blazer in name only. But the branding bait-and-switch can largely be forgiven because the new Blazer is still a solid performer and a good-looking ride that successfully butches up a category known mostly for its softer edges.
The Good: Its looks are sharp, with interesting creasing on the sides and hood, a frankly pretty badass grill with the narrowest of headlights, and a fascinating, complex D-pillar and rear roofline area. It combines upward-swinging sheet metal that cuts into the side glass with black trim that joins up with the rear window, making the roof appear to float above the rest of the body. This is a current trend in crossovers, and it’s executed exceptionally well here. Its ride is comfortable yet firm, and its two engines – an inline-four and a V6 – are both plenty responsive.
Who It’s For: Crossovers are king and for pretty good reason. Though assailed by enthusiasts and purists on a variety of fronts – and largely assumed to be carmaker manipulation at its worst – the truth is that they’re today’s consummate family wagon, and they’re what people want. They’re taller and roomier than sedans but absent the freight-train physique of full-sized SUVs. So the Blazer is for you if you want a piece of the middle ground, but also want some character and edge, which the Blazer has in abundance.
Watch Out For: There’s one interior quirk that I find baffling in the extreme. Defying all logic, the Blazer’s stability-control button – which, of course, turns this critical safety system off – is positioned directly in front of the passenger seat. Indeed, it’s so far to the right of the dashboard’s array of controls that it’s the closest thing that a passenger could even touch – even closer than the climate controls, volume knob or center display buttons. Not only that, but of the two buttons paired together on that little island, it’s to the right of the glove box button. At the very least, they really should be reversed, but even then the button’s placement opens up endless possibilities, from accidental disabling by people trying to get into the glove box to hilarious (if deadly) pranks by mischievous passengers. Not ideal.
Alternatives: This category is bursting at the seams at the moment, but the closest rivals for the Blazer-buyer’s affections would be the Nissan Murano, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Toyota Rav4 and Ford Edge. All are similarly capable vehicles, but the Blazer has by far the most distinctive look about it.
Review: Once I was able to stop staring at the stability-control button placement, I began to appreciate everything the Blazer does right. The interior feels roomy and comfortable, even if the dashboard is cliff-like in its verticality, and it’s overall a smartly designed interior. Large, round air vents, a nicely uniform aesthetic, and easy access to the most-used controls make the Blazer an easy place to hang out.
During a drive through the countryside outside San Diego, it also proved a capable tourer. The wide track and the newly designed suspension – MacPherson up front, five-link in the rear – keep it planted, and the sportier V6-powered RS version brings dampers that provide more compression than the standard, allowing for improved roll control in a wider range of situations and overall more controlled responses to roadway imperfections. The Blazer comes with two all-wheel-drive setups, including a standard system that can disconnect the rear wheels for improved fuel efficiency, and a new twin-clutch AWD system. That simulates torque-vectoring via an active yaw-control algorithm, generating better power application in aggressive turns as well as inclement weather. Overall, it makes the Blazer a surprisingly sporty performer for a crossover.
The inline-four engine is perfectly adequate, with 193 hp, but the V6 kicks it up several notches to 305, which you’ll enjoy more in those turns with only a negligible 3 mpg penalty at the pump. Opting for the V6 will also jack up your towing capability from 1,500 pounds to 4,500 – the difference between a pair of jet-skis and a proper boat. The Blazer also brings a full complement of driver aids, including a trailer-hitch monitoring system that will ensure you’re lined up when attaching said boat or jet-skis, as well as the customary safety alerts and the optional adaptive cruise system.
The real magic of the Blazer, though, lies in its design. Its exterior is sleek and tough-looking, though in a thoroughly modern way that would be impossible to link back to the original Blazer. (In short: Don’t even bother. It ain’t there.) It definitely holds its own, though, and is plenty distinctive from its competition. This distinction resided primarily in the grill up front, which is masterfully executed for such an expansive presence, and the rear-end treatment. So it surprises you both coming and going. Will it develop the same following, years hence, as the original Blazer? Only time will tell, of course, but it’ll certainly develop a following today.
Verdict: If not necessarily a faithful revival of a storied badge, the Blazer still does its brand proud, offering a stable and capable package that’s smooth on the road and fun to drive across a variety of situations. It’ll likely steal plenty of eyes from the competition, and persist for a long time in Chevy’s lineup.
2019 Chevrolet Blazer Key Specs
Powertrain: 2.5-liter inline-four / 3.6-liter V6; 9-speed automatic, FWD or AWD
Torque: 188 lb-ft I4) / 269 lb-ft (V6)
Weight: 3,810 lbs (I4) / 4,107 lbs (V6)
Fuel economy: 20/26 FWD, 18/25 AWD
Price: From $29,995 for the Blazer L to $43,895 for the Blazer Premier
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