Among the sea of pretend all-terrainers that are increasingly crowding the auto market, there is still a small group of genuinely off-road capable chariots that don’t throw their hands up in the air and chuck a hissy fit if you point them at sand dunes, boulders or river crossings.
If we’re talking medium-large SUVs, the list of legit all-terrainers would include the likes of the Toyota Prado and Fortuner, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Nissan Patrol Safari and Mitsubishi Montero Sport. These are all old-school, body-on-frame vehicles that eschew the car-like monocoque chassis (more refined, but less rugged) that underpin the vast majority of contemporary SUVs.
To the list above you could add the Chevrolet Trailblazer. On seeing the vehicle for the first time, photographer Antonie Robertson (who’s responsible for the accompanying image you see here) remarks that it looks like a Stars-and-Stripes version of the Fortuner. Given the Chevy badge, he’s not wrong, although the Trailblazer is actually built in General Motors’ Thailand plant.
The Trailblazer has a bona-fide UAE connection, too, because the current (second-generation) vehicle made its world debut in concept form at the 2011 Dubai International Motor Show. Although it’s now been around for five years, the Trailblazer has received a facelift and spec upgrade to keep buyer interest alive against newer opposition.
While the profile and rear end of the Chevy are pretty much as before, the face has been smartened up appreciably via a revamped grille fascia and more streamlined headlight clusters. It looks decent enough, if a little anonymous. Don’t expect any double-takes from bystanders.
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In any case, image is not what the Trailblazer is about. It’s a tough, utilitarian SUV that’s designed to haul seven occupants across deserts, mountains and – within reason – whatever terrain stands in its path. Its go-anywhere capability is largely down to its tough ladder-frame chassis (shared with various Isuzu pick-ups) and part-time four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing – unlike most crossover SUVs that feature torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive systems that aren’t fit for anything more arduous than gravel tracks.
While the Trailblazer operates as conventional rear-drive vehicle on tarmac, you can select low- or high-range four-wheel-drive via a twist knob next to the gear lever as soon as you venture off the beaten track. Do that and you will find the Chevy is handy in the rough stuff. There’s enough ground clearance to keep it from getting snagged on most obstacles, and its low-range gearing makes it suited to crawling over boulders and through mud baths.
The downside of the Trailblazer’s truck-based chassis is that it drives like, er, a truck. The steering is woolly and its handling ponderous. Performance from the 3.6-litre engine is on the wheezy side, and the motor also sounds a bit agricultural.
On the plus side, the range-topping LTZ I am testing comes loaded with kit, including an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, Chevrolet MyLink and Apple CarPlay phone integration, seven-speaker sound system, 18-inch alloys, front and rear park assist, front and underbody skid plate (four-wheel-drive only), forward collision alert, lane-departure warning and blind-spot alert.
If your driving regimen comprises nothing more than trawling around town, perhaps steer yourself towards more car-like seven-seaters, such as the Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento et al. However, if off-roading is on the menu, the Trailblazer stacks up as a viable contender, offering a credible mix of all-terrain capability and cosseting mod-cons.