SUV Review: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer RS2019 Chevrolet Blazer RS AWDJil McIntosh
OVERVIEWThe Blazer returns as a whole different animal PROSDecent driver, comfortable interior CONSThirstier than the competition, a couple of cheap bits VALUE FOR MONEYIt’s impressive, but it gets pricey WHAT TO CHANGE?Let me turn off the idle-stop HOW TO SPEC IT?Id get the $43,300 True North
Thanks to the overwhelming popularity that crossovers and sport-utes enjoy these days, automakers are busy filling every size gap in their liftgate lineups. Thats the case at Chevrolet, where the new-for-2019 Blazer slides into a very thin slot between the slightly-smaller Equinox and somewhat-larger Traverse.
A Blazer for the times
Its not rough-n-tough and truck-based as the original Blazer was. Instead, the company opted for unibody construction and an all-wheel-drive system that predominantly drives the front tires. That marketing move initially surprised me, because I thought the name might be reserved for a smaller off-roader especially since Ford is bringing back its rival Bronco name on a truck base. Instead, while the new Blazer might not be what I expected, its very impressive and a well-rounded performer.
The entry model carries a 2.5-litre, 193-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and its strictly front-wheel drive. The four other trim levels all use a 3.6-litre V6 that makes 305 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines use a nine-speed automatic transmission. The base V6 model comes in front-wheel drive but can be optioned to all-wheel. The True North, RS, and the top-level Premier use a more sophisticated AWD system that sends torque to the rear and then splits it between the wheels as needed for better traction and handling.
Whats likely to be the biggest hurdle for buyers is that impressive doesnt come cheap. The lineup starts at $35,100 and finishes at $48,700, and thats before any options. My $46,300 RS was beefed up with a panoramic sunroof, 21-inch wheels, a block heater and wheel locks that took it to a hefty $49,320 before freight and taxes.
In addition to its gloss-black exterior styling cues, the RS also gets a specially tuned suspension and quicker steering ratio family haulers can be sporty too, it seems.
Im not entirely sold on the big-grille nose, apparently designed to draw comparisons to the Camaros front end, but the rest of the Blazer is handsomely styled, especially with its floating rear roofline and chiselled butt. The liftgate is hands-free on the RS, obediently opening when you kick your foot under it; to guide you, a light projects a Chevy bowtie on the ground at the right spot how cool is that?
Interior quality and practicality almost live up to the price tag
In keeping with that Camaro theme, the interior is similarly styled to that sports car. That means the handsome dash has a minimum of clutter, but while its climate system is operated by simple buttons, theyre too small and tucked away. However, I give top marks to the Camaro-style twin-turbine vents in the centre stack: you aim them by moving the centre button, open or close them by twisting it, and then you spin their big outer dials to change the temperature. Even so, there were a couple of spots where my tester seemed a little lacking in the face of its heftier price tag: the shifter and turn signal switch felt cheap and clunky.
Both the front and rear seats are roomy, and Chevy wisely resisted the urge to stuff in a third row. I took the Blazer on a three-hour drive, and the seats stayed comfy and supportive the whole way. At the rear, the RS includes a wonderfully useful cargo fence that slides back and forth to corral ones luggage or groceries, and which can be removed if the whole space is needed.
Power and poise to spare, but far from perfect in refinement
The V6 is just right for the job, with smooth acceleration and more than enough power for highway passing. The nine-speed automatic is also a very slick unit, and while some of these lots-of-gears transmissions can be a little overeager, hunting for gears or staying in the highest ones too long when you want a downshift, that never happened with the Blazer; engine and gearbox were always perfectly-matched.
It also handles remarkably well for a sport-ute: the steering is well-weighted, and it takes corners with sharp precision and very little body roll. The ride is smooth and well-controlled, and it proved to be a great choice as a comfy highway cruiser.
What I don’t like is that the Blazer is equipped with a fuel-saving idle-stop feature that shuts it off when you come to a stop, and while most automakers give you the option of temporarily disabling the system, the Blazer has no such switch. Yes, its for fuel economy, but I should be able to make the choice. And even with the unalterable idle-stop, the Blazers fuel figures put it a bit thirstier than most of its competitors.
The all-wheel-drive system increases the handling prowess as well as the traction, but its not automatic; theres a dial for switching from fuel-saving front-wheel drive to all-wheel traction. Its more for wet-weather and snowy traction, rather than rougher off-road stuff. Sport mode and tow-haul modes are also included, and the V6 Blazer can pull up to 4,500 lbs (2,041 kg) although I find the mirrors are a bit too small just for driving, never mind for towing.
Its not the cheapest on the market, nor the most fuel-efficient, but for driving performance and riding comfort, this new Blazer is very impressive. Its not the old Blazer, but thats definitely not a bad thing.