The name may be the same, but make no mistake: the 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer is no Blazer.
The mid-size, four-door Trailblazer sport utility vehicle is longer, wider and more powerful than the long-running Blazer. Its smoother riding and quieter, more expensive in price and is designed to fit between the Blazer and Chevy Tahoe in the Chevy lineup.
Perhaps most importantly, Chevy officials view the Trailblazer as a new, serious contender to Americas top-selling SUV -- the now-troubled Ford Explorer.
"Its a real SUV," said Russ Clark, Trailblazer brand manager.
Chevys traditional two-layer grille highlights the front end of the Trailblazer.
But the vehicles 191.6-inch length quickly confirms the Trailblazer is more Explorer size than Blazer size. The 2002 Explorer, which like the Trailblazer is an early model year introduction, is 189.5 inches long and is classified as a mid-size SUV. The Blazer, which dates back to 1983, is a compact and is 183.3 inches long.
The Trailblazer and Explorer have the same 71.9-inch height, dwarfing the Blazers 64.2-inch profile.
Widthwise, the Trailblazer bests not only the Blazer and Explorer but the Jeep Grand Cherokee as well.
The result of all this is a roomy, five-person interior that is impressive in several dimensions. For example, the Trailblazer offers more front headroom and legroom than the Blazer, Explorer and Grand Cherokee, helping to make large-sized drivers comfortable. But even someone my size, 5 feet 4, can ride and drive with comfort, too, on the Trailblazers wide and well-cushioned seats.
In the second-row seats, the Trailblazer has more headroom than the Blazer and Explorer and about the same as in the Grand Cherokee.
Cargo space at the back isn't lacking, either. There's 39.8 cubic feet of space behind the Trailblazers second row seats and 80.1 cubic feet if those seats are folded down. Both figures are comparable to those of the competitors.
Note that the Trailblazer doesn't offer third-row seating -- yet.. Chevy officials said that rather than try to shoehorn in that third seat, they plan on reworking the Trailblazer a bit and putting in the extra seat in about a year.
Ford, too, had to re-engineer its Explorer to accommodate the extra seat. For 2002, Ford chose to change the rear suspension to an independent short/long-arm configuration, which lowered the vehicle floor by some 7 inches, allowing for the placement of a usable third seat.
The Trailblazer, whose siblings are the 2002 GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, sticks with the more traditional SUV suspension of a solid axle at the back. The front suspension uses a double A arm.
But the real improvement in handling and ride comes from the new, stiffer chassis on which these new SUVs ride as well as the use of rack-and-pinion steering. Usually, rack-and-pinion steering is found on cars, not truck-like vehicles. The Blazer, for example, has a recirculating ball steering system.
The test Trailblazer LTZ with four-wheel drive handled city streets with surprising ease -- surprising because the vehicle felt so large. I sat up quite high, looking down on minivans and the like. I noticed the turning circle is compact, too, at just 36.4 feet. This compares with 37.4 feet in the Grand Cherokee.
But watch when you try to parallel park. The Trailblazers rear liftgate doesn't provide a good view of the vehicle right behind. In trying to get into a tight spot by the curb, I finally jumped out repeatedly to gauge just how close I was to the car behind me.
The best part of the Trailblazer is the new engine. Its not only new for Chevy, its new for parent company General Motors Corp.
Rather than the traditional V-shaped six cylinder, GM chose an inline design. Powertrain officials said inline engines are "inherently balanced," providing a smoothness in their operation that reduces vibration.
The 4.2-liter Vortec 4200 six in the Trailblazer is more than that, though. The first GM truck engine to use variable valve timing, its responsive and powerful -- so powerful its 270 horses top that of the competition, even the 235-horsepower V8 offered in the Grand Cherokee and the 240-horsepower V8 in the Explorer. The Vortec 4200 is the only engine offered in the Trailblazer.
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