2021 Chevy Trailblazer AWD RS: Not your grandfather's SUV
With all the attention being paid to electric vehicles these days, it's hard to remember how much cars have already changed over the years to increase mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That includes gas-only vehicles, not just hybrids. And many of the changes have made them easier to live with, too.
Take the 2021 Chevy Trailblazer. The original Trailblazer was a truck-based midsize sport utility vehicle that got up to 20 mpg with its smallest available engine. The all-new Trailblazer is a subcompact car-like crossover that gets up to 33 mpg with its base engine. And although the current version is much smaller than the original, it still has an impressive amount of interior room.
Like the Trailblazer that debuted in 1999, the new one is available with all-wheel-drive, a desirable option in the rainy and occasionally snowy Pacific Northwest. And it can be ordered in multiple trim levels, including a sportier top-of-the-line version. For the 2021 version, that is the RS model that comes standard with the largest engine and AWD.
But, because things have changed so much, the largest engine isn't actually very big. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.2-liter inline three cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower. The optional engine is a turbocharged 1.3-liter inline three that cranks out 155 horsepower. Although they might not sound like much, it is reasonable because the new Trailblazer is so light — 4,409 pounds, fully loaded. That compares to the much larger original Trailblazer that required a V8 engine to feel at all spirited.
One tradeoff is off-road ability. Because the original Trailblazer was based on a midsize pickup, the AWD equipped version had decent ground clearance and could handle medium trails with ease. The AWD version of the new Trailblazer can tackle light trails, but is more designed for better traction during heavy rain and light snow on city streets, which is what most drivers actually care about.
Although new for 2021, the Trailblazer is mechanically the same as the Buick Encore GX that was first introduced last year. It is a slightly larger version of the Encore, which was arguably the first luxury subcompact to hit the market. The Trailblazer has bolder styling — including a more aggressive front end and a blockier rear end — but is otherwise largely the same. Despite that, all trim levels of the Encore GX are priced thousands more than the equivalent Trailblazers. The Encore GX might have more leather in the interior, but General Motors must assume most buyers aren't going to compare them.
Like the 2021 Encore GX we recently tested, our test Trailblazer AWD RS drove well around town and on the freeway. While the base engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission, the optional 1.3T is paired with a nine-speed automatic that takes full advantage of its limited power, making it feel peppier than it should. The ride is also very well controlled for such a small vehicle, minimizing giving it a surprisingly smooth ride despite its short wheelbase, even over bad streets.
The interior is well designed, with comfortable front bucket seats and controls that are easy to find and use. Available tech includes available Wireless Apple CarPlay and Wireless Android AutoT, which display certain features of your smartphone on the Chevy Infotainment 3 system. There is also an available wireless charging pad and available built-in Amazon Alexa.
The base Trailblazer L starts at under $20,000, which is even less the subcompact Chevy Trax, and our top-of-the-line version was just over $30,000, which is very reasonable considering everything it came with. Although not as big of the original Trailblazer, the new version is smarter and more environmentally sensitive, while still offering enough off-road ability for outdoor fun.
2021 Chevy Trailblazer AWD RS
Base price: $19,000 (L trim)
Price as tested: $30,730
Type: Subcompact Crossover SUV
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder (155 hp, 174 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 26/30
Overall length: 174 inches
Curb weight: 4,409 pounds
Final assembly: Bupyeong, Korea
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