There's a new generation of small SUVs that are offering great performance from small, fuel-efficient engines. The popular Ford Escape and some trims of the new Ford Bronco Sport both offer a 1.5-liter turbo engine while the Jeep Renegade offers a 1.3-liter unit. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and all the economy import brands offer something similar and in general, these are attractive vehicles offered at affordable prices.
Chevrolet's entry in the subcompact SUV space is the all-new Trailblazer introduced for the current model year. The Trailblazer is a bit larger than the Chevy Trax, and it also carries a starting price $2,400 lower than the Trax. Beyond that, it's a much better-looking SUV, with an up-to-date and capable demeanor.
In the base front-wheel-drive trim, the Trailblazer carries a 1.2-liter turbo engine, but most trims use a 1.3-liter turbo with 155 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. The best news is that the 1.3-liter engine is paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission instead of the continuously variable unit used with the 1.2-liter engine. All-wheel-drive is optional, and well worth the extra expense. The combination of the plucky little turbo engine and nine gears delivers lively performance. You won't ever feel like you're in a gutless penalty box with the Trailblazer.
Inside, the Trailblazer gives you a sporty and comfortable experience. There's plenty of room for a six-foot-tall driver or front passenger, and the seats are trimmed in a cool high-tech cloth with vinyl bolsters. Modern materials are so good that it's easy to mistake the leatherette for real leather. In the higher trims, the front seats are heated, which is nice in Portland's long cold seasons. The steering wheel is wrapped in actual leather in the higher trims, and that's optional on base trims. Behind the front seats, you can fit up to 54.4 cubic feet of cargo, which is impressive for a subcompact. There's plenty of room for camping gear or a trip to the big box store.
Another reason to choose the Trailblazer is its extensive menu of advanced driver assistance systems. Standard equipment on all Trailblazers includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian braking, following distance indicator, automatic high beams, a rear-view camera, keyless entry, and lane-keeping assistance. You can add adaptive cruise control, rear park assist, and a better rear-view camera.
On the dash, most trims feature an eight-inch touchscreen display, and a Bose audio system is either optional or included on higher trims. Apple and Android phone integration is supported, and the Technology Package adds wireless device charging.
On the road, the Trailblazer is easy to drive and convenient. The vehicle is tall enough that entry and exit are comfortable. There's plenty of interior space, so you're not bumping elbows with your passenger all the time. The suspension is firm without being harsh, and the driver's seat includes lumbar support. Engine power is well-matched to the vehicle, with plenty of power to get on the freeway or make a pass. The steering and braking are predictable and crisp.
With all that, Chevy's Trailblazer earned one of my highest ratings: I didn't want to give it back at the end of my one-week evaluation loan. If you are shopping for a new small SUV to celebrate the reopening of the world this summer, make sure you test drive the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer. Prices range from the ultra-affordable $19,000 base model to a little over $30,000 for the fully-loaded RS sport trim.
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer
Base price: $19,000
Price as tested: $30,730
Type: Subcompact SUV
Engine: 1.3-liter turbo (155 hp, 174 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 26/30
Overall length: 173.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,240 pounds
Final assembly: Bupyeong, Korea
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