Can you imagine a Chevrolet Camaro on stilts? Go on, picture it in your mind. If you’ve done that, you’re probably visualising something that looks a bit like this — the all-new Blazer, especially in sporty RS trim.
The newcomer — which reprises a nameplate that’s been in mothballs since 2005 — is designed to slot into the bowtie brand’s burgeoning SUV line-up between the compact Equinox and the seven-seat Traverse. Company execs say the Blazer will be pitched primarily against the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge when it lands here in June, but they’re also hoping to pinch a few sales from premium offerings such as the Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX, Range Rover Evoque and Volkswagen Touareg.
The Blazer shares its C1XX platform with the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5, but the Chevy is expected to be the volume-seller of this trio, especially in its US domestic market. The Blazer is being touted more for its funky styling and on-road dynamism than any serious off-road credentials, and this is any case is more in line with what’s sought by the vast majority of today’s SUV shoppers.
The mid-size crossover will be offered with a choice of 2.5-litre four-cylinder power and a 3.6-litre V6 — the former will be available only in front-wheel-drive format, while the latter can be had with AWD and front-drive (but only in the RS). There will be five broad trim levels: 1LT Cloth 2.5 FWD (Dh116,900), 2LT Cloth 3.6 AWD (Dh135,900), 3LT Leather 3.6 AWD (Dh146,900), RS 3.6 FWD or AWD (Dh156,900) and Premier 3.6 AWD (Dh172,900).
The entry-level 2.5-litre four-pot ekes out 193bhp and 255Nm, propelling the Blazer from 0-100kph in a claimed 10.1sec. We didn’t get to drive this variant at the launch, but our feeling is that this motor would have its work cut in hauling around the Blazer, which weighs a hefty 1,728kg in basic four-cylinder FWD configuration.
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If you can afford the extra outlay (and steeper monthly fuel bills), you’d probably want to opt for the 3.6-litre V6, which serves up substantially beefier outputs of 305bhp and 368Nm, enabling the FWD (RS only) Blazer to scoot to 100kph in 6.7sec, with the AWD variant taking 7.8sec. In case you’re wondering why the all-paw Blazer is over a second slower, Chevrolet execs say it’s because it weighs over 100kg more. A nine-speed auto is standard across the range, as having a transmission stacked with multiple ratios is nowadays becoming the norm for carmakers as they seek to minimise fuel consumption.
Our first taste of the Blazer takes place at the regional launch in Lebanon, with the drive route taking us out of the mildly chaotic confines of Beirut and up into the Chouf District nestled in the upper reaches of Mount Lebanon. The drive turns into a crawl during the initial climb up into the hills as the road is jammed with thousands of Kurds, who are heading into the mountains for a weekend excursion to celebrate Newroz (the first day of spring).
Thankfully, the Blazer is a pleasant and non-taxing chariot to pedal under pretty much any conditions, and even our tedious stop-start progress doesn’t faze the car, nor me and my co-driver. The 3.6-litre V6 and nine-speed auto work well in tandem, serving up smooth effortless progress whether trundling along at a snail’s pace or haring up a mountain road at a brisk clip. This engine/transmission combo is also used in the Traverse, but it’s altogether more impressive in the lighter, more compact Blazer.
As a whole, the Blazer is a more entertaining vehicle to pedal than its larger sibling, with surprisingly nimble handling and crisp, well-weighted steering. Road surfaces are patchy in Lebanon, but ride quality never deteriorates to the point of discomfort, even on the 20in rims that our vehicle is shod with (Blazer rim sizes range from 18 to 21in).
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However, what does detract from the experience is the acres of cheap plastic trim that makes up the dashboard, centre console and inner door panels. It’s a disappointing let-down in a vehicle that’s otherwise well executed. This alone could cost it sales, given that the Blazer’s cabin ambience lags behind not just the Japanese, Korean and Euro brands, but also its Ford and Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge compatriots. The other two who make up the ‘Big Three’ in the US have dramatically lifted their game in the cabin department over the past decade, but Chevrolet doesn’t seem to have received the memo.
That said, kit levels aren’t too bad, as the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system is standard across the range with a user interface via an 8.0in HD touchscreen. With functionality that mimics popular apps and smartphones, Chevrolet claims this is its most seamless infotainment system to date. Safety features available on LT, RS and Premier trims include Lane Change Alert with Side Blind Zone Alert, rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Rear Park Assist. RS and Premier trims also offer following distance indicator, forward collision alert, adaptive cruise control and front pedestrian braking.
The trump card that might prompt many buyers to fork over their cash for a Blazer is the Chevy’s bold, aggressive styling, which sets it apart from competitors that sit on the staid end of the scale — with the exception of Ford’s tautly proportioned Edge ST. The Blazer obviously looks most striking in RS trim, with its blacked-out grille and jet-black rims, enabling it leverage off the halo effect of its Camaro stablemate. Even lesser Blazers models have a strong visual presence, with all variants equipped with HID headlamps, LED daytime running lights and LED taillights.
The Blazer is strong on practicality, too, as there’s ample knee and headroom in the rear seats, while the luggage bay can swallow 864 litres of cargo with all the pews in place (602 litres for the Ford Edge, 712 litres for Jeep Grand Cherokee). Folding the rear seats down expands the quota to 1,818 litres (1,788 litres for the Edge, 1,267 litres for Grand Cherokee), so it’s a suitable workhorse for Ikea excursions.
Obviously, the Grand Cherokee is far more off-road capable than the Blazer, which was conceived as an urban warrior, rather than a dune destroyer. Clearly, if you plan on regular forays to the back of beyond, then the Blazer is not the vehicle you should be looking at. Tellingly, there wasn’t even a token off-road element as part of the regional launch drive, and this is reflective of how these vehicles are used nowadays… ie solely on the blacktop.
The Blazer’s strengths lie in its sharp styling, crisp on-road dynamics and spacious living quarters.
The only glaring shortcoming is the plastic-fantastic (not) cabin.