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Auto Test Drives

Chevy Trailblazer SS Combines 395HP with Good Handling and SUV Capabilities
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Aug 13, 2006, 16:14 PST
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If you had a motor that was a golden jewel, a prized feat of engineering, even perhaps a hero, wouldn't you want to display it proudly everywhere you could think of? Wouldn't you use it everywhere you could, especially if your family was lacking a reputation for greatness? Wouldn't you declare this engine's name from every mountaintop and sing its praises?

Well, Chevy does have such a motor in the LS2, prized for both its power and efficiency, not to mention stalwart simplicity. And they do spread the good news of its wonderfulness from mountaintops. And they do use it in a lot of places. It seems odd this didn't make it into the Impala SS, perhaps due to packaging issues, but it is put to very good use in the GTO. And now it finds its way into the Trailblazer SS. This beefy pushrod V8 is a symbol of all-American greatness and is displayed proudly in the frame of this hotrod SUV's engine bay. It is a great motor beyond the tradition of Chevy's great Super Sport badge, and certainly gives the Trailblazer the chops to earn tagging that famed moniker to its identity. The power, the robust low-end response, the throatiness and high rpm mechnical raciness of this LS2 shines as we knew it from the Corvette, just now weighed down by an extra half ton-plus. Off the line response is good, and once you clear 10 miles per hour this thing guns for glory. The Trailblazer SS thrusts powerfully to redline, gives way to a very truck-like shift, and motors on through the next gear.

 

 

Response under load is good though not so impressive as the nimble Vette. There is some hesitation to get kick-down, but then it jumps heavily down a gear or two as necessary and charges forward like the blade of a lumberjack's axe piercing the air. The thrust and the sound of Corvette fury moves you forward and fills your ears with a beautiful metal ballad, with explosive combustion accompaniment. It's a sound a classical music fan might not appreciate, but it is a chorus in the great hearty tradition of this free spirited nation. The power knows no pretense, it takes little prodding to get this LS2 to show its strength. The Trailblazer, once the match is struck, just blazes.

When the time comes to turn, one is reminded that the Trailblazer is tall. The suspension fights back with stiff springs and big anti roll bars. Steering is truck like with the large diameter steering wheel, good weighting and noticeably delayed response, but it is notably responsive considering what platform this started on. This is no slalom king yet it is nimble and fun to weave in and out of corners. It is driven at a different speed than a fun sedan, a speed which makes things seem more in control, except for that high degree of body roll.

 

 

Vehicle yaw inhibits driver yawn, especially when you get the back end to peak out when accelerating around a sweeping bend just before StabiliTrak kicks in. Even more yaw would make for more fun if one was daring enough to hold down the traction control off button found on the auto tranny's gear selector for several seconds, thereby fully disabling traction control (but not StabiliTrak completely). On our road test we found normal operating modes sufficiently exciting.

The design of the exterior well states the feel of the Trailblazer. Larger air inlet ducts at the front and the use of attractive mesh which many associate with performance for its common use on modern sports consumer vehicles. Aggressively flared fenders hint at large wheels and tires, which mean lots of rubber put to the road and lots of grip for putting down accelerative, braking and cornering forces. The shapes are attractive and exciting, not sexy or outrageous; this is reflective of the driving experience.

The interior is a lot less wonderful. Outgoing Chevy style, not caught up with the attention spent to beautifying new Chevy sedans, makes this categorized with the rest of the Chevy trucks. The placement of controls is good and their behavior in operation is also good. The quality of construction is good, structural integrity is high, although fitment is not much better than the aesthetic values of the cockpit.

 

 

Form could follow function in a more attractive way, but this would raise costs in a way which might bring hte Trailblazer tag outside the desired range. That's fine. The bloody thing's got 395 horsepower. Gun it. You'll forget about the plastics and uninspired shapes. It has Chevrolet guts and value written all over it. It is like all Chevy vehicles, in that it keeps costs down and focuses on performing its duties particularly well. It is not as pretty as the Corvette, but its smoothed blocky appearance serves it well as a fierce SUV.

This is one of the best expressions of the Chevy super sport moniker. The Cobalt SS supercharged pleased with its tire spinning torque, smooth operation and nimble handling. The Malibu Maxx SS is a good, affordable wagon with a tuned-up suspension and powertrain affording a comfortably fun family sporting vehicle. The Trailblazer extends this into SUV territory, with suspension not over the top, but a motor ready to take all comers (even if the Cherokee SRT8 has a few more ponies). It's fast, it's relatively cheap, and it'll haul the kids, the groceries and the fishing boat all the way up the mountain with LS2 gusto. This is a good way to roll.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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