Pros: Strong, reliable, good looks and decent build quality. Fair gas mileage.
Cons: Poor workmanship in door moldings and wiring, awkward rear entry, no hood supports
Why buy an SUV?
In September of 2005, I was in a position to change my transportation options, primarily involving how I got myself to work. Due to company cutbacks, I would have to foot the entire parking bill in downtown Portland, if I were to continue driving to work. So, I opted to switch to using Portland's light rail system, MAX. As a result I was saving about $300 a month in gas and parking fees, and rarely driving my car, a 2004 Cadillac CTS.
Now, I loved the CTS, but when practicality kicks in I'm usually a sucker for it. My sixteen year old was about to get her license and my wife was driving a 2003 Santa Fe to work every day. The CTS just wasn't needed anymore and I didn't want to continue to pay for it and the necessary insurance. My wife wanted to continue driving the Santa Fe and suggested I sell the CTS, which I did. At about the same time, a friend decided to sell his sailboat just when I was suggesting sailing lessons as a Christmas gift for myself. So, my wife agreed I should get the boat instead since I was disposing of the Caddy.
Now, I had a new problem. The boat is trailer-able and has to be hauled out every winter, so I need a way to pull it. The Santa Fe doesn't have the towing capability required, so suddenly I'm wondering what I'm going to do. That's when I decided to talk my wife out of the Santa Fe and into a larger SUV which would provide the smaller Santa Fe for my teenager.
Amazingly my wife fell for it and authorized me to begin my search. Considering that I was suddenly under some time constraints since the boat had to be hauled out before the end of October, so I began the quest in earnest. I have never been a Ford or Nissan fan, but felt I needed to give these an honest chance. as a result I priced and tested the new Ford Explorer, Nissan Armada, Dodge Durango, Isuzu Ascender, GMC Envoy, and Chevy Trailblazer. I looked at the Toyota 4Runner, Highlander and Sequoia and Honda Pilot as well.
Finally, after about 2 weeks, I had narrowed my (our) choices down to the Ford Explorer or Chevy Trailblazer. I was leaning in both directions, but really liked the beefy new in-line six cylinder on the Chevy vs. the antiquated Duratec V6 on the Ford. On the other hand I preferred the six speed automatic on the Ford vs. the older four speed auto on the Chevy. To make this long story shorter, my wife was summoned to take a test drive in each and make her choice. From her perspective, the Chevy was hands down a better commuting SUV. So, we bought a 2006 LT version of the Trailblazer (LT because I was spoiled by the Caddy).
Now to get to the heart of this review:
What's good about the 2006 Trailblazer?
A very strong and efficient engine in the 4.2 liter straight
six. A completely new engine introduced in 2002, it incorporates variable valve tuning, an aluminum alloy block and head along with other modern technical improvements. Developing 291 HP and 277 lb of torque over a very flat power band, when combined with the standard 4 speed automatic and highest level towing package, it can tow up to 6200 pounds.
Seating position and comfort are very good. Ours came with adjustable pedals, driver position memory controls and a tilt adjustable steering wheel. Our sample has leather seating with seat and back warmers and the front seats are very comfortable on short and long trips. The leather seems to be a pretty good quality, not too stiff or too thin. A power lumbar control is included, but I use it only a touch as it seems a bit too much like a firm-handed masseuse for my liking. I really appreciate the driver memory system. Simply set up the seat, pedals and outside mirrors to your liking, press the 1 or 2 button on the door just above the door latch for 3 seconds, till it beeps, and you are set. Next time another driver uses the car before you, just press your number as you're getting in and everything except the wheel tilt and rear view mirror return to where you like them. Various steering wheel controls allow you to change stereo volume, radio stations, CD tracks, use OnStar hands free calling as well as adjust and view trip meters, computed gas mileage, oil life and so on. These all took a while to get used to after the CTS, which has a much more intuitive design, I think.
Interior fit and finish are very good, with a few exceptions (noted in the "What's no so good" section below).
The overhead console, ceiling material and door panels are more solid and better attached than earlier versions of this newer version of Trailblazer.
Gas mileage has been about what we expected, averaging 16 mpg or short trips and around town to about 20 mpg on longer trips. I haven't taken the TB on a long enough trip to evaluate it's highest mpg abilities, but I'm assuming I can expect at least 22 mpg on 300 mile or more highway trip.
This vehicle is also fairly quiet on the highway, with very little mechanical noise from the drive-train and a not unreasonable amount of wind noise.
The spare tire is stowed under the rear cargo area, just behind the rear axle, and is released via a jack screw on the cargo floor at the door sill. There is a fair amount of storage space under the floor for tools and emergency stuff, and the cover secures well, but this area could stand some improvement with compartmenting.
Rear seating is good and pretty roomy feeling, as well as proving good thigh and back support. You don't feel as if you are sitting on a bench and the 2/3 power windows do come all the way down. The rear cargo area is accessible through the liftgate window or by lifting the entire back door. Storage is pretty good even though you don't get a truly flat floor with the seats pulled forward and down. Cargo area is excellent with the rear seat left upright and expands by about 90% with the 60/40 seat folded down.
Handling is much better than I thought initially. Although the Trailblazer will lean into a sharp turn, it quickly arrives at what seems like a nominal angle and stiffens up very well so that excessive lean never occurs. Once you are familiar with how this rig behaves on switchbacks and the twisties outside of town, it turns out to be at least as adept as most family sedans with sporting pretensions. Steering feedback is fair, but the TB is pretty responsive to driver input.
What's not so good?
This engine and transmission combination work very well together, but the gearing is spaced farther apart than I like and the vehicle lugs a bit on upgrades unless you are already accelerating when you approach them. I would have liked to have seen at least a five speed transmission in this mid-sized SUV. When trailering, you'll find you need to punch the gas pedal in order to climb a steep freeway on-ramp which results in a not so graceful downshift and a rather noisy response from the engine. However, it DOES haul!
Cheap interior bits are a problem for me. The most glaring ones are the transmission shifter and emergency brake handle boots. Chevy needs to use something better than rag leather or "pleather" for these. Dash inserts are cheap hard plastic, although the majority of the dash consists of better, softer plastic with a touch of grain. The shifter knob and outside mirror control on lower end models is very cheap looking and feeling. The LT version improves on that a little with a meatier and better looking shift knob and a less wimpy appearing mirror control on the top forward portion of the driver's door panel. Other areas include sloppy wiring jobs both under the seats and under the hood. Chevy really needs to improve on this. Just because it's usually out of sight is no excuse for sloppy work, in my opinion.
Getting in and out of the front seats is a breeze, especially with running boards, but the rear seating area can be a little difficult getting in and out of due to the short doors and small door angles. Assisting a handicapped or older person into the rear seats can turn into a real chore as there is no room to turn or twist around.
One other problem I didn't notice until the paperwork was finished: the windshield is slightly distorted. I notice this more on sunny days than the rainy ones, but it is somewhat distracting. It seems there is a ripple effect about 2/3 of the way down from the roof. I do plan to address this, but expect the Northwest's infamous road gravel (used to help people get traction on snow and ice) to require a windshield replacement before then. make sure you look for this since it may or may not be typical.
Last month, our Trailblazer experienced a significant problem: the driver's door module quit working. This disabled the driver's power window, door lock, all four window locks and driver's seat heater. While this was repaired under warranty, it took three days to get the part and have it installed. I was told this item runs about $600, so, including labor, out of warranty this would cost close to $1000.
We now have just over 50,000 miles on this vehicle. With the exception of the ignition switch going bad and having to be replaced ($200) and the intermittent glow of the check engine light (seems to be gas cap related) this vehicle is still very reliable and a pleasure to drive.