Pros: Lots of options; power to spare; optional 5.3 liter V8; comfortable ride and quiet interior.
Cons: Bland interior style on the LS; too much platform sharing; and gas mileage isn't great.
Please note: The photo is not a 2005 Trailblazer. For those who are able, please update the pics (pull down the Chevy Avalanche and put up a TB). Thanks!!
(UPDATES AT BOTTOM OF REVIEW)
On with the original review:
Anyone out there with a teenage daughter just about to get her driver's license?? Better yet, anyone out there have to share a vehicle with a teenager who just got her license???
Faced with that very prospect, I decided it would be better to avoid the power struggle altogether. She'll inherit the little 1998 Contour (MKaresh will be happy with the choice of keeping the '98 'Tour - even if it is only the I4), and my wife and I went out to buy a gently used vehicle from my brothers in the car business.
I do quite a bit of driving because of my work these days and the mountains of PA in the winter are pretty wild. I had my heart set on a car with AWD or traction/stability program, or an SUV.
So we get to the dealership and there are a few nice vehicles to pick from. A Chrysler 300 (base) with ESP; Escapes, Trailblazers and a few Tahoes. All of them in my price range, all with original warranties and all of them something I can see myself driving for 4 - 5 years.
I haven't owned a Chrysler product since my 1985 Plymouth Voyager. And, the 2.7 liter - though adequate to move the car along the road - was a bit anemic from stop to go. Plus, I don't know yet whether they've addressed the 'engine sludge' issue with this engine (I don't think they included the 2.7 in their 2006 line-up). Finally, the 300 wouldn't handle the Pennsylvania winters as well as the others.
Mid-way through looking at the other three vehicles, my oldest brother pulls me in to his office and asks the question, "Why are you looking at used?"
While I'm explaining my reasoning to him (lots of miles, cost, warranties), he's punching up the numbers on a new Trailblazer LS on his computer. In classic car salesman style, he makes the pitch for the new TB over the used SUV's they had on the lot. Leasing a new TB is the same or less as the cost of financing a used SUV, I'd get a longer warranty, and I'm not buying someone elses problems.
Hmmmmm.... uhhhhh, wellllll..... Okay, I'll take the new SUV.
The 2005 Trailblazer LS. With the 1SB package, Sun and Sound and a couple other niceties, the SUV came pretty well equipped.
Sisters to the TB include the GMC Envoy, the Buick Rainier, and the upcoming Saab 9-7x. The Saab will be a bit more pricey, and will come with upscale interior materials and a better suspension than the others. Even Isuzu offers a variation on this theme with the Ascender.
The Trailblazer comes in 4x2 and 4x4; regular and extended (EXT); LS and LT packaging (no more LTZ??). Up until this year, the only engine available is the 4.2 liter, inline 6 cylinder that cranks out 275 horsepower and 275 f/p of torque. New for 2005, the TB offers the optional 5.3 liter, displacement on demand (DoD), V8 in the EXT.
The V8 cranks 300 hp and 330 f/p of torque. The DoD is a new variation of an old song. It runs off 4 cylinders and enables the other four as needed. It actually helps with gas mileage and supposedly the driver doesn't feel the change from 4-banger to 8.
The 5.3 liter helps move the EXT down the road quicker, especially when there's a boat trailer in tow. But, the 4.2 liter is no slouch at all.
The TB's base engine is head-and-shoulders ahead of comparably equipped Ford and Chrysler products. The Ford Explorer XLS, with the 4.0 liter 6 cyl. SOHC, pushes 210 hp/254 fp of torque; while the Jeep Grand Cherokee's base engine, the 3.7 liter 6 cyl. SOHC, develops 210 horses and 235 fp of torque.
The Jeep offers a 5-speed shiftable automatic standard, while the Chevy and Ford both offer the 4-speed auto.
The three different SUV's above have substantially similar stats (price points, wheelbase, length, height, capacity and utility). They're the traditional "American brands" that we want to buy in order to keep our economy strong (I know, Toyo et. al. may assemble vehicles in the US, but they still do nothing for the country's GNP).
The Trailblazer is slightly taller and wider than the other three. It offers better front headroom, as well as substantially more legroom in the front and rear. The TB comes in a strong second on towing capacity at 6,100 lbs The Jeep specs say that it'll handle 7,200 lbs; but, even with the extra gear, given it's limited hp/torque I wouldn't count on it responding well under that kind of stress.
I like going through the spectrum from what I hate about a product up to what I absolutely love. So, with that, try these on for size:
What I Hate -
Nothing really jumps out here. If there's something to hate, it's that I can see this basic platform (strong as it is) in five different brands. I understand the need to share platforms in order to keep costs at a minimum and quality predictably good. But, geeze-oh-man, FIVE different incarnations is probably overkill.
What I Don't Like -
* The TB seems to need higher revs to crank out the horses and torque and is geared as a truck. So, gas mileage is a real shocker (especially after driving a Ford Windstar and a 4-cyl. economy car).
They say the 4.2 liter will give up 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway (the 5.3 liter V8, with the DoD, will deliver slightly less gas mileage, but still a respectable 14 city, 19 highway). I know it's best to keep a light foot, but it just feels so good mashing the accelerator into the floor.
* A second complaint: The back seating area is more than a little bland.
The seats back there are comfortable enough. They also offer some decent flexibility by folding flat for more cargo space. And, I like the vent control set up that allows the passengers in the back to adjust airflow.
But, as far as it goes, the back seats are a big YAWN. They function well, but that's about it.
What I Don't Care About -
* The blandness doesn't stop in the back seat. Overall, the interior functions very well, but there's just something missing. The front passenger area on the base LS will likely be a bit too blah for most buyers. The LT is punched up a bit, but it might take some aftermarket tinkering for anyone to sit in the front seat of an LS and go, "Wow!"
I moved it up to "don't care" from "don't like" because it isn't as bad, in my opinion, as the back seating area.
* Also in the "don't care" qualifies as more of a caution than a complaint. It's true that drivers will sit higher and get a better view of the road ahead. But, new SUV drivers should take some time getting used to the blind spots and difference in 360 degree viewing from the driver's seat.
I caught myself more than once with a compact car sitting in "the pocket" on my left or right. Take more time and look around - Those new to SUV's shouldn't trust the sideview mirrors until after logging substantial time behind the wheel.
What I Like -
* The TB has a dial setup to change from 2WD - Hi (normal driving), to Auto 4WD (for varying conditions it will kick the 4x4 on when needed), to either 4WD - Hi (when driving in consistantly deep kimchee), or 4WD - Lo (pulling/hauling). The Autotrac system light bleeps for a few seconds, then stays on in the new drivetrain setting - that's it.
* Ergonomically, the driver's seat in the Trailblazer is great. When I sit down in the driver's seat and I lay my hands down (left on the wheel, right on the center console), they go right where they should. All the dials, displays and gauges are where they should be - easily read and within comfortable reach.
* This puppy can get up and run! I like that when I get on the gas there is ample power for highway on ramps and passing lanes.
* Unlike its sisters, the Trailblazer has an unrefined, muscular look to it. The Ascender looks strikingly low-budget, while the Envoy, Rainier and 9-7x look like they're more at home at a country club, not in the country. The TB has a "bring it on" look to it.
Though I don't like the way the front facia is executed on the Silverado or the Equinox, the big face looks truly natural on the Trailblazer.
* The interior noise is minimal except for occasions when you want to hear it (mashing the accelerator). And, the ride, while a bit bouncey (I'd venture to say that all REAL SUV's have a little 'bounce' to them), is solid and predictable.
What I Love -
* Options, options, options. I love the fact that the TB comes with so many option levels. The invoice price of a 2WD with standard options is around $23,000; while a fully optioned LT - EXT brings an MSRP of a little more than $42,000. That's a huge range of options for every pocketbook.
For myself, the "Sun and Sound" package is great. Power sunroof, XM, Bose stereo with 6-disc in-dash changer, On-star, integrated phone.
(On-star now comes with every Traiblazer off the lot and one year trial use)
* I love knowing I got a great deal. I got more truck (power, room and utility), a lower overall cost of ownership, and better reliability than I would had I bought the Ford or the Jeep.
Sure, the Ford is the number one selling SUV on the market; and, the Jeep is a "trail rated" SUV of the Year (Motor Trend, I think). Both will even get slightly better frontal crash ratings than the TB (with the Jeep scoring the best of the bunch on all the NHTSA tests).
But, dang-it, it's just "more truck" than the other two.
It was the first new vehicle that I bought for myself since 1985. Sure I've been married, we got two new minivans (for my wife or for family hauling). This purchase was just for me: A new back-and-forth machine that nobody else drives. It had to be a good one because it's not going to happen again for another 4 - 5 years.
The Trailblazer is a solid choice. It's an SUV with emphasis on "U" - lots of utility and it's fun to drive to boot.
Here's a 2,500-mile report on the Trailblazer.
The truck hums along happily and I'm learning how to be sparing in my use of the accelerator. C'mon - $3/gallon of regular gas... If the TB wasn't such a solid operator, I'd be kicking myself harder for buying a truck that only gets 15 city/20 hwy.
Speaking of gas mileage, I'm told that mileage will improve as the engine is broken in over the first 10K miles. The first service is coming up and I'm considering going to MobileOne synth oil. My father-in-law swears by it. Yes, it's more expensive; but, this is a truck I'm going to keep for years. It's worth it.
With any luck, I'll squeeze another mile per gallon out of it.
Driving-wise, the truck is a very satisfactory, pleasant ride. Other descriptives fit here too: competant, predictable, comfortable, and confident.
The driver's seating position is excellent. But, the seat itself could use a little more cushion and a lot more lateral support.
The XM/6-disc Bose stereo is one of the bright spots with the TB. The XM gets a little frustrating when the signal fades out in valleys and parking garages. But, I really enjoy the commute to work these days.
I keep the comedy channel on all the way to the office and can be seen sitting in stop-and-go traffic on the interstate LAUGHING my keester off. It looks like I'm a little (okay, a lot) nutty.
So, beyond wanting better gas mileage, I'm very happy so far. Next report will be at 10K miles. I should be most of the way through a Pennsylvania winter by then.
THE FIRST 10,000 MILES:
After an unseasonably warm winter, it's difficult to give the TB a full vetting. I can count on one hand the number of snowstorms we had this year. And, while I know the winter isn't over yet, we'll probably only see one more storm before the end of the season.
The Trailblazer is a 4x4 in the traditional, truck sense. That is, the four wheel drive system is relatively unsophisticated.
In 2WD mode, the power is sent to the back tires. In A4WD, the vehicle will sense the rear wheels slipping (traveling at a higher speed) than the front, and distribute power between the front and rear tires. And, in 4WD, you get all-the-time power distribution between the front and back.
If you are looking for a more car-like experience - either in its suspension or power distribution - then the TB isn't for you. Look for an AWD and construction on an automobile platform.
So, what happened during those snow storms? Hehehe... Those were a joy - and not just any kind of fun. We're talking fun in the 'red-neck, yeehaaaw, I ain't gittin' stuck fer nuthin' sense of the word.
It's about this time of year - as the snow is melting away and thoughts of spring's return - that I miss my little Contour. The ride in the TB is a bit bouncy and not nearly as relaxing on the long haul as the 'tour was.
Still, I went into the deal knowing that I wanted a truck-like SUV. The TB is well dressed, and full of utility.
20,000 Mile Report:
It's the end of summer and I've gone a few thousand miles over the 20K mark. There are some things I wish the truck would do better; the thing that sticks out the most in my mind is seat comfort.
It makes sense to have a seat without too much side bolstering to prevent the driver from pushing into the curves too hard. That said, I wish the seats were a little more comfortable - more seat padding and more side bolster is needed.
Funny, I sat in the H3 recently and couldn't help but ask myself why my TB didn't have seats like those. Full, bolstered, comfy - I felt like I could sit in it all day.
Other things: She squeeks a little more with 20K on her - not anything to the point of annoyance, but I hear it; and, now that I'm starting to close in on 30K, I wonder what tires are going to cost me for this big ol' water buffalo. LOL
I'm not sure what people are talking about when they question the reliability of the TB and its siblings. I've not had a single problem in 20K miles.