Pros: decent power, roomy, low price of entry
Cons: quality seems a grade lower...resale value? what resale value? 17" OEM tires are awful
The subject of this review is a 2005 Trailblazer LT 4X4 with the LT Package 1 and the Sun and Sound package. I purchased this vehicle almost two years ago, while GM was running the employee discount promotion. I paid approximately $26,220 (including a $2500 cash rebate on top of the employee price) on an MSRP of $33,885.
During the time I've owned this vehicle, I've driven approximately 57,000 miles. While I like the vehicle and enjoy many aspects of it, I can't help but wonder if the changes that GM has made to it over the last couple of years have really been an improvement.
Let's start with the bad. I've had this vehicle in the repair shop at least seven times since I've bought it new, once on the back of a tow truck, once for electrical, three times for brakes and twice for tires.
My '03 Trailblazer uses regular 16" tires, while this "upgraded" '05 uses 17" Continental ContiTrac on/off road tires. I have replaced the tires on this '05 not once, not twice, but three times--at a staggering cost of nearly $800 each time. For reference, I note that I have changed the tires on my '03 (with 16s) once in almost 75,000 miles--at a far lower price. I expect that it will require new tires again at about 82,000 miles.
Brakes are another trouble spot. At about 25,000 miles, the pedal was pulsing terribly, and there was a horrible guttural grinding noise coming from the front passenger side of the car. I made a pit stop at the dealer to find out that the tie rod had broken and the right front caliper had seized up, which had rendered the front brakes in such disrepair that the entire front system had to be replaced--pads, rotors, calipers etc. Fortunately, this was covered under warranty so my cost out-of-pocket was nil.
At 32,000 miles, the entire transfer case (the component that controls the 4WD system) had to be replaced because there was a worn-out "something-or-other." How something "wears out" in less than 40,000 miles is beyond me, especially with the fanatical maintenance regimen I follow with all of my vehicles. The warranty of course covered this unfortunate little incident with no cost to me. Nonetheless, such a serious defect within the first year of ownership does not bode well.
At 38,000 miles, the front brake issue popped up again. Because the basic manufacturer's warranty had expired (apparently the Major Guard Protection Plan that I purchased doesn't cover brake or suspension parts), the dealership was loath to cover it, instead they tried to blame it on tire rotation(!?), until I threatened to call the regional GM office, at which point the service manager backed down and agreed to repair it free of charge to me.
At 46,000 miles, the brake pedal had resumed its usual grinding and pulsating routine, thanks to a warped set of front rotors. Had the previous issues with the brakes not happened, I wouldn't be complaining, but knowing that the rotors had only 12,000 miles on them, I was steamed. Fortunately, the dealer remembered the last time I came in, and agreed to cover it with no questions asked.
At 48,400 miles, my Trailblazer had to ride on the back of a tow truck from my office when it refused to start one afternoon. The diagnosis was a seized up starter, which was replaced free of charge under the service contract.
At 52,000 miles, the transmission had begun to slip very badly and had to be completely replaced. The dealership tried to persuade me to accept a rebuilt transmission, but I refused and pushed for a brand new unit. By this point, the Major Guard plan that I purchased for approximately $2,400 had paid for itself numerous times.
And that, in a nutshell, is the repair history on my '05 Trailblazer. At least the major stuff. Every time it has been in the shop, I've always had other, minor work done such as a broken compass, sticking climate control unit, sunroof that jumped the track, et cetera, in addition to my oil changes, tire rotations, and the like.
So, I would have to say that I'm trying to make the following points:
1. If you don't have the patience for a car that is constantly broke, don't buy this car.
2. If you don't have the money to spend on a car that constantly needs maintenance, don't buy this car.
3. If you don't fit either one of the above and are intent on buying this car, make sure you purchase an extended service plan that will save your wallet from assured ruin when the warranty runs out, and make sure to save money for brakes and tires.
4. If you fit into the category of #3, be advised that you can probably buy any number of other vehicles for the same kind of money that will probably be far more hassle-free.
That being said, I do like many different aspects about this car. I like the size of the car--its not too big and not too small, the back seat can comfortably hold people, and the front seats have plenty of space to move around.
I also like (when it works) the powertrain of the car. Although it might be nice to have a five-speed automatic or even a six-speed (like the new GMC Acadia), the 4.2-liter six-cylinder has plenty of power and gets decent fuel economy (I average about 17 split evenly between city and highway), and when combined with the 4-speed automatic puts out more than enough power. I can accelerate to sixty miles per hour in well under ten seconds, and pull a good-sized boat with no difficulty whatsoever.
The ride and handling is still more than serviceable, although now in 2007 seems a little out-of-date and eclipsed by the newer, car-based crossovers (think Acadia, Veracruz). Don't misunderstand me--its still a well-handling vehicle for what it is, its just that other alternatives exist now that didn't necessarily exist a few years ago.
The cabin design is still current in my book, with controls that are all well-labeled and placed--although many vehicles have passed it by in terms of material quality. Hard plastics still abound and soft-touch surfaces are almost nil. Even metallic accents (all the rage now) are few and far between and are limited to some chrome tape on the shift button and the door handles. Beware of this chrome tape, by the way, because when it peels, it becomes ultra-sharp and can shred your finger when you go to put the car in reverse.
It's kind of sad that I had this experience with what is basically a decent vehicle, especially considering how much I liked my first Trailblazer. I still like my '05 even though I've had all manner of problems with it, but I would hesitate to recommend it to anybody, and I would be very wary of purchasing one on the used market.
As much as I would like to recommend it, I would have to say that one would be doing a disservice to themselves by purchasing one without exploring other alternatives, including Acadia, Veracruz and the litany of crossovers (including Chevy's own Equinox) that have entered the market and may suit the needs of people who are mainly looking for passenger and cargo hauling (not towing) vehicles.
UPDATE: 1/3/2010 @ 110,520 miles: I handed over the keys to my dealer last night and signed the title over as a trade on my new 2009 Tahoe (review to come). I'm happy to report that the last 2 1/2 years have been less troublesome. Since I wrote last, I've experienced the following issues:
1. Broken wheel lug stud at 65K miles
2. New alternator at 72K miles
3. New tires at 81K miles (1K short of my expectation)
4. Wheel speed sensors at 82K, 83K, 85K and 88K (the dealer says that all four will fail within 10K miles of each other)
5. Fuel level sensor at 91K (caused the engine light to flash but no effect on drivability)
6. Coolant temperature sensor (thermostat) at 99K.
I suppose all these items fall under the category of "routine maintenance" especially considering the number of miles accumulated, so I'm not as annoyed as I was at having to replace the transmission, transfer case, etc.
Surprisingly, the last 12K miles have been absolutely trouble free.
The dealer gave me $8K for my trade-in allowance, which I was actually pleasantly surprised at. I think used car values (at least in this part of the country) have perked up a little bit as of late. I was expecting somewhere in the $6K neighborhood.