New Car/Review

1997 Chevy Blazer ZR2

by Nick Hromiak

chevrolet

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

Chevy's ZR2 equipped 4WD 2-door Blazer is not for everyone. And it's certainly not for those who want an all-purpose sport utility vehicle with a car-like ride.

The ZR2 package transforms a standard Blazer into a truly rugged off-road vehicle that was specially built for the extremes of the steep and deep, tough and rough.

All right, you say, but why would anyone want an extra heavy-duty vehicle? Durability may be the best answer. All truck and SUV makers tout the ruggedness of their 4x4s but a popular national farm magazine cited a concern of many readers. They claim todays popular SUVs are built for the masses and not suited for truly heavy duty use. Many think durability is being compromised for car-like ride and handling as most SUVs will never see anything but a paved surface. That may be true to some extent but rest assured the ZR2 Blazer is not one of those vehicles.

The ZR2 package provides a wider stance, special chassis, four-inch wider tread, underbody skid plates, Bilstein heavy duty shock absorbers, large wheels and axle bearings, rear axle track bar, 3.73 rear axle with 8.5-inch ring gear, and oversize 31x10.5 R15 Light Truck tires. This brute is eager to crawl over logs, rocks through mud and any other obstacle that may get it its way. Ground clearance is a generous 8.6 inches, which combined with the large tires gives a 23-inch step-up height into the cab. Aside from skirting obstacles, this heightened chassis can nicely navigate deep roadway water resulting from heavy rain deluges.

Powered by Chevy's proven and exemplary 4.3-liter 190-hp V-6 engine, the Blazer LS ZR2 test vehicle had more than enough grunt to climb some steep, rock infested Pocono Mountain area off-road trails. In fact the ZR2 rides better off-road than it does on-road but then it was designed that way.

The four-wheel drive transaxle in the test truck was the optional electronic shifting transfer case which allows four-wheel high or low range at the touch of a dash-mounted button.

With large tires and semi-knobby tread design, grip was excellent on loose dirt and rocky washouts. Steering was positive giving good control and feedback from what was underfoot. The normal kidney-jarring road obstacles were buffered nicely by the heavy-duty suspension. Descending steep grades was merely a matter of keeping the trans in low gear and allowing the natural gearing to control the vehicles downward momentum. A five-speed manual may be better for this due to its lower gearing capability, but the auto performed just fine.

A lot of the jolts and bumps were absorbed by form-fitting bucket seats. The rear seat may not be as accommodating but it does fold for a spacious cargo capacity of 66.9 cubic feet.

It would be nice if Chevy engineers could find a better place to stow the spare tire. As four-door Blazers are longer in length, the spare fits nicely under the vehicle. But on shorter two-door models, it can only go on the rear hatch where it prevents adequate rearward visibility. Ditto for wide sloping C-pillars which intrude upon side vision as well.

Although it's designed for off-road conditions, the ZR2 can still be tolerated on-road since it rides similar to sport utes of earlier years. The extra heavy-duty underpinnings (GVW rating of 4,950 pounds) merely allow this sporty vehicle to go beyond the call of duty.

Price-wise, the ZR2 package adds about $1,850 to a standard LS model. My test truck carried a bottom line of $28,454 after a base of $22,241. The preferred equipment group alone adds $3,741 in options. But if you can do without a lot of frills and amenities, the ZR2 becomes an affordable, tenacious sport ute with EPA fuel economy of 16 city, 21 highway mpg.

 
SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            4.0-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 190-hp & 250 lb/ft of torque @ 2800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed electronically controlled automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      16 city, 21 highway mpg
WHEELBASE:         100.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    174.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.8 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    66.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,874 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY:     19 gallons
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  30.2/66.9 cu.ft. (rear seat up/folded)
TIRES:             P205/75R-15
INSTRUMENTATION:   Large, easy to operate HVAC controls, 
                   large easy to read instruments
EQUIPMENT:         Preferred equipment group ($3,741) includes: 
                   LS Trim package with tilt wheel, electronic 
                   speed control, power windows/door locks/ext. 
                   mirrors, overhead console, six-way power 
                   bucket seat, touring suspension package, 
                   remote keyless entry, electric transfer case, 
                   3.73 rear axle ratio; ZR2 Wide stance 
                   suspension ($1850); AM/FM stereo/compact 
                   disc player and clock ($329); outside spare 
                   wheel and tire carrier ($234); tachometer ($59)
STICKER PRICE:     $27,569 which includes $515 destination charge

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