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Chevrolet TrailBlazer LTZ (2002)

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Don't be confused by the similarity in names. Chevrolet's new TrailBlazer sport-utility vehicle shares little besides the bowtie on its grille with the older, S-10 pickup-based Blazer. It's larger, but not too large to fit easily into garages and crowded urban parking lots. Like its siblings, the GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, the TrailBlazer features body-on-frame construction with the auto industry's first hydroformed side rails and a smooth, powerful inline six-cylinder engine. Unlike the Blazer, which continues to be offered in, and in fact emphasizes, its original two- door body style as well as a four-door model, the TrailBlazer is available only in a four-door configuration. There are three trim levels, LS, LT, and LTZ, with two-wheel drive or a sophisticated, multi-mode four-wheel drive system. Although it has the traditional truck body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle, it is designed to give the car-like ride and handling preferred by today's SUV buyers.

I've just spent a week with a top-of-the line TrailBlazer LTZ 4WD. I found it to be a great addition to Chevy's already- comprehensive SUV lineup. It's as civilized, quiet, and comfortable as any new-style "crossover" vehicle, with the all-condition, bad- road versatility of a "real" truck. And, its new inline six-cylinder engine is especially noteworthy for its smoothness and power. A V8 is not even necessary.

APPEARANCE: There is little question as to the TrailBlazer's heritage. The Chevrolet bowtie logo is prominently displayed in the massive chromed horizontal grill bar, and the shape and styling details show strong affinity to Chevy's larger Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. Neither fancy nor flashy, the TrailBlazer is handsome, with gently-rounded contours and a unique interpretation of Chevrolet truck front styling.

COMFORT: The TrailBlazer has noticeably more interior space than the Blazer. In top-level LTZ trim it is upscale Chevrolet - honest, well-designed and comfortable, with no pretentiousness. My test vehicle had a subtle two-tone gray and black interior design, with leather seating surfaces and steering wheel covering but no imitation wood or metal trim. The instrument panel is functional, with a glare-reducing textured finish. Useful storage is found throughout the interior, and climate control, stereo, trip computer, and personalization systems can be controlled from buttons on the steering wheel. The power front buckets were fatigue-free on a long drive, and feature integrated shoulder strap mountings. The 60/40 split rear bench has plenty of head and leg room for passengers, and flips and folds for extra cargo ability when necessary. Interior space is increased by storing the spare tire underneath the rear of the vehicle, pickup-style.

SAFETY: The 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer is designed for a high level of structural integrity. It has dual-level front airbags, seat- mounted front side-impact airbags, three-point safety harnesses for all occupants.

ROADABILITY: Since many of its competitors are new-age unibody crossover vehicles that will rarely if ever see an unpaved road, the TrailBlazer needs to have the car-like comfort and handling of those vehicles. But, since it is a Chevrolet truck, it also needs to be truly off-road capable. Tough compromise, something's got to give, right? Not at all. Thanks to its extremely rigid frame and careful engineering of all chassis, body, and suspension components to work together to ensure minimum vibration, the TrailBlazer's ride is as smooth as that of many luxury cars. Even though it is a truck, with a relatively high center of gravity and an independent front/solid axle rear suspension, it handles remarkably well, with little body roll while cornering. Unlike some primarily urban competitors, it is designed to be as at home on a Class III off-road trail as a highway, and can tow up to 6400 lbs. Its 4WD system has an automatic all- wheel drive mode for driving on pavement in adverse conditions as well as off-road-oriented four-high and four-low modes for good versatility.

PERFORMANCE: The TrailBlazer's inline six-cylinder engine is the key to its smooth, civilized nature. An I6 has excellent dynamic balance and even torque pulses, and so is very smooth. The TrailBlazer's aluminum alloy I6 is as high-tech as that of a European sports sedan, with dual overhead cams, variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control. It was modeled, designed, and tested on computers before it was physically built. The result is a refined powerplant with the power of a V8 - 270 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque - and the fuel economy of a V6. The EPA rating is 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. In mostly city and secondary road driving, I got a 17 mpg average, not bad at all for its class.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer combines urban car comfort and truck off-road and towing ability.

2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer LTZ

Base Price              $ 33,730
Price As Tested         $ 35,175
Engine Type             dual overhead cam, 24-valve
                          inline 6-cylinder
Engine Size             4.2 liters / 256 cu. in.
Horsepower              270 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          275 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length      113 in. / 191.8 in.
Curb Weight             4442 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   16.5
Fuel Capacity           18.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement        87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires                   BF Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A 
                          P245/65 SR17 m+s
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / vented disc,
                          antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent double A-arm with coil 
                          springs/solid axle with 5-link
						  location and coil springs
Drivetrain              front engine, on-demand four-wheel

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      15 / 21 / 17
0 to 60 mph         est. 8.5  sec
Towing capacity     6400 lbs with 4WD

Side running board steps      $ 325
Locking rear differential     $ 270
Heated front seats            $ 250
Destination charge            $ 500