How far can you stretch a name?
The Chevy Blazer was (once-upon-a-time) a full-sized, two-door, truck-based SUV with a removable roof and a V8 engine. Lee Majors drove one in the TV series The Fall Guy.
The current Blazer is a five-door hatchback’d crossover with a four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels (with a V6 and AWD optional).
The roof does not come off.
Is the aura enough?
What It Is
In its modern iteration, the Blazer is a mid-sized, five-passenger crossover similar to other light-duty models in the same class like the Honda Passport, Ford Edge, and Hyundai Santa Fe.
It differs from mid-sized SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, based on rear-drive layouts, offer four-wheel-drive (with low range gearing), and (in the case of the Jeep) can be had with a V8 engine.
Prices start at $28,800 for the base front-wheel-drive L trim, equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
A more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is available in the 2LT trim, which stickers for $33,100 with FWD and $35,100 with the optionally available AWD system.
A V6 is available in the RS trim, which stickers for $40,800 to start with FWD and $43,700 with AWD.
The top-of-the-line Premier comes standard with the V6; the FWD version lists for $43,000. With the AWD system, it tops out at $45,800.
- All trims, including the base L, now come standard with the previously extra-cost automated emergency braking system.
- A trailering package is available with the V6 and FWD.
- Choice of three different engines vs. the usual two (or just one).
- Useful cargo management system.
- Abundant second-row legroom (39.6 inches).
What’s Not So Good
- Not as rowdy as it tries to look.
- Only tows 1,500 lbs. even with its optional V6 unless you buy the extra-cost trailering package.
- It costs several thousand more to start than the Santa Fe (base price $26,725), doesn’t come standard with a V6 (the Honda Pilot does), and hasn’t got as much cargo space as the Ford Edge.
Under The Hood
In the Blazer’s corner is the fact that there are three available engine options.
The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four, without a turbocharger, that makes 193 horsepower.
This is a pretty spectacular output historically speaking for those who can remember when 5-liter V8s in performance cars like the Camaro and Mustang weren’t making much more power.
It’s especially impressive that the little four isn’t turbocharged as so many modern fours are to make up for the fact that they are fours and, as such, are usually not powerful enough to adequately propel a vehicle like a mid-sized crossover that weighs 3,782 lbs. (several hundred pounds more than a mid-late 1980s Camaro Z28 or Mustang GT with a 5-liter V8 engine).
Of course, the four-cylinder Blazer is not as quick as an’ 80’s-era V8 performance car, but it’s not slow, either. It needs about 7.9 seconds to get to 60. And it delivers an EPA-rated 21 MPG in city driving and 27 on the highway—much better mileage than an ’80s-era 5-liter V8 muscle car could manage.
A nine-speed automatic is the standard transmission. This version of the Blazer is front-drive-only.
If you want all-wheel-drive, you’ll have to buy the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which comes standard in the 2LT trim. This one makes 227 hp—more power than 5-liter V8s were making in the mid-late 1980s, and you can pair it with FWD or (optionally) AWD.
Interestingly, the stronger 2.0-liter engine delivers better mileage, 22 city, 29 highway with FWD and 22 city, 27 highway with AWD, than the base 2.5-liter engine/FWD combo.
The same nine-speed automatic transmission is standard.
The Camaro-themed RS Blazer gets the same 3.6-liter V6 that’s available in the Camaro mounted sideways (the Blazer being an FWD-based vehicle) and powering either the front wheels only or all four if you buy the optional AWD system.
It makes 306 horsepower—more power than a Corvette’s 5.7-liter V8 made in the mid-late ’80s—and rates 20 city, 27 highway for the FWD version and 19 city, 26 highway if ordered with AWD.
This one can also get to 60 in about 6.5 seconds, which compares favorably with the performance of ’80s-era V8 muscle cars.
On The Road
The original Blazer was a hulking 4×4 with a rowdy V8. The new Blazer is nothing like it, and that has its good and bad points.
The old Blazer was loud, handled atrociously, and drank twice as much gas to go half as far as the new Blazer does. Doing 70 felt like doing 120; in the curves, 35 felt like 65.
But it was fun to drive, especially with the removable hardtop removed and nothing but the roll bar in between you and the sky above. With a lift kit and some knobby tires, you could go practically anywhere you liked, any time of year. The V8 roared even as it sucked, and the latter was made up for by the former in the way that a ribeye isn’t good for your arteries, but it’s so good going down.
This Blazer’s rides smooth and quiet and far more comfortable, especially for passengers. You can take it through corners at speeds twice as high as the tip-over speed for the old Blazer. It gets better gas mileage with the cruise control set at 80 than the old Blazer did at 55.
By any objective measure, it’s a much better vehicle. But it’s missing the thing that makes a man get attached to a vehicle, which is a problem besetting almost all new vehicles.
They are so good they’re bland.
It doesn’t surprise or challenge you, so it doesn’t excite you. There’s not much to do, really, but turn on the stereo and get to where you’re going, which is, of course, what a vehicle is supposed to do.
But a special one does other things, too.
What you get here is a more visually exciting alternative to visually bland rivals like the Pilot, Santa Fe and Edge. The Blazer has the perk of a wider selection of engines. The Pilot comes with just the one engine. Take it or leave it. The Santa Fe gives you the option to pick one of two.
But the looks of the thing do not line up with the drive of the thing. That can be a little disappointing, in the same way, a jar of salsa that touts how spicy it is via colorful graphics that you find you can easily drink straight from the jar without needing a glass of water to cool the nonexistent fire is a letdown.
The Honda Pilot, which looks as bland as a piece of toast, is quicker than the RS Blazer. It gets to 60 in 6.2 seconds.
Another visual-functional mismatch is the Chevy’s very weak tow rating (just 1,500 lbs.) even with the V6, which is less than many cars can tackle. Unless you buy the extra-cost towing package, it then increases to 4,500 lbs., which is more than the Pilot’s max of 3,500 lbs.
But the Pilot’s standard tow rating is still twice as high as the Chevy’s.
The Blazer now comes standard with automated emergency braking, an increasingly hard-to-avoid “feature” which slams on the brakes peremptorily for safety.
In theory, it only does so when the driver has failed to apply the brakes due to inadvertence, such as not noticing that the car ahead has slowed or stopped.
In practice, the system will apply the brakes during passing maneuvers, when the computer thinks you’ve cut it too close, or in other situations that don’t warrant braking, as when a car ahead has slowed, but you can see it is signaling a turn. You know it will be out of your path by the time you get to where it is. The computer doesn’t know and on come the brakes.
This is not a Chevy-specific problem because every new car with this “feature” has the same problem.
The good news is that lane keep assist (even worse) is not yet standard and can be avoided.
This safety feature also backseat-drivers you from within the dashboard. If you attempt to change lanes or turn off the road without signaling, the car will try to pull the car back into its lane. These systems are touted as being about “safety” but are highly peremptory and adds needless annoyance to the drive.
The bad news is that lane keep assist is standard in all Blazer trims above the base LT, which means if you want a more robust engine than the base 193 hp non-turbo’d engine or AWD, you have to accept the “assist.”
At The Curb
Rowdy looks are the Blazer’s primary selling point.
It has a Camaro-like front end treatment and gauge cluster complete with a hugely optimistic 170 MPH speedometer and the RS (for Rally Sport)—terminology that dates back to the classic Camaros of the ’70s.
Plus up to 21-inch wheels.
It also has something no Camaro ever had—back seats with almost as much room as upfront. There is 39.6 inches of legroom in the Blazer’s second row, which is (no joke) more than a foot more legroom in the current Camaro’s back seats.
There’s 30.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row, too, for whatever you need to tote—about three times as much space as in the Camaro’s trunk. This can be expanded to 64.2 cubic feet by lowering the second-row seatbacks.
Three-row rivals like the Pilot have more total cargo capacity (83.8 cubic feet), but they have less space behind the third row (16.5 cubic feet) because they have that third row taking up space.
However, there are also two-row rivals like the Edge, which has nearly 40 cubic feet of capacity behind its backseats. For example, there is the Hyundai Santa Fe, which is a slightly smaller vehicle in terms of its footprint (187.8 inches long vs. 191.4 for the Chevy) but still manages to have more cargo space behind its second row (35.9 cubic feet), more total cargo space (71.3 cubic feet), and more backseat legroom (40.9 inches).
But they don’t look as rowdy.
Even the base L trim comes standard with mondo 18-inch wheels, part of the effort to conjure a Camaro-ish aura.
The Blazer’s 18-inch wheels mean 18-inch tires, and those are going to cost more than 16 or 17-inch tires in addition to being more vulnerable to sidewall blowouts from potholes and curb strikes because their sidewalls are shorter and stiffer than 16 or 17-inch tires.
The big wheel look is popular but then so were bell-bottom cords, once upon a time.
On the upside, Chevy includes four USB ports and a good six-speaker stereo as part of the standard equipment suite.
On the downside, even the $43k Premier trim comes with a mere eight-speaker system, and while wireless cell phone charging is available, it’s only offered with the high-dollar RS and Premier trims.
What might Chevy have done to spice things up functionally?
This is a tricky question to answer because the new Blazer’s layout is not as amenable to spicing up as the old K5 Blazer’s was.
Ford is approaching the Bronco reboot more in line with what the original Bronco, initially a rival of the original Blazer’s, was like. Including actual off-road capability (body-on-frame construction) and a serious 4WD system with the ability to route almost all the engine’s power to either the right-rear or left-rear wheel if that’s the only one that’s got grip.
The Ford Explorer is also more real-deal, based on a rear-drive layout and 4WD, and a 400 horsepower V6.
The Blazer is built on a car-based (and FWD-based) chassis, so heavy-duty’s out.
But why not make it perform more like the Camaro it is trying to look like? The V6 is a good start, but it needs more power to make it stand out.
How about a rowdy exhaust for the RS, with those wastegate-like baffles that pop open under WOT?
How about adding a turbo to the V6 and a high-performance AWD system—like the old GMC Typhoon? Remember that one?
That would be actually rowdy and so fun.
The Bottom Line
This isn’t a bad crossover, but it’s hardly a Blazer.
And not much of a Camaro, either.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.