“Hey, what’s that?”
The middle-aged man stepping out of the pizza shop startled me as I closed the car door after parking. He was staring intently at my new ride, a 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer in an eye-wateringly bright robin’s-egg blue. “I love the look, man. I even love the colour.”
A bit surprising, considering he didn’t seem to be part of the demographic for this subcompact crossover. I explained to him that the Trailblazer is all-new for this year, just going on sale this month, but that I couldn’t tell him much because I had just picked it up from a dealer and was on my way home. “Read about it in The Globe and Mail,” I said cheekily.
Well, sir, if you are reading this, I can tell you that you would probably like almost everything about the Trailblazer. Slotting in just above the woeful Trax in Chevrolet’s SUV portfolio, the Trailblazer mimics its Blazer big brother in styling, and in a week of city driving and over a good return highway haul between Toronto and Kingston, I grew more and more impressed with it.
The pizza guy is right, too; it is an attractive little car. More angular and boxy than others in the class, this RS version also has an aggressive grille that could remind you of a Camaro. If you squint.
But it’s the performance that will win over drivers. The base engine is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder coupled to a continuously variable transmission, but this RS has a 1.3-litre three-cylinder with a nine-speed automatic. That may sound tiny, but it packs 155 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. In both city and highway travel, it proved more than peppy and seemed happy with spirited driving. The transmission is smooth, though with a stab of the throttle from lower speeds, it takes more than a second to jump down gears and get going.
However, the Trailblazer, especially in top trims, has a bit of a price problem. The $23,698 base price of the LS is on the higher side compared with its subcompact rivals. The LS, with its 1.2-litre engine and standard front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is optional), lacks some basic standard equipment such as cruise control and a cargo cover. Stepping up to the LT is probably what most people will do, as it’s the best value of the lot with a few more driver aids and comfort features.
The top-tier RS and Activ, both AWD, share the same base price, but here’s the problem: My RS tester, with added Sun and Liftgate package, Convenience package, Technology package and red metallic interior inserts, is a whopping $35,578. Add in freight and taxes, and it’s close to the $40,000 mark. Only the Honda HR-V approaches that price, and it’s thousands more than others in the subcompact-crossover class.
Regardless, this little Chevrolet in its bright-blue paint won over quite a few people, including myself and the pizza guy. With good looks, better-than-average performance and a host of available features, it can be a standout addition to the crowded subcompact crossover segment.
It’s a winner here, swapping swoopy lines for sharp angles, and the grille configuration with its hexagonal inserts in black gloss has a high-end look. The black plastic cladding is just enough to suggest a more rugged attitude without looking cheap, while the 18-inch alloy wheels add a touch of urban style.
The Trailblazer has a well-designed and attractive interior, though some panels are still hard plastic. The RS trim has contrasting stitching on the cloth seats, which are a bit tight but still comfortable. The controls are ergonomic, and the cockpit even gets a D-shaped steering wheel. Seats are a bit tight, but legroom for both front and rear passengers is good. Front passengers have ample space, while rear passenger legroom is best-in-class.
The 1.3-litre is surprisingly peppy, even on the highway, where getting to passing speed is relatively quick after a brief pause for turbo lag. It’s in town that the delay of the nine-speed transmission kicking down a gear is noticeable and sometimes a little disconcerting, especially if you’re making a left turn through an intersection. The ride is decently sprung, but steering is numb and overboosted.
The LS and LT get quite a few standard driver-assist features such as automatic forward braking, but the RS is fully loaded with many more, including adaptive cruise control and creature comforts such as automatic climate control, eight-inch touch screen and a panoramic sunroof. A small Chevrolet logo is projected on the ground to show you where to swing your foot to activate the automatic lift gate. Of course, you do get what you pay for.
Overall, the Trailblazer has a respectable 1,540 litres of cargo volume. Not only do the rear seats fold in a 60/40 configuration, but the front passenger seat folds almost flat to accommodate longer items such as a kayak.
While the Chevrolet Trailblazer RS is loaded with features, has surprisingly good power and a comfy ride, this one is just too expensive for a subcompact crossover. My money would be with the Trailblazer LT AWD with the 1.3-litre engine.
- Base price/as tested: $23,698/$35,578
- Engine: 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
- Transmission: nine-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 8.9 city / 7.8 highway (AWD, 1.3L)
- Alternatives: Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul, Jeep Renegade
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.