Methinks there’s still a bit of anti-Detroit bias out there. You know, Detroit can’t compete Tokyo. German cars are more reliable than American. And, of course, the most consistent lament: any automobile designed in the United States of America, by definition, has no soul; U.S. automakers, right down to their lowest-rung engineer, reputed to the grubbiest of, well, money grubbers.
And it’s not like, for quite some time, such a reputation wasn’t well-warranted. Detroit, for far too long, took its customers for granted, its technological superiority as birthright, and its once dominant market position as eternal. Hubris is seldom a viable long-term winning strategy, even if it will — General Motors proof positive of that — fool you into thinking it’s a short-term solution.
But the General got this message quite some time ago. The days of Cadillacs being nothing more than rebadged Cavaliers is gone. Buicks are actually very good automobiles; just ask the Chinese. And anyone who doesn’t think the new mid-engined C8 Corvette is the product of a passionate workplace simply hasn’t been paying attention.
Nonetheless, the amount of shade thrown on me for opining that I didn’t mind driving Chevrolet’s latest Blazer was a little surprising. “Cheap interior” was tossed around so frequently, it started sounding like Trump supporters trying to restate it claims of his inauguration being the largest in history hoping that, should they just restate it often enough, it would become fact. Poor handling was another criticism I heard lobbed with the seeming authority. Ditto for poor ride quality. I might just add that a few of those presuming a negative review were autojournalists, learned folk who, one would’ve thought, were above such petty prejudice.
So, let me set the record straight. None of the criticisms mentioned above are strictly true — especially the ride and handling part, and most certainly not for the full-luxe RS version I drove. That’s not to say the Blazer is perfect — I will get to those imperfections shortly — but it does acquit itself better than expected. Did I ever say I was completely innocent of diminished expectations?
The interior, at least on first entering, doesn’t look cheap. Indeed, to these eyes, it looked pretty zippy — and yes, that’s a descriptor out of date even for my 62 years. Your attention almost invariably gravitates to the four air vents because they’re quite immensely round, and hued in a red meant to emulate anodized aluminum. Now, like you, I’ve become accustomed to decrying fake plastic trim, as it almost never capturing the beauty of the original. But I’m a huge fan of GM’s fakery, in this case a convincing duplicate of coloured aluminum. This, by the way, is coming from someone with something of an anodization fetish, red in particular.
The Blazer’s infotainment system is likewise excellent. Not quite as user friendly as FCA’s Uconnect — and, if the newly-released Uconnect 5.0 rises to expectation, GM will have to speed up revisions — it’s still a doddle to use with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto seamlessly integrated. Ditto for most of the buttons and the driver’s gauge set, which while isn’t a flashy 12-inch screen a la Mercedes, is nonetheless informative and attractive. While I am ladling out the accolades, the seats are comfy and fairly roomy, and their leather well stitched. And one final thumbs up: the Blazer’s cargo space is both roomy and accessible. We had to truck a new, two-piece air conditioning system home, along with the various nick-knacks Herself always manages to collect on any shopping run. The Blazer swallowed them with space to spare.
As for the let-downs, that’s mostly do bean-counting, the last tenant of old-fashioned GM-ness The General just can’t see to shake. Essentially, it seems to come down to this: the accountants let the designers have their way with soft-touch materials and quality stitching anywhere that would be immediately apparent — read: in the showroom — and then put their boots down everywhere else. So, the forward-facing bits of the dash are nicely accoutered; to the side and its top face, not so much. Ditto for the doors. Grab the door handle and it feels mondo solid. Lay your hand on the window sills or reach further down into what we used to call map pockets — when, of course, we still had maps — and things get sketchy in a hurry. Inappropriate bean-counting is, as far as I can see, the last gasp of snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory-ism within GM. May they not let the door hit them on the way out when their time finally comes.
As for the ride and handling, the Blazer is pretty impressive, more so because Quebec’s Laurentians have the worst roads in the civilized world — and yes, I’ve driven in rural Russia. These the Blazer handled with aplomb swallowing all but the largest bomb craters with ease. Indeed, the highest compliment I can pay the Blazer is that She-who-likes-leaf-springs found it too soft. Now, for context, only one of us wears overalls in the family and it isn’t this candy-assed typist. She’s not happy until her head is rebounding off the top of a Jeep’s supposedly soft top, so please take her “trop mou” condemnation as high praise. And indeed, once she found the “sport” button, that frown turned upside down.
What’s more surprising is that, despite said accommodating suspension, the Blazer — at least in RS form — manages its way around a corner quite well. La Belle Province may be well known for its damper-challenging ruts, but the roads are curvy, and once in a great while (when somehow the corruption that plagues La Belle Province is temporarily misplaced) they can be smooth and curvy as well. I found a couple of these and the Blazer proved surprisingly agile. It won’t be chasing an X5 M around the Nurburgring, but neither do you have to turn in your leatherette driving gloves if you buy one.
As for the powertrain, the RS’ top-of-the-line V6 is essentially the same double overhead cam 3.6-litre affair I praised in the Buick Enclave, and there’s no reason to change my mind. There’s 308 horsepower on tap in this case, and as the Blazer is more sporting — though I might dispute the “Camaro of SUVs” some are trying to hang on it — there’s a bit more ruff from the powertrain. Were it not for the nine-speed automatic’s sometime lethargic shifts, we’d be comparing it to a German V6; that said, there aren’t too many of those left.
All is not perfect in the powertrain department, however. The problem is a case of inappropriate options, or more accurately, standard equipment. Joining the 3.6-litre in the Blazer’s lineup this year is a 2.0-litre turbo-four. I’ll admit I haven’t been behind the wheel of this particular combination before — the 2.0T Blazer, that is — but the little turbo has impressed in other cars I’ve driven.
No, the trouble is that Chevrolet chooses to keep selling that pathetic 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder and its 193 horsepower in a two-ton SUV. I suspect this is more bean-counting crapola, the intent to give the Blazer a three-engine lineup and elicit major profits by making it obvious to any sentient human being that they ought to opt for at least the LT trim — standard with the 2.0T — rather than the base LS. I can hear their glee just imagining $1,600 clinking into GM’s metaphorical piggy banks. Seriously, GM? This is what got you into trouble in the first place. You make a perfectly good vehicle with perfectly good powertrain choices, and then you treat people like idiots with the old “but we do have a perfectly good base version” routine. If it’s because you can’t bear to confront your old buddy Bob, call me: I’ll gladly fire the old coot for ya.
Besides, isn’t he the guy who decided to keep all the good safety equipment — you know, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking — out of all Blazers, save the big-buck RS and Limited versions? Now, you know as well as I do that other manufacturers — most notably Toyota — are democratizing the whole advanced-drivers-aids thing. Personal safety as a sop to the elite is no longer chic. Yes, I know the Germans also do it, but your reputation hasn’t been rehabilitated enough that you can play the same game.
Despite these trespasses, the Blazer is a fine vehicle, especially in RS guise. I would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a sporty mid-sized SUV. As for the haters, well they’re as out of touch as GM’s bean-counters.
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