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2021 Chevy Trailblazer: Bigger than you think, as slow as you’d expect, better in bad weather

The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer gives GM's common-person division a small SUV, which is a hot segment these days.

The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer is certainly an attractive little vehicle. And it's not even that little from the inside.
The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer is certainly an attractive little vehicle. And it's not even that little from the inside.Read moreChevrolet

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS: Blazing really small, flat trails?

Price: $30,580 as tested. Convenience Package ($620) added automatic AC, rear USB charging ports, and more; and Driver Confidence Package ($345) added rear park assist, rear cross detection and blind spot monitor. More mentioned below.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “snazzy exterior styling, spacious cabin, fuel-efficient power trains,” but not the “slothful acceleration. Base model is too basic, harsh ride.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Live big in a small SUV.”

Reality: C&D is close, but slick surfaces brought out the best of this baby SUV.

What’s new: The Trailblazer name has been revived from days of yore, when a three-row SUV wore it through the 2009 model year.

This time, the Trailblazer name is attached to a cousin of the Buick Encore, a small South Korea-bred SUV. It’s a handsome little guy, though, looking like a miniature Equinox.

Shifty: General Motors generally offers transmissions that quietly do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the Trailblazer nine-speed transmission fell short on this count. It really hunted for gears throughout many of my trips, especially while climbing hills. And, of course, no shift capability, as in almost all GMs.

Up to speed: It’s no surprise that the transmission works overtime. The poor thing is mated to a wee 1.3-liter turbo three-cylinder engine that creates 155 horsepower. The small vehicle gets to 60 mph in a putty 9.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver. And this is the upgraded engine. A 137-horsepower 1.2-liter with a CVT is standard.

An RS button with a white racing flag might be better designated by just a white flag. The transmission would hold gears longer, and if I strained really hard, I might notice a bit of pep added to the mix.

The exhaust note sounds cool in the slow lane, though.

On the road: The RS button didn’t do much for the handling, either. Maybe there was a bit of suspension tightening, but I couldn’t feel better steering or winding-road fun to any great degree.

The Trailblazer starts out as a rather stiff vehicle even without the RS button engaged, but it’s the kind of stiff that makes a driver think one of the wheels is losing contact with the ground in wild maneuvers.

And the RS button did enhance the road surface, so that instead of hurtling into bumps, the Trailblazer now smashed into them. I’m a (Kia) Soul man, so I’m used to rough rides, but this hurt.

In the rain: But my happiest surprise from the Trailblazer came on a late fall day of heavy rains. I took one look at the soggy leaves covering the road, then eyed the AWD drive sitting there in the same awkwardly placed row of buttons as the RS button, almost obscured by the heater controls and the shifter.

Lo, the Trailblazer found its sweet spot. Not only was the wet weather handling solid and trustworthy, but everything about the Trailblazer’s motions just felt better.

Driver’s Seat: The cloth-covered seat is fairly comfortable, but the seat bottom is quite short. At 5-foot-10, I’m probably on the tall side for the Trailblazer.

The gauge pod is standard Chevrolet, which I find easier to read and more attractive than the Encore GX.

Friends and stuff: It’s too bad about the seat, because the vehicle itself is roomy. I climbed into the back and found legroom, headroom and foot room to all be excellent. Stretch up and out and wiggle the toes, because you can. The seat itself is not too bad, either. Its flatness doesn’t cradle occupants, but it allows a center-seat rider to have a better trip.

Cargo space is 54.4 cubic feet with the seat folded; it’s still a generous 25.3 with the seat up.

Play some tunes: The Trailblazer gets the standard GM stereo treatment, with a dial in the center for volume, buttons that jump up and down the dial or through the playlist, and a touchscreen for everything else. Functionality is pretty good, and it’s not difficult to follow while on the fly.

Sound from the Bose premium seven-speaker system (part of the $1,720 Technology Package, which added everything from adaptive cruise to rear camera) is also pretty good, about a B+.

Keeping warm and cool: Dials control temperature and fan speed while a few buttons direct the air source and rear defrost, a fairly simple setup.

Fuel economy: I averaged a truly disappointing 22 mpg in a short mix of mostly country roads with a bit of highway tossed in, but less than 100 miles overall, so it may have been my test. But this was identical to the Encore GX.

Where it’s built: Bupyeong Gu, South Korea

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Trailblazer reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: If forced to buy a GM SUV from South Korea, I’d definitely shoot for the Encore GX, though I’d miss the Trailblazer’s dashboard.

Next week: How does this match up against the Subaru Crosstrek Sport?