Trailblazer overpowers Fortuner

19 March, 2014 | by Lance Branquinho

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Before Fortuner, there was Frontier – and Sani.

Strange to think of it like that: how Toyota ventured into the bakkie-based SUV market last and has dominated it ever since. The Frontier, of course, is an ancestor of Chevrolet’s Trailblazer. Based on the Isuzu KB, much as the current Trailblazer is, it was a very good vehicle. Many wondered why it was never evolved in the South African market, as its discontinuation effectively left an open market for Toyota to launch Fortuner into.

Enough of the history lesson, though. Trailblazer’s just been updated for 2014, in an effort to somehow bleed off a bit more Fortune market share and hedge against the advancing excellence of Mitsubishi’s latest Pajero Sport.

The 2014 model year changes are not greatly significant, but they’re properly smart product enhancements, nonetheless. Most notable, if you settle into the cabin to set off, is the grey and black trim combination, replacing that awful beige; which scuffed and aged terribly with adventurous Trailblazer use. What took Toyota very nearly a decade of Fortuner customer complaints to redress, has taken Chevrolet only two years. Will the Chinese SUV brands follow-suit by example? We wonder…

Another element of this Trailblazer’s 2014 evolution is Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system. Smartphone savvy and simple to use, with an integrated rear-field of view camera, it’s a welcome upgrade, especially with a properly sealed screen surround and touch surface – which should prove durable.

Beyond the new cabin goodies, Chevrolet’s powertrain engineers have meticulously recalibrated the 2.8-litre Duramax turbodiesel engine to extract an additional 12kW of power (peaking at 144kW), whilst simultaneously reducing consumption to 8.5l/100km. The 2.5-litre turbodiesel’s friskier too, by 10kW. If you have a government petrocard, the 3.6-litre V6 remains unchanged at 176kW, but you’d be mad to have one over the 2.8 diesel.

With five-link independent rear suspension, Trailblazer’s driving dynamics are nearly untraceable to its KB-bakkie lineage. At speed it’s reassuringly stable, whilst mid-corner undulations don’t elicit four-letter utterances. On gravel roads, where these bakkie-based SUVs do most of their weekend and vacation mileage, it’s a brilliant bit of kit: stable, controllable yet tough enough to absorb severe bumps and corrugations at speed.

LOCKED OR NOT?

So what’s it like in testing off-road terrain? Well, Chevrolet’s engineers say their ABS actuated traction control system is so well calibrated it negates any need for a mechanically locking rear-differential. We’d kindly disagree.

Trailblazer’s traction control system is good, but it remains reactive, which means you’re required to initiate wheel-slip before it engages, and then you need to keep throttling away until traction is restored. It works well in most places, but on severe inclines and broken terrain we still prefer the proper traction security of a locking rear-differential which you set-and-forget.

The most severe deficiency, though, is the fact that hill-starts cannot be executed in a Trailblazer as it refuses to start without the clutch pedal being depressed. For hardcore 4x4ers this could prove a rather significant issue. An example: if you made it three-quarters up a severe, rocky incline, then got stuck, there is on safe way to reverse back down to the start-point for another attempt at the obstacle. Our advice? If you are a keen off-roader, get an automatic transmission Trailblazer, which with 144kW and 500Nm is plenty capable for most situations.

WHICH ONE TO GET, THEN?

The 2014 Chevrolet Trailblazer improvements are proper. A good vehicle, but for sheer off-road ability Toyota’s Fortuner is that bit better in extreme terrain and its resale value is incomparable. Then, of course, there is the criminally underrated, yet very capable and well-equipped Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

If you’re after a very stable, comfortable, relatively rugged SUV towing vehicle, we cannot fault the purchasing rationale in support of Chevrolet’s Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ auto; especially after the powertrain upgrade.

If you are after something for Safari sojourns, well, we’d recommend one of the other two.

 Prices:

Trailblazer 2.5D LT 4×2 MT                 R 386 500

Trailblazer 2.8D LTZ 4×2 AT                R 456 400

Trailblazer 2.8D LTZ 4×4 MT               R 489 800

Trailblazer 2.8D LTZ 4×4 AT                R 506 400

Trailblazer 3.6 LTZ 4×4 AT                  R 516 700

     

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