By on April 9, 2021

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

The reemergence of the Trailblazer name in the Chevrolet lineup seemed like a cynical nostalgia ploy at first.

Trailblazer a cute ‘ute? That’s almost as bad as using Blazer nameplate on a five-seat crossover with little, if anything, in the way of off-road chops.

It’s not just the name. These smaller crossovers have often felt like a cynical play in another way – certain OEMs seem to just be rolling them out for those with tight budgets or tight fists, with the intent of selling them based on price and not performance or quality.

See Ford’s EcoSport or Chevy’s own Trax. Given how the Trax is, well, not good, I had my worries about the Trailblazer.

I needn’t have been concerned.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

That’s not to say the Trailblazer is completely well done. There are issues, mostly in terms of refinement/material quality and noise/vibration/harshness. Chevy’s pricing scheme is also a bit dear, at least based on MSRP (obviously, negotiating exists), dear enough that other makes – and larger models – might make better choices for the same spend.

The most pleasant surprise came in terms of power and handling. On paper, the 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder doesn’t seem to promise much in the way of power, with 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque on tap. But there’s enough grunt for urban driving, at least. I’d be loathe to call the Trailblazer quick, but it’s good enough for the stoplight-to-stoplight grind.

Similarly, the Trailblazer’s handling can be best described as spritely, adding a touch of fun to the proceedings. Perhaps the MacPherson strut front suspension and/or Watts link rear suspension is to thank for that. On the flip side, the steering feel is generically artificial and the ride a bit stiffly sprung.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

It would have been far too easy for Chevy to create a small crossover like this that was boring or even a chore to drive. So the brand gets some credit for coming up with one that isn’t a snooze from behind the wheel.

Unfortunately for Chevy, there’s another reason this thing will keep you up: It’s a bit noisy. Enough road noise filters in that it would interrupt any passenger’s attempt at catching some Z’s.

Noise is bad enough, but cheap-feeling materials, even at this price point, are another thing. No one expects luxury in this class and this price, but the level of refinement isn’t on par with the competition.

At least the nine-speed automatic transmission is generally well behaved. If you do not want a CVT, you need to get the 1.3 with all-wheel drive, like the vehicle tested here.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Inside, funky and minimalist cabin design surrounds easy-to-use controls and the Trailblazer avoids the tacky trend of tacked-on infotainment systems. Everything works and seems screwed together well enough, but no one will be using the Trailblazer as an artful example of the form anytime soon.

Outside, the Trailblazer borrows from its big-brother Blazer as it follows Chevy’s ongoing theme of angular lines, and it mostly works, except for at the rear, where it looks like a Blazer was chopped – and poorly. It just looks awkward.

The LT trim comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, USB ports, auxiliary port, keyless entry and starting, power front driver’s seat, split-fold rear seat, 17-inch wheels, roof rack, LED fog lamps and DRLs, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, front-pedestrian braking, and rear-view camera. That all prices out at $25,600.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

An adaptive cruise control package ($620) adds its namesake feature plus a leather-wrapped shifter, rear armrest, and driver-info center. Another $620 adds dual-zone A/C, satellite radio, rear USB ports, and an 8-inch touchscreen, among other things. For $345 you can add rear-park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change alert, and blind-spot alert.

Add it all up and factor in the $995 D and D and the total is $28,180. Not expensive, exactly, but one can do better for similar money. See: Seltos, Kia. On the other hand, the Trailblazer is a much better overall package than Ford’s EcoSport.

While cheap-feeling/looking materials and excess noise are a letdown, the Trailblazer is a pleasant surprise, especially when considering how poorly done Chevrolet’s smaller Trax is. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s better than many critics, myself included, expected it would be.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Would it be first on my shopping list if I had a budget limit of $30K and a need for a five-seat small crossover? No. But it would at least be on the list, which is more than I can say for the Ford.

Chevy has done OK here. If it can fix the NVH – mostly the N – issues and improve the look and feel of the cabin materials, it could put the Trailblazer a lot higher on shoppers’ radar.

That, to me, makes the Trailblazer a happy revelation, giving its low expectations. I’m not defending its flaws, I’m just glad there’s one more competitive vehicle in this class.

A pleasant surprise, indeed.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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54 Comments on “2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD LT Review – Pleasant Surprise...”


  • avatar
    Cicero

    “Spritely” is what they call old people who can get up out of their recliner without help.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Fair review. Pretty much matches my feelings on the Encore GX corporate cousin. I expected to hate it as much as I hate the OG Eggcore, but the GX was “fine”.

    Biggest issue is the MSRP obviously has some decent wiggle room baked in so if grandma doesn’t like negotiating then go shopping with her.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The cure for NVH is Encore GX. My wife’s aunt just turned in her 2018 Encore for a 2021 Encore GX and she is older than the 54-year old female demographic for the small SUVs.

      “…According to J.D. Power data, 58% of small SUV owners are female (vs. 40% for the entire automotive market), and the median age of a small SUV owner is 56 years (matching the market).

      Owners say their favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, feeling of safety, setting up and starting, and getting in and out. Specifically, these five things about the small SUVs rank highest in comparison to the overall automotive market:

      Fuel economy/driving rangeEase of safely maneuvering the vehicleOperating the vehicle remotelyUsing voice assistanceUsing navigation…”

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Getting in and out was reason #1 for my old parents. Even a typical sedan was too low for them after my mother took a small tumble and hurt her hip. They have a Ford Escape now, it replaced a Sonata.

        This CUV is a far cry from the Trailblazer my father used to tow his boat with for years. It has 1/2 the number of cylinders!

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    MEH
    This looks like every other CUV Chevy sells. At least they gave them names, but they could have just named them POS 1, POS 2, etc until they got to the Tahoe.
    I was never a fan of the Trailblazer, But whoever slapped the Blazer name on POS #4 should be hung from the rafters. Especially with the Ford Bronco coming out. Since they are rehashing old names onto new vehicles may they should do the same with segments?
    Anyone for the Personal Luxury CUV/SUV?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I forced myself to read passed 1.3 3 cyl….
    Only can wonder how it feels with 4 people in it.

    I feel, reviewer has some sort of dual personality disorder in this review. He likes the car but lists a long sheet of shortcomings. Or this is one of those times when the whole thing is better than the net sum of its components?

    $28K for this??? Is this a joke?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      One of those times when there are some good things — power and handling — and some bad — noise and material quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      3 cylinders + 4 passengers + cross-country trip = torture.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        …and likely a blown head gasket.

        3 cylinders are fine for around town in flat terrain. They are too small to work hard against a heavy load and last as long as a larger engine. GM is whipping a small mule to do the job of a larger mule, because the smaller mule eats less.
        The good news for GM is that the Trailblazers will be out of warranty when they need their first rebuild. The good news for the customer is 25% fewer piston rings and crankshaft bearings to purchase.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “GM is whipping a small mule to do the job of a larger mule, because the smaller mule eats less.”

          Pretty much describes the last ten years for most marques.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The OEMs are slowly figuring out how to do this class well, just like they slowly figured out how to do compact CUVs well last decade. This, the Venue, and the Kicks are pretty good value for money if you want a new-car warranty and a style that people don’t immediately associate with poverty.

    One challenge is that if Uncle Joe gets his tax credits through Congress you’re going to be able to get a similarly sized and equipped car, but with a vastly more appealing powertrain for most use cases, for around the same money in the Bolt EUV.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Noisy is surprising and disappointing. GM did a lot of work in the last decade to dampen interior noise. Even vehicles like the defunct Cruze got praise (do a search on these very pages).

    I’m not sold on a 3-banger at all, and I know the Ford 1.0 liter 3-banger is proving out to have a lot of problems.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I am a cynical bastard. Any time a new crossover comes out I like to compare its ground clearance to other vehicles.

    The Trailblazer is said to have 7″ of ground clearance.
    By comparison:
    Ford Ecosport – 7.8″
    Dodge Journey – 7.2″
    Chevy Spark – 6.7″
    Chevy Malibu – 5.5″
    2021 Corvette – 5.3″
    1989 Chevy Caprice – 5.9″
    Toyota CHR – 5.9″
    Toyota Corolla – 6.7″
    Honda HRV – 7.3″
    Honda Accord – 6.7″
    Subaru Outback – 8.7″
    Hyundai Kona – 6.7″

    So, it’s not the worst out there.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    I’m curious, what is the point of the current Chevy Trax?
    It’s slightly smaller than this Trailblazer with higher starting price. It’s not any nicer and the category overlaps. Why not just streamline the line-up?

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Profit margin. They are built in Mexico and South Korea, and share their platform with the Aveo and Spark.
      It’s likely to get discontinued, since the platform is 8 years old (at least), and the Trax has been replaced in China with a new Tracker.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Outside of that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

    It sure took you awhile to get to the “not bad” part. My advice to anyone shopping the sub-compact CUV category, do what you can to get yourself to the next level compact CUV where you can get a decent 4-banger (turbo preferred) with a real transmission and decent ride and handling. These starter kits for the most part are awful and will constantly remind you that you cheaped-out for whatever reason. A few thousand more will get you a totally livable if not enjoyable vehicle that you won’t regret owning

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The problem with the next size class up is that it is the next size class up. Add 12-14 inches & 4 inches of width and you start to get out of grandma’s comfort zone.

      The people I know shopping in this class could afford something “more” but they also don’t want to go longer than ~170 inches.

  • avatar
    Rocket

    At just 161″ long, the EcoSport doesn’t compete with the Trailblazer. It really doesn’t even compete with the Trax, which is still has 7″ on the tiny EcoSport. It’s interesting that nobody ever compares the Trailblazer to the Bronco Sport, which is actually an inch shorter.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I feel like the EcoSport will compete with the Trailblazer on price. And yeah, I thought about mentioning the Bronco Sport and/or Escape, but both of those get to be $5K or more expensive very quickly with options, even if you stick with the 1.5L three-cylinder.

      • 0 avatar
        RangerM

        I’d expect the Trailblazer competes with the Equinox, much like Tab and Diet Coke.

        The primary competition (ie. race to the bottom) would seem to be the Outlander Sport or the Nissan Kicks.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Just give it a one cylinder engine and have done with it. You’re ashamed either way.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If they had a four-pot option (with more performance) like the 1.4 turbo beefed up and updated this would be more interesting IMHO.

      My understanding is the 2.0 turbo won’t fit in the engine bay and I doubt many buyers will take it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    How about a Briggs and Stratton 2 or 1 cylinder tractor mower engine with turbo charging and a CVT? You could offer an optional detachable mower deck.

  • avatar

    I hate, hate, hate. I hate GM, I hate Ford, I hate Buick, I hate Cadillac and I hate Trailer Blazer.

  • avatar
    deanst

    The popularity of these things along with the generally horrid reviews makes me want to run out and buy a civic or Corolla hatch while I still can – and with a manual.

  • avatar
    millerluke

    I can’t get past the price on this thing. My ’19 Camry SE was $27k (Canadian.) Why the hell would anyone pay more for less power, space, comfort, and (alleged) reliability??? The New Camry has AWD as well, and more cargo space than the Trailblazer – AWD would be around (Can)$31k-ish, still probably less than the similarly equipped TB in the North.
    I mean, I know they’re totally different classes, but generally the same demographic of buyers (myself notwithstanding…) Although, I guess the (ugly-as-dead-frog-with-maggot) Toyota CHR is similar to the TB, and based on the couple for sale at my local dealer, actually cost more than the Camry.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Isn’t the Bronco Sport in the same price neighborhood? I’d rather that over this…..

  • avatar
    bufguy

    I would just wait for the VW Taos…1.5 liter turbo 4, 8 speed transmission, unless you get AWD which will have VW’s excellent DSG. The Taos looks pretty good too

  • avatar

    Does every GM vehicle have to have cheap interiors and excessive road noise.

  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    It’s a GM product and therefore a hard NO.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Inside, funky and minimalist cabin design surrounds easy-to-use controls and the Trailblazer avoids the tacky trend of tacked-on infotainment systems.”

    Nice work GM, hopefully others will follow.

    “On the other hand, the Trailblazer is a much better overall package than Ford’s EcoSport.”

    Damning with faint praise if I have ever seen it.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Does anyone expect these three and four-cyl turbos pushing a lot of weight to last 200,000 miles?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      All depends on how the bottom end is engineered. An OTR trucker can push 40 tons a million miles with a high-pressure turbo six. So far GM’s 1.4T four seems pretty stout; we’ll see about this one in a few years.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I don’t, but that’s not necessarily because of the technology. I’d say a combination of the more intensive technology/higher maintenance, historical poor GM resale (outside of trucks), and socioeconomic status of second owners and beyond to combine as factors in taking these off the road prior to 200K miles (though exceptions may exist in places like Cali, where high miles on younger cars are common for some routine commutes).

    • 0 avatar
      ahintofpepperjack

      Yes, I do. My friends and I owned 2000’s Audis with the 1.8L turbo 4. They were hauling around a 3,700lb car and the engines easily go 200,000 miles in those. The rest of the car is a problem, but rarely the engine.

  • avatar

    For the money, it seems there are just so many other, and perhaps better choices. Mazda CX-30, turbo awd…for example.

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