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2019 Chevrolet Blazer: Aggressive, attractive styling makes an SUV-heavy lineup palatable

2019 Chevrolet Blazer 3.JPG
2019 Chevrolet Blazer (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Chevrolet has now entered a post-sedan era. The automaker has dumped the Malibu, Impala and Cruze in favor of an SUV-heavy lineup.

So, when Chevrolet announced the all-new Blazer for 2019, my eyes glazed over a bit. Another SUV in its already burgeoning SUV lineup? Ugh.

Then I saw it in person, and I thought: Huh. Maybe this has a place in the world after all.

When I drove it briefly at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring Rally in May, I wanted more time.



After a week-long test, I think I get it.

The new Blazer well-designed, comfortable and easy to drive. This is a vehicle that impressed me in a lineup that has been – other than Camaro or Corvette – a snooze fest.

Design

The Blazer’s exterior is a series of sculpted lines and well-placed trim pieces. The nose is reminiscent of the Camaro, and the side profile is unlike anything else in the Chevrolet lineup.

The test vehicle was an RS model, so it came equipped with blacked out grille and emblem badging. The tester added the gloss black aluminum wheels to complete the package. As an added bonus, it had the eye-catching Red Hot paint.

Put together as it was, the Blazer turned heads and got more than one “nice car” comment during the test week.



The interior is also nicely done. The layout of the center stack is intuitive with hard-button HVAC controls and a volume knob. One unique feature on the tester: The rings surrounding the central air vents on the stack control the temperature. It looked good, maintaining a hard control, without sacrificing any space or adding visual clutter.

As an RS model, the tester had red accent pieces and red reverse stitching on anything that could be stitched. The overall effect was sleek and sporty.

Perhaps not what you’d expect on an American-made SUV.

Overall, the interior was planned and executed well, and that’s not something I’ve said about a vehicle from General Motors for a long, long time.

If this Blazer sets the new design direction for the Chevrolet brand, I have hope that the previous bland and boring design has left the building.



Ride & Handling

The ride and handling were also a pleasant surprise from this new SUV. The Blazer was much more carlike than I expected.

The Blazer feels light on its feet, and it’s nimble enough to maneuver tight city spaces.

The test vehicle was equipped with the up-level 3.6-liter V-6 engine that delivers 308 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

Personally, I thought this was the right-sized engine for this vehicle, and it did a nice job with aggressive passing maneuvers on the highway. It wasn’t belly-flipping fast, but it was definitely fast enough.

An alternate engine available for 2019 is the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 198 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque.

As a petite driver, I appreciated the easy egress/ingress without a huge step-in height, and the higher ride height added better visibility out the windows. However, the A-Pillar is a bit thick for noticing pedestrians in crosswalks, so I had to make sure to look twice before proceeding through a 4-way stop.



Fuel economy

The test vehicle was equipped with all-wheel drive as well as the up-level engine, which, of course, affects fuel economy ratings. The EPA estimates that the test vehicle should get 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 21 mpg.

The Blazer is equipped with the auto stop/start engine feature, which shuts your engine off when you come to a complete stop. This is supposed to help with fuel economy numbers – especially since you can’t turn it off.

But for me, it did not. My fuel economy stunk. In mostly city driving (with a couple highway spurts), I averaged 15 mpg. That’s a far cry from the expected 21 mpg.

Tech & gadgets

In addition to looking good, the Blazer has a whole host of available technology features.

Standard tech items include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, passive entry, push-button start, Teen Driver, rear-seat reminder, dual-zone automatic climate control and an 8-inch color touchscreen display.

The Blazer also comes standard with a built-in 4G LTE hotspot, but you only get a 1-month or 3GB trial to test. After that, you’ll have to subscribe to a data plan if you want WiFi in your car.



Available features include navigation, up to 6 USB ports, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, remote start, around view monitor, rear camera mirror and a hands-free power liftgate.

The Blazer was well-stocked with features, and I used Apple CarPlay with Waze religiously to estimate destination arrival time. It was a seamless integration.

I also played around with the hands-free liftgate, and I appreciated the illuminated bowtie that projects on the ground and shows where you need to put your foot. The nice thing was it worked to both open and close the liftgate.

In my tests, I found the open worked better than the close. I don’t know if I was blocking sensors when I tried to close it, but it only worked 50 percent of the time.

Trims

For 2019, Blazer has four trims with a base price less than $30K. The trim breakdown is as follows:

L ($29,995): This trim is only available in front-wheel drive and with the base 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine. It includes features such as OnStar connectivity, 4G LTE WiFi hotspot (subscription fee), passive entry, push-button start, cloth seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and 2 USB ports (one type-A and one type-C).

Blazer ($33,495): While it may seem like there’s a huge jump between this trim and the RS, there are several variations available under this moniker, including both front- and all-wheel-drive platforms, cloth and leather seating surfaces as well as both the 4-cylinder and V-6 engines. This trim also has a bevy of package options, including available features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, remote start, retractable cargo cover, premium cloth trim and heated front seats.



RS ($41,795): This trim is only available with the V-6 engine, and one can opt for either FWD or AWD. It includes features such as heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, power adjustable front seats, leather seats and remote start. Features that become available at this trim include the rear camera mirror, memory seat settings, lane keep assist, heated rear seats, forward automatic braking, navigation and adaptive cruise control.

Premier ($43,895): This trim is only available with the V-6 engine, and one can opt for either FWD or AWD. This trim includes a premium Bose 8-speaker audio system, heated rear seats, memory seat settings and power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Things such as forward automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control are still options even at this top-tier trim.

Safety

The Blazer comes equipped with all your basic safety equipment such as front- and side-impact airbags, knee airbag for the driver, head-curtain airbags and a rear-view backup camera.

Available features to add include an around-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a rear camera mirror, adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane keep alert and lane departure warning.

In a time when vehicles costing less than $20K have more up-level safety features, I’m a bit disappointed that Chevrolet makes you pay extra. In fact, if you want available features -- such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist -- you’ll have to opt for either the RS or Premier trim and then add the Enhanced Convenience and Driver Confidence II Package ($3,575), paying a minimum of $43,370.

The Blazer gets an overall 5-Star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it hasn’t been fully tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

IIHS has tested the moderate front overlap and side crash tests – both of which get “Good” ratings.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.



New for 2019

The Blazer is all-new for the 2019 model year, and slots between the Equinox ($23,800) and the three-row Traverse ($29,930) in terms of pricing.

A few of my favorite things

I’m a huge fan of the interior and exterior styling on the Blazer. I think both sets of designers knocked this one out of the park and hope the trend continues.

I know there’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine coming for 2020, but I really like the 3.6-liter V-6. It had the right amount of power for this vehicle.

Another fave: the standard active noise cancelling. This made the interior of the Blazer quiet. Minimal engine noise or road noise crept into the cabin – even under hard acceleration.



What I can leave

I know I can say this until I’m blue in the face and it won’t make a lick of difference, but I’m saying it again anyway: I hate the auto stop/start engine feature that causes your engine to shut off when you come to a complete stop.

It mutes your HVAC system, and it has a small lag when turning back on, which is just enough of a problem if you must move in a hurry.

General Motors was an early adopter of this feature, and unlike every other manufacturer, it doesn’t give you the option to shut it off. I hate that even more. In fact, it’s for this reason alone that I have a really hard time recommending the Blazer to anyone.

I have found a couple of ways to cheat the system (like moving the gearshift to L and tapping it up to ninth gear and leaving it there), but I shouldn’t have to.

Give me an off switch. Please.

Another pet peeve: Advanced safety as an option. If the $20K Toyota Corolla can include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking at a base level, why can’t the $30K Blazer?



The bottom line

Chevrolet has done an amazing job with the new Blazer. In fact, it’s one of the best GM products I’ve driven in the past few years.

The flexible cargo area, comfy driving position and car-like ride make this an acceptable alternative to anything of the sedan variety.

My stopping point, however, will always be the blasted stop/start engine that GM forces on you. Blazer has one of the better iterations of this feature, but I still don’t like it. All I want is a way to turn it off.

For me it’s a deal-breaker. Maybe it isn’t for you.