2019 Chevrolet Blazer First Drive Review | Sporty duds, questionable value

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – For the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer, everything started with the styling. The low, wide and sporty crossover put on paper by designer Jawook Koo obliged engineer Larry Mihalko’s vehicle performance team to produce a final product that drives with an athleticism to match its appearance.

“We’re car enthusiasts,” Mihalko said, clearly indicating that getting a mandate to create an actually sporty utility vehicle was exciting, and almost a relief. The resulting mid-size crossover is indeed sportier than both the segment norm and Chevrolet’s other SUVs. While its Equinox and Traverse siblings are rather anonymous in their styling and driving experience, the 2019 Blazer, by contrast, draws inspiration from the lively Camaro.

There’s no missing the similarities. It’s most obviously inside with the rotary knee-level climate controls/vents and the shape of the touchscreen above. The exterior doesn’t have the same literal translation – Koo purposely steered clear of overt styling cues like the 2013 Malibu’s Camaro taillights. There’s enough shared styling DNA to give it a Camaro vibe: similar rear-quarter window line and sharpened hips below, plus the RS trims’ comparable glossy black trim. It’s about cohesion rather than nesting doll similarity, and Chevrolet would be wise to build upon this to foster a stronger brand identity. But in general, it’s as much about the Blazer’s low, wide stance and colossal wheels that fill up the fenders in a similar Hot Wheels-like manner.

Great, but does it drive like a Camaro? Well, don’t expect power slides and rear-wheel-drive dynamics as the Blazer still runs on the same front-drive platform as the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia. However, it’s 40mm wider than its platform mates and an inch lower. The MacPherson strut front and five-link multilink rear suspension have been tuned, and successfully so, to reduce body roll.

“I don’t like tippyness in a crossover vehicle,” Mihalko said.

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Indeed, even a more basic four-cylinder Blazer riding on 18-inch wheels whipped around a cloverleaf with poise and minimal roll. The RS trim stays even flatter courtesy front struts that boast 40 percent greater compression control and rears that are 15 percent greater, while its available all-wheel drive system features torque-vectoring at the rear to increase grip. Opting for the available 21-inch wheels as fitted on our primary test car takes things even further in terms of both body roll and grip.

However, having such big wheels and a suspension tuned for road holding does result in a compromised ride. Even the Blazer on 18s had a firmer ride than we’ve come to expect from GM’s crossovers, but damping is quite good, and it’s perfectly acceptable for a vehicle with sporting intentions. On the other hand, the 21-inch-equipped RS grew tiresome when driving between 25 and 50 mph on anything but perfect pavement. We couldn’t see the bumps, but we could sure feel them. It was admittedly more livable at highway speeds. If anything, though, this just confirms the family DNA with Camaro. Also, such trade-offs are accepted in sporty SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 and Porsche Cayenne, so why not Blazer?

Unfortunately, the electric power steering isn’t in the same league. Despite being rack-mounted as it should be for ideal responsiveness – it doesn’t engage enough or provide sufficient feedback. A quicker ratio in the RS doesn’t sufficiently help, nor does engaging the Sport mode that dials in extra effort (and a little too much at that). A decidedly un-sporty steering wheel is a bummer, too. Boosting the Camaro’s would’ve been nice.

2019 Chevrolet Blazer

The Blazer’s powertrain also doesn’t go quite far enough. Now, the available 3.6-liter V6 boasts a stout 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, and with a base curb weight of 4,007 pounds, acceleration is undeniably swift. A Traverse has the same engine, weighs 400 pounds more, and has been clocked from zero to 60 mph in the mid-6-second range. With front-wheel drive, it’ll chirp and hop the tires if you gun it. All-wheel drive unsurprisingly calms things, and is thus recommended, as it can send as much as 100 percent of its power rearward (the system’s torque split is actually rear-biased in Sport mode). Throttle response is pleasingly sharp.

So it’s not the resulting acceleration that’s the problem. Rather, it’s the way it goes about it. The V6 just sounds like any old V6, there’s no exhaust snarl even in the RS, the nine-speed automatic transmission is unremarkable, and there’s no proper manual mode, let alone paddle shifters to control it. These criticisms may seem superfluous in a midsize SUV, and maybe they are in reference to the ritzier Premier trim level, but remember, this is a midsize SUV that is channeling Camaro. It’s attempting to be sporty, to match its driving dynamics to decidedly exciting exterior styling. It’s in the areas of feel and sound that great performance-oriented vehicles – regardless of segment – ultimately stand out. They can make you fall in love.

They can also help a car warrant a higher price, which brings us to the 2019 Blazer’s biggest hang up. Our loaded RS test car would hit the register at $ 50,765. That’s shocking. It’s also about the same as a similarly loaded Ford Edge ST, which has 30 more horsepower and 111 more pound-feet of torque.

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The more luxury-oriented Blazer Premier trim with the same comfort/convenience equipment would similarly cross the 50-grand threshold. It would also be about $ 3,000 more expensive than a loaded Acura RDX A-Spec and just $ 3,000 less than a loaded Mercedes-Benz GLC 300. Admittedly, both have less horsepower and the GLC is smaller, but this is nevertheless the sandbox in which Chevrolet has decided to play with that asking price.

And to that metaphorical sandbox, the Blazer just doesn’t bring enough. The interior might score points for its Camaro-inspired design, but the materials are nowhere close to what you’d get in similarly priced and equipped luxury-branded vehicles. Heck, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, for the same price, offers much better materials and a richer overall ambiance. From the Blazer’s cheap plastic on the rear doors to the stiff, non-fluid action of those rotary vents, there’s nothing $ 50,000 about this cabin.

Admittedly, the interior quality is perfectly acceptable at lower trim levels, but their value remains questionable. The Blazer 1LT we also drove with the perfectly serviceable 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (193 hp, 188 lb-ft) and a more basic amount of equipment (see bottom of this page for a complete trim and features breakdown), still carried a sticker of $ 35,340. That’s nearly what you’d pay for a turbocharged Mazda CX-5, or any number of other loaded compact SUVs.

Ah, but what about size? The 2019 Blazer is a mid-size model, with exterior dimensions that put it in the camp of such vehicles as the Edge and Grand Cherokee. It’s also quite wide, resulting in more shoulder room in the back seat relative the Edge and all compact models. You’re more likely to fit three across or fit people on either side of a child seat.

However, rear seat legroom at 39.6 inches is only similar to larger compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, while it has less headroom. That sleek, low roof will likely result in your hair grazing the headliner, and with the panoramic sunroof, you might even need to slouch or utilize the seatback’s ample recline.

That back seat also slides generously, making it easy to bring kids closer to those in front or free up extra cargo space. That’s a good thing, since its on-paper figures are unremarkable. There’s 30.3 cubic feet with the seats raised and 64.2 when they are lowered completely flat thanks to a cleverly engineered seat bottom (see cargo video below). By contrast, the biggest compact models like the CR-V and Forester are in the mid 30s and 70s, respectively. Even Chevy’s own Equinox has only a single cubic foot less of maximum cargo capacity than the Blazer.

So, you’re really not getting extra space or equipment for your money. You’re also not getting enough of a premium vibe in the Premier, and as a model with performance intentions, the RS just doesn’t go far enough to engage and excite. The design and the resulting enthusiasm of its engineers gave the 2019 Chevy Blazer such a solid foundation for success. Yet it frankly seems like the bean counters prevented the extra effort that really could’ve made the Blazer something special in the segment – or at least worth its high price.

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