Right-sized sport utility
THE GOOD
  • Standout styling
  • Smooth drive
  • Right-sized dimensions
THE BAD
  • HVAC control layout
  • Lack of standard safety features
  • As-tested price
2020 Chevrolet Blazer RS Review and Video

While Ford is readying the world for the resurrection of one of its most iconic off-roaders, Chevrolet took a decidedly different approach when it brought back the Blazer name.

In fairness, the SUV’s last decade on the market before it was discontinued – 1995 to 2004 – was one of relative obscurity, ditching its reputation as a rugged off-road machine in favour of something far more bland. That makes the new Blazer something of an odd reincarnation, drawing design inspiration from the Camaro and grafting it onto a family-friendly package.

Styling: 10/10

SUVs have earned their reputation for being boring and boxy because, well, most of them are. That alone is enough to make the new Blazer stand out in a crowded segment of two-row sport utilities, with an edgy design that’s heavily influenced by the Camaro sports car. That’s especially true of the Blazer RS, with its black accents contrasting nicely with my tester’s premium white paint job.

There’s an argument to be made that the RS trim isn’t just the best-looking version of the Blazer but the only model that makes good use of its sharp and shapely design. Where the loaded Premier relies on just a bit too much brightwork to get its message across – and looks a little plain as a result – the Blazer RS makes a bold statement from all angles.

The RS interior only comes in a black and red motif, but it outduels even the Camaro in doing so. Where the coupe’s cabin is slightly understated, the Blazer RS adds red stitching and HVAC vent bezels on the dash, as well as red inlays and stitching on the seats. The interior is also peppered with some of the shapes found outside – speaker covers, door panel cut-outs, and head unit – that provide a rare cohesiveness in today’s market.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

Beyond the stylish design, there’s a simplicity to the Blazer’s cabin – though it borders on boring. Buttons boasting the same font found in Blazer models from bygone days have a certain lack of sophistication that will be familiar to owners of GM products past but perhaps a bit off-putting to those new to the automaker’s portfolio.

Despite the juvenile appearance of some of the controls, most are intuitively laid out. The HVAC buttons and corresponding temperature displays are an exception, however, obscured from view by a protruding piece of dashboard. That there’s a redundancy to the buttons – climate controls can be called up on the centralized touchscreen display – makes their placement that much more puzzling.

Mounted high atop the dash, the Blazer’s eight-inch touchscreen runs GM’s latest infotainment interface that’s underrated for its aesthetics and ease of use. While the contrast could be taken down a notch or two (lighter colours look a little washed out), the premium screen in my tester was bright and crisp, while responsiveness proved second to none. Simple circular icons adorn the home screen – as well as the shortcut menu along the bottom left portion of it – and provide quick access to the various apps built in.

Ride height is such that the Blazer isn’t particularly difficult to climb into, while the rear doors open wide enough to make life easy for parents with children who need help buckling in. Standing 188 mm from the ground, there’s less clearance than the smaller Honda CR-V (209 mm) or Toyota RAV4 (213 mm), both of which provide slightly more cargo room and lower cargo floors. With a liftover height that’s mid-thigh high, lugging heavy items like suitcases into the back takes slightly more effort than what’s required with some competitors. Even the Toyota 4Runner, despite offering significantly more ground clearance (243 mm), features a lower liftover height than the Blazer.

Practicality: 9/10

The Blazer occupies something of a unique corner of the two-row SUV market. Measuring 4,862 mm from tip to tail, it’s similar in size to the 4Runner, an outlier in a segment where smaller entries like the RAV4 and CR-V enjoy incredible popularity. With the Equinox already competing with those best-sellers, the Blazer gives Chevrolet something of a right-sized option for a family of three or four looking for more space in something this side of a three-row SUV.

Despite their smaller dimensions, both the RAV4 and CR-V offer slightly more cargo room than the Blazer. Toyota’s two-row features 1,059 L behind the back seats and 1,977 L with them folded, while the CR-V offers 1,110 L with the rear seats up and 2,146 L with them down. The Blazer, meanwhile, has 864 L with all seats upright and 1,818 L with them folded. It is, however, a boxy cargo compartment, and the seats fold completely flat for maximum usability. There are also some small in-floor storage cubbies, and an available divider that’s mounted on rails and can split the cargo area to keep items secured. The second row can also slide fore and aft for slightly more cargo room as required.

Where the Blazer comes up marginally short of its smaller competitors in its ability to carry cargo it makes up for with room for people. Both rows of seats provide noticeably more space to stretch out, particularly in terms of width. There’s also plenty of legroom in the second row, though the optional panoramic sunroof featured on my tester cut into the available rear headroom.

Features: 7.5/10

That a sunroof isn’t standard fare on any Blazer model is but one of the many puzzling packaging decisions. Advanced safety and driver-assist features, too, must be added through pricey upgrade packages. Worse still, stuff like automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control is only offered in the two most expensive trims (RS and Premier). In an era when rivals are including such equipment in even their most affordable models, it isn’t a good look for the bowtie brand that those features aren’t even available in cheaper trims.

Otherwise, most features expected in an SUV like this are offered – particularly in the RS and Premier models. All trims get heated front seats, an eight-inch infotainment system (though there are different tiers that range in quality and content), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot that works as far as 50 ft away from the vehicle. The Blazer RS adds a heated steering wheel and built-in navigation, while the Premier gets ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.

My tester featured a $4,395 upgrade package that includes a host of advanced safety features, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and a digital rear-view mirror that provides a live video feed of what’s happening directly behind the Blazer – a handy feature when the view out the back window is obstructed. There’s also a surround-view monitor and about a dozen different camera angles that can be pulled up on the head unit, including a hitch view that makes aligning with a trailer easier.

Power: 9/10

The 2020 Blazer is offered with a trio of engine choices, including a pair of four-cylinders and a V6 – the latter of which is the only one offered in RS and Premier models. It’s a naturally aspirated 3.6L motor that generates 308 hp and 270 lb-ft, providing plenty of passing power and linear acceleration when required. As an added bonus, the exhaust provides a throaty snarl that isn’t especially menacing but offers a theatre of sound that’s perfectly matched to the sport utility’s personality.

It’s no performance SUV, but the Blazer RS certainly is a smooth operator. There’s a familiarity here that’s reminiscent of V6-powered GM sport utilities of the last two decades, only modernized. Credit the nine-speed automatic transmission and twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system for giving the Blazer’s powertrain a modern flair, and the naturally aspirated engine for keeping it firmly rooted in the past in the best way possible.

Fuel Economy: 6.5/10

The throwback feel of the V6-powered Blazer is also notable in just how much gas it consumes. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates six-cylinder models at 13.1 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 L/100 km on the highway for combined consumption of 11.4 L/100 km. That’s not especially impressive – and neither were my real-world results. A weeklong test spanning 600 km finished at 11.5 L/100 km combined. Considering the vast majority of my time with the Blazer was spent in front-wheel drive, cruising secondary highways and country roads, I expected better.

Driving Feel: 9/10

Simply put, the Blazer was built to gobble up long stretches of highway with little fuss. It delivers all the stereotypical characteristics of an SUV – good road presence, a sense of stability, and a feeling of size and substance – while remaining manageable and easy to drive. The steering is a touch too limber, but it’s equally easy to keep the Blazer pointed in its desired direction as it is to negotiate a tightly packed parking lot.

It drives larger than it is, though the Blazer isn’t especially small and feels every bit the big and brooding sport utility Chevy is trying to sell. The RS version gets slightly stiffer suspension tuning and a tighter steering ratio, though the ride is compliant and pleasant. True, the Blazer RS weighs upwards of 1,900 kg (4,189 lb), all of which can be felt when cornering sharply. But again, it’s no performance SUV and shouldn’t be treated as such.

All-wheel drive is optional on most – though not all – models, though GM’s slick twin-clutch system is standard fare on the V6-powered RS and Premier. It’s a driver-selectable system that can be left in front-wheel drive or one of three all-wheel-drive settings, including a sport mode. What makes the twin-clutch system so special is its ability to quickly shift available torque front-to-back and side-to-side as needed. As much as 100 per cent of the available torque can be sent to either set of wheels when traction dictates, while the system can also send all of that to either the left or right wheel if the other is slipping.

While I spent the majority of my week trying – and failing – to sip as little fuel as possible, the few times I did engage the all-wheel-drive system proved just how well the twin-clutch setup performs. Flicking the selector to sport mode isn’t met with the same kind drama offered by other brands (after all, it only affects the all-wheel drive; throttle response doesn’t get a boost), but it’s quick to route plenty of torque to all four wheels to get the hefty SUV off the line in a hurry.

Comfort: 9/10

Despite the stiffer suspension tune, the Blazer RS is one comfy and compliant cruiser. Suspension damping is spongy enough to dispatch rough roads without making a mess of a morning coffee, while the cabin is quiet enough that ruts and washboards will go mostly unnoticed as the standard 20-inch wheels rock and roll their way across them.

The sense of size and substance that’s tangible behind the wheel also lends well to the Blazer’s cabin remaining hushed out on the highway, with barely a hint of road noise making its way inside. While an occasional squeak came from the dash during testing, time and again the Blazer proved itself a quiet and composed road trip companion. I did find the driver’s seat a little too firm on longer drives, though, leading to notable fatigue over time.

Safety: 8/10

The Blazer held up well in minimal crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), though the regimen wasn’t complete enough to warrant a safety rating from the non-profit organization. The IIHS did, however, note mostly good results – the best it gives – in moderate front overlap and side impact crash testing.

All versions of the Blazer come with seven airbags and the requisite rear-view camera the government mandated a couple of years ago, while blind-spot monitoring is equipped on most models. But little beyond that is standard – and most of it isn’t even available in more affordable trims. Forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control are only offered as add-ons in the two most expensive models.

My tester was decked out with all the various advanced systems offered, and they performed well and without panic. In fact, that’s probably the best way to describe the different safety and driver-assist features available – that they work without excess alarm and overreaction. While the different sensors have the right amount of sensitivity to work as required, there aren’t the startling beeps and flashes found in some competitors’ systems at the mere sniff of another vehicle.

Value: 7/10

The 2020 Blazer starts at $35,098 while the Blazer RS rings in at $46,198, neither of which are unreasonable sums for such an SUV. That extra $11,000 – which is a little less than the pre-tax price of a 2020 Chevrolet Spark, for those keeping score at home – covers the cost of the upgraded model’s outstanding styling package, V6 engine, and all-wheel drive. However, it still comes short of the kind of creature comforts one can reasonably expect for the money.

To add the advanced safety features, as well as an eight-speaker stereo, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a wireless phone charger, among others, requires another $4,395 – all for features that really should be included for the sticker price. My tester included the upgrade package and more (panoramic power sunroof, pearl white paint, and an engine block heater), pushing the selling price to $55,668 with freight and fees included.

The Verdict

The 2020 Chevrolet Blazer RS is one of the best-driving SUVs of its kind. It also looks fantastic, with the sporty styling package turning it into what might very well be the best-looking sport utility on the mainstream market. It is, however, a pricey proposition once in-demand features are added. But those who can stomach the price – and the high fuel bills – will find a right-sized SUV that delivers style and substance in spades.

Right-sized sport utility 5/19/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V4
Peak Horsepower 308 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Peak Torque 270 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.1/9.4/11.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 864 / 1,818 L seats down