The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS certainly isn’t the Trailblazer you remember – assuming you remember it in the first place.
While technically an all-new model, a midsize SUV bearing the Trailblazer name came before it and enjoyed reasonable success over its eight years or so on the Canadian market. Now it’s back and smaller than before, riding on a unibody platform and utilizing an efficient three-cylinder engine. While fun to drive and available with all kinds of technology, its unrefined drive and shocking selling price make it somewhat disappointing in this subcompact crossover segment.
The Trailblazer looks like a shrunken-down version of the larger Chevy Blazer, and that’s a compliment. While the aggressive and sporty exterior styling might not be for everyone, the big grille and narrow LED headlights command attention from onlookers.
This tester was particularly eye-catching thanks to its Oasis Blue body colour and contrasting black roof. The RS trim level also includes uniquely styled front and rear ends, 18-inch alloy wheels with black-painted accents, and red RS exterior and interior badging, leaning into the Trailblazer’s sporty appearance a bit more.
The Trailblazer RS is technically the range-topping Trailblazer trim, so it comes equipped with a range of advanced safety features that include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision alert, and lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning. This tester also featured adaptive cruise control, which is included in the $1,895 Technology pack.
While our test vehicle had all the safety features one would expect of a modern crossover, the base LS trim level leaves room for improvement. Items like rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are standard, but rival manufacturers have much more impressive active safety suites on their entry-level trims. The Honda HR-V, for example, comes standard with automatic emergency braking, as well as road-departure mitigation, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Active safety items are of utmost importance, and Chevy could stand to make some improvements in this department.
It’s also worth noting the Trailblazer only received a four-star rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), missing out on a five-star rating due to its four-star front crash and rollover protection results.
The Trailblazer manages to do a lot with a little, its boxy shape helping to maximize interior cargo and passenger space. It offers 716 L of cargo space with the rear seats up and an impressive 1,540 L with the seats folded down. The front passenger seat also folds completely flat, making it possible to load longer items into this stubby little crossover.
The vehicle’s upright shape also makes ingress and egress easy for both front and rear passengers, while the flat and relatively low rear cargo floor makes loading and unloading heavy items easy. If there’s one area where the Trailblazer excels it’s in everyday usability.
User Friendliness: 10/10
There’s nothing about the Trailblazer’s operation or technology that is difficult to get used to. The climate control system is operated with big chunky buttons and dials; the touchscreen is easy to use and has large fonts; and a traditional gear lever is used to control the transmission rather than a rotary dial or a confusing mish-mash of buttons. The optional hands-free power tailgate our tester came with also helped make life a little bit easier when running errands. Lastly, it has a tight turning radius and heavily boosted electric power steering rack, making parking in tight spaces or manoeuvring in city centres a breeze.
The entry-level Trailblazer comes with some attractive standard features, especially for today’s tech-obsessed consumers. Standard features include a seven-inch touchscreen, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Type-A and Type-C USB ports, and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot.
Our tester came with the well-priced Convenience Package ($620) which replaces the seven-inch touchscreen with a larger eight-inch unit and adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, and a three-month satellite radio subscription. This package also brings some more safety features to the vehicle, including blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic and lane-change alert, but these are the types of safety features that Chevy should really include as standard.
The Chevy Trailblazer is available with two three-cylinder engines, which are the first of their kind that General Motors (GM) has offered in North America since the Geo brand was still around in the early 2000s. The base is a turbocharged 1.2L, which produces 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The RS trim level tested here comes with the more powerful turbocharged 1.3L, which is good for 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque.
Paired with a quick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive (AWD), the 1.3L engine makes the Trailblazer RS surprisingly quick for what it is. The snappy engine has plenty of low-end torque for city driving, though highway passing performance leaves a little to be desired. While the performance of the engine is ample, it felt a bit coarse under throttle during testing and has a rough, tractor-like noise when idling.
We found the sporty Trailblazer RS, with its standard 18-inch wheels, to have a needlessly stiff ride. We get the RS has sporty aspirations with its factory-installed body kit and red badges, but there’s really no need for a small family crossover to be even a little bit stiff. Sure, the Trailblazer handles well for what it is, but we think the average Canadian Chevy Trailblazer buyer would prefer more pothole-friendly suspension tuning.
While the comfort of the suspension leaves something to be desired, the Trailblazer’s seats are well designed, offering plenty of support and side bolstering. You won’t feel bad about sticking two adults in the back seat, either, which is more than we can say about some other more-cramped offerings in the subcompact crossover segment.
Driving Feel: 8/10
This crossover feels solid and well-planted from behind the wheel. This, combined with its nimble handling and snappy powertrain, makes it surprisingly satisfying to drive for a subcompact crossover. While we would have preferred softer suspension and smaller wheels for comfort, there’s no denying that the Trailblazer RS is fun to drive when the road gets twisty.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
When equipped with AWD, the 1.3L engine, and that nine-speed transmission, the Trailblazer is rated at 8.9 L/100 km in the city, 7.8 L/100 km on the highway, and 8.4 L/100 km combined. This is on par with other rivals in the segment and is about as fuel efficient as a near-1,500 kg (3,307-lb) crossover with AWD can get. It was also easy to match this combined fuel economy rating in day-to-day driving – even after we did a couple of hard acceleration tests to measure the might of the 1.3L engine.
The Trailblazer’s base price of $25,598 (including the $1,800 destination charge) is on-par with the competition, although we were left dismayed at the $36,883 sticker price before tax affixed to our RS trim level test vehicle. It did come generously equipped, but we still think it’s hard to justify spending nearly $40,000 on a subcompact vehicle, no matter how many features it comes packed with. We also felt as though it was missing some features normally offered at this price point, such as a heated steering wheel (which is not available on any Trailblazer trim level for 2021) and certain active safety features.
We liked the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS’s fun-to-drive nature and spry handling, while the turbocharged 1.3L engine and crisp nine-speed transmission provided ample performance for day-to-day driving. Smart interior packaging also helps to maximize practicality, offering ample room for passengers and cargo.
Unfortunately, we found the Trailblazer’s ride to be a bit too stiff for a family crossover. We also want to see Chevrolet integrate more standard active safety tech into base vehicles like we’ve seen from its direct rivals such as Honda and Kia, for example.
The Trailblazer’s shortcomings shouldn’t be enough to discount this efficient and easy-to-use crossover from shoppers’ test-drive lists, but they should encourage them to take a hard look at its direct segment rivals before making a down payment.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I3|
|Peak Horsepower||155 hp|
|Peak Torque||174 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||8.9 / 7.8 / 8.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||716 / 1,540 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS|
|Price as Tested||$36,983|
$4,585 – Sun and Liftgate Package, $1,995; Technology Package, $1,895; Convenience Package, $695