Sunday September 16, 2012
Blazing the trail
By LEE PANG SENG
A short track in Bangkok shows off what the new Chevrolet SUV is capable of.
CHEVROLET is no newcomer to making sport utility vehicles, enjoying some success with the Captiva.
The Trailblazer is a bigger, more comfortable and refined version of that SUV.
It is the latest Chevrolet model to roll off the assembly line at GM Thailandís production facility in Rayong, and is expected to be introduced here early next year.
It follows in the footsteps of the Colorado pick-up, which is said to have become the best-selling non-Japanese model in the Thai market. Although the Trailblazer shares a similar platform with the Colorado, it runs on a slightly shorter wheelbase without being stingy on interior space for seven passengers on board.
A brief ride on the third row seats have impressed on the reasonably good legroom, without cramping head or elbow room, as well as providing pretty good support for the back and thighs.
As expected of such vehicles, the third row seatrest is evenly split to be folded flat to load up on fairly sizeable items.
If you need even more space for longer items, the second seatrest is split 60:40 to allow you the flexibility to fold accordingly to accommodate the item.
My acquaintance with the Trailblazer took me from the Oriental Residency in the heart of Bangkok to the Khao Yai national park, in particular to Farm Chokchai, a successful corporation in dairy cattle breeding, agriculture, agro-tourism, and farm management consultancy and studies.
It was in parts of the 3,200ha Farm Chokchai spread that I got to gauge the Trailblazer for its four-wheel drive off-road capability through mudholes as well as enjoy the merits of two premium features: Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.
While these items used to be a mainstay in higher end models, you see see them more in the intermediate ranges now.
Once these features are activated, all you need to do is step on the brake and let the SUV take over. In Hill Descent Control, you let the vehicle management system control the speed of descent (usually no more than 7km/h) and take your feet off the accelerator. The moment you touch the accelerator, the system is disengaged.
Likewise, the Hill Start Assist: stand on the brakes for a while (about five seconds) in mid-gradient and when you take your foot off, the Trailblazer will not roll back. You then accelerate up the slope, but donít take your time doing it as it will disengage after a few seconds.
The mudholes and off-road trails were taken with confidence, switching between four-wheel high and four-wheel low modes.
Like modern part-time four-wheel drive vehicles, you can switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive high mode at speeds of up to 100km/h for light off-roading. You do this by turning a dedicated button on the central console.
The Trailblazer models provided for the drive, involving media teams from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, were the top LTZ versions. This model comes with electronic adjustments for the driverís seat using a single control to select the respective areas and navigational assistance on a centre panel screen.
Folks sitting at the front have the luxury of six cupholders: two on the central console, one each on the respective door pocket; and a retractable facility on each end of the dashboard in front of the air-cond vent. The third item is practical if you want to keep your drinks cool on a hot day.
The road drive, taking in endless straight stretches of highways and some mild potholed B-graders, gave some light impressions of the Trailblazer. The pace car, a Colorado pick-up with two huge containers of drinks in the rear load area, led at modest speeds, giving limited experience in gauging this SUVís dynamic qualities through the few corners available.
Highway drives were mostly quiet affairs save for the clearly discernible hum from the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine: despite the modest speeds, it was noticeably louder than many of the turbo-diesels we have driven in the recent past and the firewall insulation could do with more padding.
The Trailblazerís power units are the same as those in the Colorado, being the 2.8-litre and smaller 2.5-litre turbo-diesels: the 2.8-litre experienced here delivers 180bhp and 470Nm of torque, while the transmission is a six-speed automatic.
Ride-wise, the five-link rear suspension absorbed the hard impacts of the potholed B-grade roads well enough to enjoy the drive.
By any means, the Trailblazer can take on the Malaysian market with what it has to offer, especially if its price here is attractively set.