Payne: Chevy's new Blazer, a sport-ute in Camaro clothing
The mid-engine Corvette isn’t the only Chevy that’s been getting looks lately.
The same week GM confirmed the fabled C8 'Vette by driving it through the middle of New York’s Times Square, I was piloting the all-new Chevy Blazer SUV through Detroit and turning heads, too. Dressed in RS trim with red paint, blacked-out grille and 21-inch wheels the size of flying saucers, Blazer is a looker.
“That’s it, isn’t it!” said an onlooker emerging from a doughnut shop.
“Whoa, is that the new Blazer? I knew it!” ogled an office security guard.
Say a thank you for halo cars. Not the Corvette (which has always been in a league of its own), but the Chevy Camaro which had a heavy influence on the look of this new ute. It’s about time.
The Chevrolet brand has for too long been a wallflower, its signature split grille vexing to designers. The Malibu’s front end is a dog’s breakfast of too many shapes, the Chevy Equinox and Chevy Traverse bland vanilla cones.
I first saw the Blazer RS at GM’s design center where its bold, black-and-red suit stood out like Ironman at high noon. Sitting in my driveway next to an orange Audi Q8 costing (choke) $35,000 more, the Blazer holds its own.
Like all huge locomotive grilles — think Audi, Lexus, Toyota — the Blazer is polarizing to be sure, but the Camaro cues give it a sinister look. Credit the innovative placement of headlights. The Blazer gets its mean 'Maro visage with thin upper LED running lights — and moving the actual headlights lower on the fascia where you’d find the muscle car’s running lights.
Like a Pontiac Aztec, only good looking! Chevy designers say this amalgam works because the taller grille of an SUV demands lower placement of the peepers to reduce glare in the rear-view mirror of, say, a sedan.
The design, befitting the class, is dramatic from head to toe. This is not your grandpa’s Blazer.
The Blazer of old was truck-based, boxy and rugged. When Chevy resurrected the badge for 2019, it came back as a unibody crossover wedged between the compact Equinox and the family-hauling Chevy Traverse.
It’s a space that attracts adults whose chicks have flown the nest. It's for couples who still want the space of a big ute, but with more stylish looks and sportier ride than the three-row bus. Big as my 4,246-pound tester is, the Blazer sits on the same C1 platform that I have raved about in siblings Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia.
Dial in Sport mode and the beast is remarkably fun to throw around on the road. A front-wheel drive biased architecture it may be (sorry, hot rodders, engine mod-shops like Lingenfelter are unlikely to touch the RS for that reason), but the Blazer features nifty engineering like dual rear clutch all-wheel drive and rotates beautifully through corners.
With a healthy 308 horses from a reliable 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood (shared with Caddys) it ultimately earned me a reprimand from Mrs. Payne who was trying (unsuccessfully) to dial a number on her phone: Slow down!
The mid-size sport-ute segment is dominated by the Jeep Grand Cherokee (what better way to signal you are free of the three-row ute and ready for adventure?). So everyone else is trying to get attention with locomotive-size grilles or sporty tuning. The Blazer is definitely on the wild side of the segment, showing up more conservative offerings from Hyundai (Santa Fe) and Ford (Edge).
With its three-story grille and floating roof, it’s a felt suit and open-collar silk shirt next to the buttoned-up Edge. Though the Edge goes further in the sporting department with an ST trim that is a hot hatch on wheels.
Only the bling-tastic Nissan Murano and its rock-star wardrobe out-blazes the Blazer.
But where the Chevy really excels — and adopts the best of the Camaro — is inside.
No, not the Camaro’s tomb-like visibility — but its tablet screen, sport gauges and unique console with big aviator vents that can be rotated to control cabin temps. The Blazer improves on its muscle-car sibling by placing these controls higher on the console for good visibility and air flow.
GM has been tech-savvy with 4G WiFi and smartphone apps, and the infotainment system reflects that work. Ergonomics are great with clever tools like volume controls on the back of the steering wheel. The attention to detail extends beyond the console with A-pillar aviator vents, sliding rear seats and rear-seat alert.
Again, I compare it to the expensive Audi Q8 — which boasts one of the best interiors in luxury — and the Chevy exudes personality without the premium price tag.
Not all tech is useful, however.
Chevy continues to insist that its products have start/stop engine systems with no driver option to turn them off. Stop/start is fingernails on the blackboard for a lot of drivers (including this one), and not giving them the option to turn it off just makes them more irritable.
I should mention Blazer comes in multiple trims, including a turbo-4 powered, front-wheel drive, $29,995 base model. But if you’re looking to simply downsize from a Chevy Traverse, then I’d recommend the compact but roomy Equinox which is plenty sporty for less coin.
The Blazer continues Chevy’s habit of expensive pricing compared to comparably equipped Japanese competitors. A $38,000 V-6 powered Blazer will offer fewer standard options than a $33,000 V-6 powered Honda Passport, for example. A coveted brand like Jeep might get away with this, but not Chevy.
What the Blazer has that Equinox/Passport/Jeep don’t is that RS badge. It's Camaro inspired with Camaro swagger.
It’s the fashionistas' choice. And like designer clothing, it’ll cost you. My RS tester cashed out at the nose-bleed price of $50,000, which is $3,500 more than the comparably equipped Ford Edge ST I test drove last fall. The Ford’s interior feels dated next to the Chevy’s digs and the Blazer is leaner by 200 pounds, but my motorhead heart beats for the ST badge and its timeless styling, tight handling and 335-horse twin-turbo V-6 (which will leave the Chevy’s normally aspirated V-6 gasping).
Blazer is a work in progress with annoying ticks like stop/start that distract from its nimble handling. And that sticker may make you second-guess how much you want that snazzy interior.
But a red-and-black RS will look really nice next to your mid-engine Corvette.
2019 Chevrolet Blazer
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and four-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV
Price: Base price $35,040 including $1,195 destination charge ($50,765 AWD RS model as tested)
Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6
Power: 193 horsepower, 198 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 308 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque (V-6)
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 sec. (Car and Driver); maximum towing, 4,500 pounds
Weight: 3,810 pounds (4,246 RS as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/27 highway/24 combined (automatic); 18 city/25 highway/21 combined (V-6)
Highs: Camaro interior done right; wicked RS styling
Lows: No option to turn off start/stop; pricey compared to competition
Overall: 3 stars
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.