The new Blazer is a conventional but savvy offering that deftly plugs a size gap in Chevy’s SUV lineup.
Leaving its dirt roots in the past, the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Blazer is a stylish, on-road-focused 2-row SUV that slots between Chevy’s Equinox and Traverse, deftly closing a gap in its SUV lineup. Based on the GM global-C1 architecture underpinning the Cadillac XT5, the new Chevy Blazer is quite conventional but contains a host of keen features including a versatile AWD setup.
The all-new 5-door, 5-passenger FWD/AWD Blazer will compete with other 2-row SUVs – including the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano – in a segment which relies heavily on styling for purchase consideration. “The first time we saw the concept sketches we were excited about it,” said Jeff Boike, the Chevrolet Blazer program engineering manager. “I think the big challenge for engineering is to deliver. A lot of times you'll see a theme, and by the time you incorporate all the engineering criteria, you kind of lose the very thing you were after.”
Unique dimensions, multi-link suspension
The new Chevy Blazer shares GM’s global C1 SUV platform underpinning the Cadillac XT5, but with dedicated mods to enable the rakish design. “There were some challenges,” Boike noted, including extending the track 44 mm when compared to a XT5, “but this enables the 21-in. wheels and much improved vehicle dynamics.”
“We worked extra hard to enable the styling theme,” explained Boike. “If you looked at the concept models, obviously it was much wider and lower, and the design staff were looking to push the wheels and tires outboard. So we had to lower the vehicle by about an inch and we widened it by almost two inches to get the proportions the studio was after.” The end result is an SUV essentially as wide as a Traverse, but as low as an Equinox.
The Blazer uses a MacPherson strut front suspension and 5-link rear suspension. The 5-link rear suspension employs aluminum knuckles, hollow stabilizer bar, an isolated fluid-filled crossmember and cross-axis ball joints for the lateral links. A rack-mounted, belt driven EPS setup grants linear and accurate steering, a trait likely aided by the 5-link rear suspension’s ability to isolate lateral loads from suspension articulation.
Unlike other “sporty” badges, the Blazer’s RS trim provides real changes targeted at enthusiastic drivers. These includes front struts and rear shocks with 40/15% more compression damping, respectively. In addition to its stiffer damping and standard 21-inch wheels/tires, RS models also get a quicker (15.1:1 vs. 16.1:1) steering ratio. After two days of driving on some choppy pavement, we’d wager most owners will prefer the milder compression damping and higher-profile 20-inch rubber on the Premier trim, but enthusiasts will sense a distinct difference dynamically on the RS.
Conventional powertrains, slick AWD setup
The standard engine on the new Blazer is GM’s 2.5-L inline-4, SAE-certified at 193 hp (143 kW) and 188 lb·ft (255 N·m). An available 3.6-L V6 is SAE-certified at 308 hp (230 kW) and 270 lb·ft (366 N·m). The all-aluminum V6 was redone in 2016, and features an 11.5:1 compression ratio, active fuel management and variable intake/exhaust valve phasing. Both direct-injected gasoline engines will feature stop-start functionality and will be paired with GM’s 9-speed automatic transmission.
The optional AWD system (left) on the new Chevy Blazer comes in two flavors, a single clutch system, and a new twin-clutch system on upper trims. Both use an active disconnect setup that in FWD mode stops the rear drive hardware from spinning (a feature alone worth 0.5 mpg according to engineers). Lower trims net a single-clutch rear drive unit (RDU), while RS and Premier trims get the twin-clutch RDU with active torque vectoring/yaw control.
Tied into the driving modes (Normal (FWD); 4x4 (AWD); Sport; Off-Road; plus Tow/Haul if equipped with the towing package) and also leveraging the brake-based traction-control system, the AWD setup provides mode-tailored characteristics. These include Sport mode increasing rear torque bias and yaw assist, and Off-Road mode permitting additional yaw error and rear-power bias at lower speeds. The distinctive modes combined with a true FWD setting adds real versatility to the Blazer while reducing the efficiency hit.
The Blazer’s functionality is also enhanced by the Normal and 4x4 (FWD/AWD) modes being unaffected by the ignition cycle, a rare implementation. “If you left the dealership in AWD [and did not manually change modes], when you traded it in, it’d still be in AWD,” said Larry Mihalko, engineering performance manager on the new Blazer. The system uses rear-wheel rotation and RDU clutch engagement to get the AWD hardware back up to rolling speed before recoupling, allowing modes to be swiftly chosen on the fly, which worked transparently during our time in the new Blazer.
Infotainment: Third time’s the charm
The 2019 Chevy Blazer is one of the first GM vehicles to receive its latest-gen infotainment system, which is perhaps the first GM setup that requires no qualifiers. Going by the literal tag of “Chevrolet Infotainment 3” (CI3), all Blazer trims but base receive an impressively sharp 8-inch display screen that provides snappy graphics and clear, high-def video from the assorted safety cameras.
The CI3 setup has been simplified with more intuitive and responsive smartphone-like controls, and provides access to useful and easily navigated third-party apps such as Spotify, Weather Channel and NPR. The setup is Apple Carplay/Android Auto compatible, and a myChevrolet mobile app leverages additional connected functionality, including remote start/stop; lock/unlock and send-to-navigation features. The CI3 system appears functional with no glaring usability concerns, which some industry observers may note was overdue.
Driving the new normal
What a Malibu or Impala might have represented in decades past when someone was asked to picture the word “car,” the Blazer picks up that mantle in the SUV epoch. The Blazer feels like the new normal and also fills a crucial sales niche in the Chevy lineup. The design is simple but not dull, and its clean lines provide a sense of solidity and security. The handsome and modern styling also applies to the interior (particularly the understated dash treatment), which is uncluttered and functional.
The Blazer’s 3.6-L V6 can’t provide the torque hit of some of its hybrid/turbocharged competition, but makes the most of its 270 lb-ft via the seamless 9-speed automatic. Around town, it’s a solid pairing and only feels breathless at higher-speeds or during wide-open throttle applications. The deft 9-speed also makes the 4-cylinder a viable option for many owners, particularly if towing is not on the agenda (rated at 1,500 lb vs. 4,500 lb for the V6).
Though not ground-breaking in terms of propulsion performance, the Blazer is ripe with small engineering touches. These include six illuminated USB ports, a second row that actually folds flat, an electric glovebox with a PIN setting for valet mode, a logo beamed onto the ground to indicate where to swipe your leg for the hands-free tailgate and a floor-track-based cargo-management system that would be right at home on a premium European offering.
The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer will be offered in six trims from the base Blazer L to Premier with MSRP’s starting at $29,995, and the top Premier trim starting at $43,895. The Blazer will be assembled at GM’s Ramos Arizpe facility in Mexico, with U.S. dealer pipelines expected to be fully stocked by April 1, 2019.
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Paul Seredynski is a contributing writer at SAE International.