Chevy TrailBlazer SS has awesome go power

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Some vehicles simply defy soaring gas prices. No matter how insanely high pump prices go, these vehicles are still a “must have.”

Perhaps you will have to keep the old computer for another 12 months or put off the new riding lawn mower purchase for a year or two to keep your new motorized toy fueled and ready without throwing the household budget completely out of whack.

One vehicle that fits the “must have” category — regardless of the cost of fossil fuel and what it may do to the budget — is the new Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS, the first-ever General Motors sport utility overhauled by the company’s performance division. Unfortunately the TrailBlazer SS is the only bright spot for the TrailBlazer line-up which was down 31-percent overall year over year for May.

The SS comes with a 6.0-liter Corvette V-8 generating 395 horsepower, a retuned suspension and many other extras. While this may be too late for TrailBlazer life expectancy it isn’t too soon for the performance lovin’, tire smokin’ crowd.

It also comes with a fuel mileage rating of 15 mpg city and 19 mpg on the highway — with premium fuel highly recommended. Those figures may give you pause no matter how strong your craving for a muscular V-8 under the hood of an otherwise practical mid-sized sport utility.

But before the TrailBlazer SS is completely dismissed let’s throw out some numbers: The comparably sized Ford Explorer with its top 292-horsepower V-8 returns only 15/21. The Jeep Grand Cherokee with its 345-horsepower V-8 is rated at a guzzling 15/20 and the large Toyota Sequoia with a 273-horsepower V-8 realizes just 15/18. Even the slightly smaller Toyota 4Runner with a V-8 generating 260 horsepower has a fuel rating of only 17/20.

So the question arises, why sacrifice tire-smoking performance not available in the aforementioned vehicles for basically the same gas mileage and sticker price?

If you need an adequately sized SUV for hauling and towing, you sacrifice nothing with the TrailBlazer SS package. It has a tow rating of 6,700 pounds and comes with 80 cubic feet of cargo space with the second-row seats folded flat and a hefty 44 cubic feet behind the seats. And the really good part is that the SS package in either two- or four-wheel-drive mode can be added to any TrailBlazer trim level for the bargain price of $4,895.

For example, our test vehicle with the SS goodies in standard LS trim came to $31,380. That’s no more than you would pay for a V-8 Explorer, Sequoia, Grand Cherokee or 4Runner.

So what does the high-performance package give the consumer?

The most obvious thing is the rumbling 6.0-liter V-8. The engine falls just short of the Corvette numbers because of packaging issues in the TrailBlazer. But it lacks only five horsepower from the Corvette output with 395, and it is endowed with the Vette’s 400 pound-feet of torque.

The power is directed through GM’s very venerable four-speed automatic, tuned for firm gear changes and outstanding response. Forget the ubiquitous seamless shifts of a modern transmission.

On the road, the transmission is quick to kick down when asked, responding with a surge of power and a throaty roar. Performance is just this side of awesome — 5.5 seconds from 0 to 60 and 14.1 seconds at 98 miles per hour in the quarter mile as measured by a major auto magazine. Those figures are noteworthy considering the TrailBlazer weighs in at 4,842 pounds.

Other features that come with the SS package are a hot-looking monochromatic exterior with black mesh grille, 20-inch six-spoke polished cast aluminum wheels with V-rated tires, road course tuned suspension, more powerful brakes, good-fitting sport seats and a tire pressure monitor.

The SS TrailBlazer will hold the road like no other Chevy sport utility. It can be driven aggressively with a measure of forgiveness. We don’t recommend it, but the stability control system can be disabled to create power slides and other dubious maneuvers, surely for no useful purpose than cheap thrills.

All TrailBlazers get additional sound insulation and it is noticeable. The Chevy sport utility now has an interior as quiet as anything in its class.

The current generation TrailBlazer dates back to 2002 and although it’s in its fifth year — retirement age in car years — it still offers a stylish exterior, a roomy comfortable interior, clear and attractive dashboard and a base 4.2-liter inline 6 cylinder engine — now rated at 291 horsepower — that continues to adequately compete with its rivals.

On-road handling is not a strong suit in the standard-issue TrailBlazer, but the SS package takes care of that problem.

The Chevy dashboard layout is attractive and functional. A full gauge package includes a large tachometer and speedometer with four smaller gauges to the right.

Chevrolet continues to make the most useable radio in the business with large knobs for volume and tuning. And our SS tester came with XM Satellite Radio as a $325 option.

One useful feature our test vehicle did not have was steering wheel controls.

Since testing the limits of the SS is for occasional fun, the practicality of the vehicle is probably of more importance in many situations. So it is good to know that the split rear seats fold down flat simply by lifting the seat cushion up and folding the seat back forward. There’s no need to remove the headrests, they fold up neatly against the back of the front seats.

One of the best aspects of the SS package outside the obvious infusion of power is the cleaned-up look of the exterior, which includes an inch lower ride height and the great-looking 20-inch wheels.

Chevrolet has kept the price of the SS package low enough to put it in the “that’s a bargain” category. For performance fanatics who lean toward the sport utility end of the automotive spectrum, it presents an attractive alternative. But hurry!