Review: 2021 Chevy Trailblazer AWD ACTIV

The Trailblazer returns, determined to be the Little SUV that Could.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world economy to a halt, and the automotive sector is no exception. Here in the U.S., the effect of the crisis has been the predictable overall flattening of new car demand. The quant jocks at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) calculate a 39%-52% decrease in March and April new vehicle sales vs. 2019.

Here’s the good news: Americans love our cars, including yours truly. While ridesharing and public transportation have their place, it’s fair to assume that our preference for the privacy and independence that piloting your vehicle is not going away post-COVID. BCG surveyed 5,000 people and found that they now see private transport as safer than the public alternatives.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

That’s excellent news for automakers — especially those that invested in the red-hot CUV market. Chevrolet is well-positioned in the SUV and CUV department, with a product mix that features the latest Silverado (launched for MY2019), new Tahoe (MY2021), and this week’s return of the Trailblazer.

Chevrolet promotes the Trailblazer as a small SUV with a huge personality. After a day with the 2021 Trailblazer AWD in the ACTIV trim, I concur. It’s a CUV that punches well above its weight class in terms of style, creature comforts, and tech.

Exterior

The exterior of the Trailblazer is edgy and sculpted. The front fascia bears a striking resemblance to the Camaro, which to me, is a very, very good thing. Some CUVs look like miniature versions of their SUV brethren; some look like jelly beans with spoilers. I’ll take my CUV with a dose of Camaro any day of the week.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

Trailblazer buyers will have choices to find a trim that matches their personality. The ACTIV is what it sounds like, a Trailblazer geared towards the hiking/camping/outdoorsy set with underbody shielding and beefy Sport Terrain 17” tires. The RS earns its rally sport badge with an aggressive grille and smart use of black to make it look lower, meaner, and faster. In keeping with Chevy’s trim nomenclature, the LT is the luxury variant, and more economical stablemates accompany it in the LS and L.

While the aesthetic changes are pronounced from trim to trim, the underlying dimensions and ride height remain the same.

Interior

I was impressed with the content that Chevy’s designers fit into the compact cabin. From a technology perspective, the Trailblazer ACTIV punches above its weight class and provides everything a modern commuter would want. Our tester came with CarPlay, a powerful Bose audio system, wireless charging, and a USB outlet for rear passengers.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

Despite its diminutive size, I felt comfortable piloting the Trailblazer thanks to its host of creature comforts, including a leather steering wheel and 10-way adjustable power seats with the ever-important lumbar support (my back reminds me daily why I should have stretched when I was young.) 

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

Behind the hands-free liftgate, the Trailblazer’s cargo capacity is a respectable 54.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. If you’re worried your Home Depot trips could be hindered by ditching your pick-up for a CUV, worry not. The Trailblazer’s front passenger seat folds down to allow for a whopping 8.5-foot maximum cargo length.

In addition to all of the technology and functionality, the Trailblazer’s interior has a strong personality to match its exterior. On the ACTIV, the Trailblazer’s interior skews in a fun direction with a large body-colored dashboard mid-panel and with complementary seat inserts. The RS pushes in a more subtle, upscale direction with subtle use of body-colored accents and contrast stitching.

Performance

I found the Trailblazer ACTIV perfectly competent for my street and freeway driving needs.

The Ecotec 1.3L three-cylinder turbo is good for 155 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. In this category, MPG is more critical than 0-60 stats, and the Trailblazer earns a respectable 29 mpg city / 33 mpg highway / 31 mpg combined.  Our loaner was optioned with GM’s 9-speed automatic and shifts were smooth and predictable, even in Sport mode. A CVT is also available.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

In daily traffic, the Trailblazer ACTIV had enough pep for freeway onramps and standard passing maneuvers. I do recommend stepping up to the Ecotec 1.3L as I’m not sure the base 1.2L engine with 137-horsepower would be enough to contend with our fellow LA drivers.

The Trailblazer features four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Snow, and AWD. I didn’t have the chance to test Snow, but I did select Sport mode, which engaged a heavier steering feel and let the turbo three-banger get more revvy. I could see the RS being pretty fun, especially with some light tuning, including a requisite exhaust to help it channel its inner Camaro.

Our tester was fully loaded with active and passive safety features, including automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and lane change alert with blind zone alert. The Trailblazer also features Chevy’s Teen Driver package, which coaches (monitors, coaches, you say to-mae-to I say to-mah-to) teens on how to be safer drivers.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV

I thought for sure my kid’s first car would be a truck, but after a day in the Trailblazer, I’m open to something more sporty, high-tech, and loaded with safety. I’m not alone, as Chevy reports early indicators are that the Trailblazer is picking up younger buyers above expectations.

Summing it up, there are more choices than ever for would-be CUV buyers. Pandemic notwithstanding, I think the CUV trend will only continue to grow — especially if folks feel like they have to tighten their belts and get out of their full-size trucks and SUVs.

With cargo capacity, tech features, and comfort on par with its bigger siblings, the all-new Trailblazer deserves to be in the consideration set. The Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, and other popular CUVs are going to get a run for their money from the likes of the Trailblazer.

As much as I liked my short stint in the Trailblazer ACTIV, the RS is much more my speed in terms of style. Even though the left side of the brain knows that the trims are differentiated more in style than performance, the right side took one look at the Camaro-esque front-end and sculpted sides and I knew I’d be asking for more one more round.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS
 

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