By Shari Prymak

As small, rugged-looking, crossover SUVs continue to displace traditional cars in the showrooms, automakers are looking for ways to slice the crossover pie thinner with a wider range of choices. The Chevrolet Trailblazer sits on the smaller, more affordable end of Chevrolet’s crossover lineup. It is one size smaller than the popular Equinox and sits just above the forgettable Trax, which positions it well against key rivals in the popular subcompact crossover segment.  

The Trailblazer is the mechanical twin to the Buick Encore GX, sharing that model’s platform, drivetrains, and technology. The design is one of the more attractive and visual appealing ones in the segment, particularly in the higher trim levels with the brighter, two-tone colour options. Compared to the more basic-looking LS and LT trims, the Activ trim conveys a more outdoorsy, rugged vibe well-suited to a crossover. The RS trim is intended to be the sportier-looking variant, although there isn’t a whole lot that differentiates the two.

Next to its attractive design, the next best thing the Trailblazer has going for it is its interior packaging. The interior is pleasingly spacious with plenty of passenger and cargo room for a vehicle of this size. The rear seats and front passenger seat can be folded flat to create an extra-large storage space for large items which is incredibly handy. Although the layout and materials are fairly low rent and utilitarian, all of the controls are user-friendly and well-designed.  The touchscreen infotainment system, the same one used across the General Motors lineup, has a straightforward interface with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Beyond the design and packaging, the Trailblazer begins to show signs of weakness. The standard drivetrain consists of a 1.2L turbo 3-cylinder engine matched to a CVT and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models receive a more powerful 1.3L unit with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Despite the class competitive 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, the engine never really feels all that powerful or refined. The complicated small displacement turbo setup doesn’t result in especially great fuel economy either. I averaged around 9.0L/100km in mixed city and highway use, which is no better than rivals. The engine start stop system is also rather jarring and irritating when in use.

The Trailblazer starts at a fairly competitive $23,798, but you’ll need to spend at least $25,798 to get the better engine with all-wheel drive. Many desirable features, including several active safety features are included as standard, but the Trailblazer still lacks the value for money offered by many competitors. Adding options or moving up to the better-looking Activ or RS models inflates the price tag well north of $30,000, at which point the Trailblazer is a hard sell. Well-optioned versions of top competitors, including the Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona, and Kia Seltos, can be had for far less money.

The Chevrolet Trailblazer is a decent effort for a highly competitive segment, but it lacks any standout qualities to make it an attractive alternative to the best compact crossovers in the segment. Rivals can be had with better performance, better fuel economy, and just as much space and features for less money as well. Strong sales incentives could turn this into an attractive option for those who are a fan of the looks, but as it sits, the Trailblazer’s top competitors just have more to offer at this price point.