With the 2021 Trailblazer, Chevrolet has jumped into an already-crowded pool full of great contenders such as the Mazda CX-30 and Kia Soul. We drove one for a week to see how it fares against others in the subcompact SUV segment.
The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer competes in the subcompact crossover segment. Chevrolet revives the Trailblazer nameplate to compete in the ever-growing subcompact SUV segment.
- Hyundai Kona
- Kia Seltos
- Kia Soul
- Mazda CX-30
- Nissan Kicks
- Subaru Crosstrek
- Honda HR-V
- Toyota C-HR
- Jeep Renegade
Disclosure: GM provided a 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD RS to test out for a week.
- Starting MSRP excluding destination: L FWD $19,995, LS FWD $22,595, LS AWD $24,595, LT FWD w/ 1.2L $24,695, LT FWD w/1.3L $26,055, LT AWD $26,695, ACTIV FWD $26,495, ACTIV AWD $27,995, RS FWD $26,495, RS AWD $27,995
- As tested price: $32,350
- 1.3L 3-cylinder turbocharged engine 155 horsepower/174 lb-ft torque
- 9-speed automatic transmission
- 225/55R18 all-season tires, 18” painted alloy wheels
- 1st row/2nd row Headroom w/Sunroof (Inches): 40.0/38.4
- 1st row/2nd row Legroom (Inches): 40.9/39.4
- Cargo volume rear seats up/down (CU.FT.): 25.3/54.4
- Fuel Tank (Gals): 13.2
- Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Combined): 26/30/28
- NHTSA Overall Safety Rating: 4 Stars
When developing a new car for a growing segment, manufacturers need to find ways to convince shoppers why they should pick their vehicle over similar alternatives. It's especially difficult in the subcompact SUV segment considering how fierce the competition is. With so many vehicles to choose from, the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer stands out thanks to its support for a wide degree of personalization, a comfortable and spacious cabin, and multiple “personalities” to choose from (more on that later).
The 2021 Trailblazer is a far cry from the 2000s-era body-on-frame SUV that it borrows its name from. For starters, the base engine is a 1.2L turbocharged mill that produces 137hp and 162lb-ft of torque, and it's good for MPG numbers of 28 city/31 highway/29 combined. The 1.2L engine is paired exclusively with front wheel drive and a CVT regardless of trim level. The sole engine upgrade is a 1.3L turbo making 155hp and 174 lb-ft of torque; this engine is also paired with a CVT for front wheel drive models. Interestingly, both are three-cylinder engines in a segment where four-cylinder engines are the norm. Regardless, they're more than competitive when it comes to power output.
Selecting all wheel drive results in the 1.3L engine becoming standard equipment, but the CVT is swapped out for a conventional 9-speed automatic instead. Our test vehicle was equipped with this engine/transmission combination, and the pairing worked well together in everyday driving situations. Despite the dimunitive engine, there's plenty of grunt after a slight delay for the turbo to come online. The 9-speed transmission allows the Trailblazer to get the most out of the engine's torque curve, providing a healthy shove at lower speeds with seamless shifts from the transmission.
Chevrolet's engineers went above and beyond with the chassis in terms of dynamics and overall packaging. While no one expects a subcompact SUV to respond with the verve of a dedicated sports car, it feels stable on the road far beyond what its tidy dimensions would suggest. The ride quality seems to err a little too far on the firm side for the expectations of the segment, but that's perhaps due to the larger 18” wheels equipped on the Trailblazer RS that we drove. The one sticking point was the brake pedal - it felt grabby and was hard to modulate smoothly in stop-and-go traffic. Even with the Trailblazer's positioning as an entry-level subcompact SUV, it's apparent that Chevrolet's chassis team took the time to sweat the details.
What exactly are these "personalities" referring to? First, Chevrolet offers the Trailblazer in few trims with a “normal” persona: L, LS, and LT. These trim levels are meant to appeal to everyday commuters, with each trim offering progressively more standard equipment. Where you really begin to see some differentiation is in the ACTIV (yes, it's spelled without an “E”) and RS, the latter of which Chevrolet uses on other models in its lineup to denote the sporty/aggressive appearance package. The ACTIV trim is unique to the Trailblazer, and it carries a rugged, rough-and-tumble design. Specifically, it's geared towards outdoorsy types who like to camp or go mountain biking. Chevrolet added more than just different wheels and plastic cladding, though. A small lift in the suspension delivers 8.0 inches of ground clearance in the AWD versions (7.5 inches with FWD), more aggressively-treaded tires, off road-biased front and rear bumpers, and a real skid plate help give the ACTIV some genuine credentials.
The Trailblazer we received was equipped with the RS trim, which gives this subcompact SUV an aggressive look but not necessarily in feel. In this case, "RS" mostly represents an appearance package, which is perfectly fine given how it's positioned in the market. Instead, it looks the part with black exterior accents and badges, an aggressive grille that evokes the Camaro, and dual exhaust tips to convey a sense of sportiness. The interior is treated to red accents throughout, and the RS receives a flat-bottom steering wheel that can't be had with any other trim. The Trailblazer RS also includes a surprising number of features that we'll detail below.
- Panoramic Sunroof
The panoramic sunroof is part of the Sun and Liftgate Package, aptly named after the package contents: a dual-pane panoramic sunroof and a powered hands-free liftgate. Typically, the addition of an opening sunroof in most cars results in a loss of both front and rear headroom. It may be the case here as well, but we certainly didn't notice an appreciable difference. With the additional daylight flooding into the interior, the cabin feels airy and bright. Headroom is still plentiful, and the power sunshade filters out the sun when it gets a little too intense.
- Wireless Android Auto/Apple CarPlay
For years, the only way to access Apple CarPlay and Android Auto was to use a USB cord to plug your phone into your infotainment system. As technology progresses, we are now starting to see more OEMs adopt the wireless interface for these systems. With the Trailblazer, there's no need for a monthly subscription or additional fees (all eyes on you, BMW). Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard equipment, even on the most affordable "L" trim that starts at $19,995.
- Unique Styling
Of course this is subjective, but you have to give Chevrolet credit for the amount of differentiation between the ACTIV and the RS. The ACTIV primarily uses a contrasting white roof (unless you opt for Summit White, which substitutes a black roof instead) while the RS sticks with a black or red roof. The front grille treatment found on the RS gives the Trailblazer a menacing look, and is definitely one of the more standout appearances in its class. Our test vehicle came with a black contrasting roof, Scarlet Red Metallic paint, and painted black accent wheels - all of which will make you do double takes after you’ve parked your car. The red accents and RS badges scattered throughout help break up the monotony, while the addition of a flat-bottom steering wheel adds to the “sporty" theme.
- Spacious Cabin
I’m an average 5’10” and sitting behind myself was very comfortable, with plenty of leg and knee room. With 40.9” of legroom up front and 39.4” in the rear, the cabin is larger than anyone could reasonably expect from a subcompact SUV. For comparison’s sake, the several-sizes-larger Ford Explorer has 39.0” of second row rear legroom. The Trailblazer has 40.0” and 38.4” of front and rear headroom, respectively, while the Explorer measures in at 38.9” front and 38.2” in the second row when equipped with a moonroof. Without a doubt, the Trailblazer offers a generous amount of interior space with a small exterior footprint. The squared-off side windows add to the perceived effect of a very roomy cabin.
There's no shortage of choices in the subcompact SUV segment, and there's something to like about every single one. The Trailblazer is unique in that it's offered in distinct trims that cater to different lifestyles. Every Trailblazer stands out with distinctive styling, an abundance of features, and convenient technology. It certainly deserves a spot on the short list for anyone looking to purchase a subcompact SUV.