Needham, MA--I am not an SUV guy. So when the choice of driving either a Chevy Blazer or Prizm was given me I figured it would be more adventurous to find out what the sport utility vehicle buzz is all about.
The Blazer is the same as the GMC Jimmy and Olds Bravada with the blue bowtie badge. All models come with a 190-hp, 4.3(liter) Vortec V-6 and four-speed automatic with selectable four-wheel drive (4WD), provided in two ranges. A five-speed manual transmission is optional on two-door models. The four-door LT model I drove had the Premium Ride suspension package tuned for trailering and "tight-handling agility," and defogging, power mirrors.
On stepping up and into the Blazer (already a cultural change), I figured the last driver spent some time in dunes because of the sand on the front floor. Checking out the owner's manual, I found interesting driving hints as well as other information we can all likely use to brush up our road skills.
Exiting the company garage (boy, that ceiling sure seems low!) brought the Mass Pike at rush hour. Now I was higher than most other traffic, but I just traded a lower blocked view for a higher, albeit further, one. Also, being farther above the road reduced my sensation of speed, resulting in going faster than desired without realizing it. As someone who likes to accelerate through a turn, I approached the looping exit ramp with some caution because of the Blazer's higher center-of-gravity. While I certainly could not power hard through such a curve, after a week of experience, I was confident on such bends.
Point of view. When I called the wife to say I was bringing home a new Blazer, her reply was "How well do the sleeves fit?"
"No, it's the one you drive not wear," I answered.
She enjoyed her day in the SUV, saying it handled well. Also mentioned: the seats were very comfortable--even a sciatic nerve problem was not aggravated. She felt all controls are in convenient locations and easy to read, and enjoyed the large glass area for visibility when backing up. As someone prone to straight-ahead acceleration (how many people do you know have gotten an open-road speeding ticket in an original Volkswagen Microbus?), she felt the pickup was only "average" but liked the "great brakes" (four-wheel disks). On the other hand, I thought getting up to speed was fine in the 4,046-lb curb-weight vehicle.
One distinct early impression, reinforced during a week of suburban driving: this is a truck, one with all the amenities, but a truck nonetheless. A long trip would probably prove fatiguing from ride quality as well as the recirculating-ball steering. It required constant corrections to stay in lane. Note to the quality control folks: the steering wheel was angled noticeably when the SUV was running straight.
Down in the dump. Saturday morning brought what I figured would be the only chance to use the Blazer's 4WD--a trip to the town dump, or rather the recycling transfer station (don't get me started on why we don't have curbside pickup). With the rear seat up, the cargo area seems deceptively small--but it can still easily accommodate two large household trash barrels upright, with room to spare. And the area hidden by the roll-out cargo cover stowed in the left wheel housing passes the critical hockey-stick test--enclosing the "twig" with its angled blade in the hidden space (just try that in your trunk!). Another neat trick: rear-seat head rests that automatically fold up when the split seat backs are lowered to expand the cargo area.
After unloading some brush, and shifting on-the-fly into 4WD, I was able to scoot around the several-inch-deep El Nino soaked mud. These few seconds were without any problems, before an oncoming front-end loader forced a necessary exit. More rainy, damp weather showed the Blazer's heater pumps warm air by the time I reached the end of my driveway. And as with any SUV, step clear when stepping out or your raincoat or outer gear will remove whatever mud is below the door sill.
A fill up to check mileage gave 17.5 mpg, within the EPA numbers of 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. But can't we do better on economy, and conservation, than a slight improvement on my father's '65 Galaxie 500XL V-8? Another gas crisis will be to SUVs what a meteor was to dinosaurs.
While still not an SUV guy, I would say the amenities, convenience, and ground clearance offered by the Blazer merit consideration if you have the bucks and plan camping trips or have a need for truck-like ruggedness with enclosed space and style. As for winter roads, there are automobile choices more than capable of dealing with these with greater economy and handling than an SUV. And as for the issue of SUV-vs.-car collision safety, I personally feel safer in a well-engineered car that is somewhat smaller and more maneuverable.
BLAZERS BY THE NUMBER
Horsepower 190@4,400 rpm
Torque 250 ft-lb@2,800 rpm
Gross trailer weight (2WD, 4WD) 5,500/5,000 lb
Max. tongue load (2WD/4WD) 650/600 lb
Cargo volume (rear seat up/down) 37.3/74.1 ft(super3)
Base price $25,176
Price as delivered with LT trim, premium suspension, sunroof, etc.$31,788