CAN YOU HEAR IT? LISTEN HARD ENOUGH AND YOU’LL HEAR A COLLECTIVE SIGH OF RELIEF FROM HOLDEN DEALERS ACROSS THE LAND. “Thank goodness… ” they’re intoning, “that the new Trailblazer doesn’t look like a terrible misunderstanding with an amorous Rhino.”
And yes, we’ve seen it, sat in it, and driven it – this new Trailblazer from Holden. We can confirm right now that it is in another reality altogether from the frumpy and somewhat coarse Colorado 7 it replaces.
The Colorado 7, inside and out, looked and felt a bit… well… boggo-cheap.
But the new Trailblazer doesn’t. This one looks comfortable on its wheels and, from the nose, pulls off a whiff of premium breeding with its Chevrolet-style grille and hockey-stick DRLs.
And inside, while still lagging behind niche leaders Everest and Fortuner, manages a sense of robust quality and durability, if not style. The new dash is vastly improved on the old, has tossed the commercial-grade plastics for improved soft-feel textures and stitching, comes well-featured straight from the box and offers the airy accommodation feel of an SUV wagon (rather than a “ute with a wagon back”).
But that’s only part of the story. The biggest improvement is in the way the new model drives. Extra sound deadening where it matters, active ‘balancers’ in the torque converter (‘centifugal pendulum absorber’), revisions to the engine, new engine and body mounts, and revised suspension geometry, all add up to a vastly more refined on-road experience.
So, it’s quiet - especially at speed - and steers better and rides better, but has lost none of its potency and capacity for work.
There is a lot going on here, with the new model. Except for the rear. Unchanged, it is still awfully drab - surely some new less-wonky tail-lights would not have broken the budget? But, given the improvements elsewhere, we can forgive it that (and maybe the rear lights will get a mid-model update).
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $47,990 - $52,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/500Nm 2.8-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Consumption Claimed: 8.6 l/100km | Tested: 10.8 l/100km (with off-road driving)
The new Holden Trailblazer, like the car it replaces, is easily described - there are just two models, the LT at $47,990 (plus on-road costs) and LTZ at $52,490 (plus), and one drivetrain: a revised but still stout 2.8 litre Duramax diesel mated to a six-speed conventional automatic, offering part-time four-wheel-drive with high and low ratios engaged through a transfer case.
Engine output and performance remains unchanged at a healthy 500Nm, available from a narrow 2000rpm to 2200rpm, and 147kW of power. It retains its 3.0 tonne towing capacity (braked) and 750kg, unbraked, with a GCM (gross combined mass) of 5.7 tonne against a kerb weight of 2.2 tonne.
Each, both LT and LTZ are well-featured, and, like all new cars from ‘the General’, come with Holden’s excellent MyLink connectivity technology including smartphone mirroring for iPhone and Android, Siri voice recognition, and an easily-used screen interface.
- LT: Steering wheel mounted controls, cloth trim, electric power steering, air-conditioning (including four rear vents), cruise control, rear park assist with reverse camera, LED daytime running lamps, front fog lamps, auto halogen reflector headlamps, keyless entry.
- LTZ: (in addition to LT) chrome gear selector, exterior chrome strip, remote vehicle start via keyfob, leather appointed seat trim with heated front seats, front park assist, climate control, LED tail lights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and 6-way adjustable electric driver’s seat.
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, with mobile phone projection, six-speaker audio, DAB+ digital radio, Siri ‘Eyes Free’ and smartphone voice recognition, USB with iPod connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. LTZ adds: Embedded Satellite Navigation, seven speaker premium audio
- Cargo Volume: 205 litres (to the window line) with third row in place, 554 litres third row folded, 1043 litres, all seats folded (to the window line).
The new dash works wonders in transforming the interior feel of the new Trailblazer. Gone are the commercial plastics, cheap-feeling lids and hollow-sounding dashtop of the former model.
In its place is a typical ‘Chevrolet dash’, dominated by the central screen and with a few easily operated buttons and switches around it. The faux-stitching looks ok, almost not-faux (until you touch it), and the multi-function wheel (with cruise control, audio and hands-free interface) feels right, and looks right.
It only adjusts for rake, not reach, which is a bit of a letdown, but it’s not Robinson Crusoe there.
Getting settled in is not such an issue thanks to lots of seat adjustment, and the dials and information display under the hooded binnacle are clear, easily read and configurable (via menu controls on the indicator stalk) for the readout you want.
The backrest to the seats is not ideal for my shape, I like a little more lower-back support, but the squab is wide and comfortable in both LT and LTZ models. The fabric trim in the LT is finely woven and looks very durable (I prefer fabric seats), and the leather in the LTZ is supple and nicely stitched.
There is lots of room everywhere in the Trailblazer; second row passengers can sit comfortably behind a six-footer, and third row passengers get a nice little footwell for extra room for the feet. Back there it’s not ideal for adults, though shorter models (such as yours truly) and teens will fit ok for shorter trips.
Fold the rear seats away and there is a cavern there. The floor space is intruded upon by a nifty rear floor compartment (where valuables, umbrella and the cargo cover can be stowed), and under the rear is a full-size spare.
The plastics around the gear-shifter look a bit naff, and likely easily scratched, but the console bin is a reasonable size, door pockets are good for up to three bottles, and, in the absence of dash-mounted cupholders, there is a gap below the air-vents on each side of the dash designed to accept a bespoke cupholder for both driver and passenger.
All of the expected interior comforts are there, air-con etc., and the LTZ gets heated electrically adjustable seats. Rear passengers are looked after with adjustable roof-mounted vents plus floor level vents and also airbags running to the third row.
It may not be the last word in style, but this is a comfortable and well-configured interior.
ON THE ROAD/OFF-ROAD
- Engine: 147kW/500Nm 2.8 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, selectable low-range four wheel drive.
- Suspension: Front independent double wishbone, coil springs, rear five-link solid axle
- Steering: Rack and pinion with rack-mounted electric power assist, 12m turning circle
- Brakes: Front 318mm discs, rear 300mm discs
- Towing Capacity: Maximum GCM is 5.7 tonne, 3.0 tonne towing (braked) and carrying capacity of 620kg
This hard-working 4X4 wagon drives really well, certainly much better than I expected.
Its refinement and the serene quietness of the cabin at 110km/h (and even at higher speeds when overtaking quickly and safely) is the defining feature of this revised model and the most noticeable improvement over the Colorado7.
Even the gravelly diesel clatter at start-up is now more muted in the cabin. And while when accelerating off the mark – and up to around 40km/h – the noises from under the bonnet are unmistakably those of a diesel at work, get it up to highway speeds and it all disappears.
In fact, at the legal limit, the only intrusion is a little wind-noise from around the large wing-mirrors. The effect of the sound-deadening, new body and engine mounts, and refinements to the transmission and diesel engine has worked wonders for NVH performance.
And as for tyre-roar from this hard-grafting body-on-chassis 4x4, it is all-but banished. On Australia’s coarse-chip country roads, this Trailblazer is significantly quieter than a BMW 3 Series (for instance), much quieter than a Honda CR-V, and as quiet as a Commodore.
Part of the reason for the new-found refinement is the ‘Centrifugal Pendulum Absorber Torque Converter’. It works to counter-balance the rotating forces of the driveline by utilising absorbing dampers - spring-loaded weights that vibrate opposite to the torsional vibrations of the driveline - in the torque converter.
There are also new engine and body mounts to better isolate the cabin from the mechanicals at work. The result is palpable; anybody will easily feel the NVH improvement and the isolation from vibrations, noise and harshness.
And can it get the job done? Well, the new Trailblazer is certainly very lively off the line and especially quick in that ‘overtaking zone’ between 80km/h and 120km/h.
However the peak torque and power figures are more an indication of an ability to tow, and to carry a load, rather than a rock-solid measure of performance. In the case of the Trailblazer, peak torque sits in a pretty narrow band (2000-2200rpm), but, fortunately, it is also very strong on each side of that peak figure and will lug without complaint from as low as 1000rpm.
And this drivetrain combination has proven to be a capable hard worker in its previous iteration under the bonnet of the Colorado and Colorado7, with few consistent reports reaching our ears of any driveline issues. The very wide dealer footprint, right across Australia, makes the Holden ‘fourby’ wagon a safe choice for nomads with a van in tow.
The Trailblazer’s 3.0 tonne towing capacity, 5.7 tonne GCM, and the safety and security of trailer sway control (standard on both LT and LTZ), gives it ample reserve capacity if there’s a big job to be done.
(But it’s easy to get these numbers wrong – we see overloaded trailer combinations every day – talk to your dealer about the weights you’re planning to tow, and the weight you’ll have in the car, before making your decision on any tow car.)
For off-roading, the Trailblazer is stable, surprisingly settled and feels very capable when pointed at the rough stuff (though on this test we did not need to stray from 4H). It handles corrugations particularly well, has an elastic long-travel suspension feel and is not easily deflected by larger holes and hits.
The hand of Holden’s suspension and chassis engineers is evident here. Importantly, 4H can be selected ‘on the fly’ via the rotary selector at the gearshift and the transition is seamless. There is a helical limited-slip diff, and hill descent control for more serious off-roading. The vehicle has to be stopped, of course, when selecting 4L.
We’re looking forward to putting the Trailblazer up over our favourite firetrails and really giving that four-wheel-drive system and the underbody clearance a thorough workout.
Steering performance and feel is improved with a faster rack and less turns lock to lock. It is a little woolly at the dead-ahead, and perhaps a little light at highway speeds, but it certainly feels more precise and nimble than in the Colorado7 and turn-in is good.
Get a little enthusiastic and there is a fair amount of body roll, but the Trailblazer is stable enough to be punted with a bit of vigour on both gravel and bitumen. While it rolls around a bit, grip levels are surprisingly good (it perhaps looks a little more alarming from outside, than it feels from the wheel.)
Traction control on gravel is as you’d expect; it allows for a little slippage (to break through the soft layer on top) before intervening, and, if needed, as we found on one very slippery muddy corner, will step in before you can make a total mess of things.
Lastly, our recorded diesel consumption of 10.8 l/100km was pretty good for a ‘tight’ new car and a thorough on-road workout (accelerating hard, a sustained run on gravel roads, and really pushing along). It’s shy of the claimed 8.6 l/100km, but that figure looks attainable in more normal driving conditions.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - The Holden Trailblazer scored 34.49 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016.
Safety Features: All Tralblazer models include seven airbags (including a driver’s knee bag), hill start assist, ABS brakes, electronic stability control with trailer sway control, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, and roll-over mitigation.
LTZ adds forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert and rear cross traffic alert, and tyre pressure monitoring.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Holden Capped Price Servicing offers nationwaide fixed price servicing for the life of the vehicle. Service intervals are 15,000km or 12 months (whicever occurs first) with the first four services (15,000 km - 60,000km) priced at $349 each, and the next three (75,000km - 105,000km) at $409 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The rivals are clear in this segment sub-group of heavy-duty 4X4 wagons, each derived from a dual-cab ‘fourby’ ute.
Most expensive is the Ford Everest, but it is also perhaps the most capable and settled on-road. A little less pricey is the Toyota Fortuner, which we think is hard to toss on a "value versus all-round capability" equation. It’s a compelling buy, though more expensive and less equipped than the Trailblazer.
Least expensive, and both very capable, is Isuzu’s MU-X and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport. The Padger is quiet and well-balanced on road, and the 2.4 litre diesel is up to the task; the MU-X is a bit hoary against its newer competition, but has that cracking commercial 3.0 litre diesel and transmission combo and will still be running when the pyramids have worn away.
On balance, against all of these, we’d rate the new Holden Trailblazer in both LT and LTZ model grades as one of the top picks.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This is a solid ‘four star’ buy. It’s not one of the best lookers - even in a segment where good looks are thin on the ground - but it is certainly one of the better, equally capable, and more liveable of these hard working wagons.
It’s not the best in the segment on road, that falls to the Everest, but it is quiet, has a very handy turn of speed, is well-equipped and is an enjoyable and reasonably comfortable drive.
The improvements overall, that well laid-out interior and reduction in driveline NVH, brings this car a lot closer to the feel and liveability of a ‘soft roading’ SUV.
But why would you buy a soft-roader, at a comparable price, when you can buy all this added 4X4 capability - and hard-grafting tow capacity - with little compromise to comfort, features and performance?
Holden’s Trailblazer gets the tick from us.
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