When Chevrolet reintroduced the Blazer name in 2019 it came with some disappointment that the midsize crossover utility vehicle wearing it wasn’t designed with any intentions of being an off-roader like its legendary predecessors were.
The new Trailblazer is a little different.
The chiseled brick-shaped subcompact crossover slots between the Trax and Equinox in Chevy’s lineup and is about the same size as a Jeep Compass or Bronco Sport.
It’s very much positioned as an urban economy car with a starting price of $21,195, but there is one model in the mix that likes to weekend in the great outdoors.
The Trailblazer Activ comes equipped with all-terrain tires, unique bumpers, protective body cladding and a suspension tuned to handle unpaved roads, if not boulder-strewn trails.
Front-wheel-drive is standard for $26,695 with a 155 hp 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission, but an all-wheel-drive model is also available for $28,195 and the more honest choice.
Ground clearance is increased from 7 inches to 7.5 inches on front-wheel-drive Activs and 8 inches with all-wheel-drive, which puts it in the same league as the Compass Trailhawk and lower-end Bronco Sports.
It’s not quite as capable in the rough stuff as either of those, but can take a pretty good licking on a bumpy gravel road. The throttle response is a bit laggy and the all-wheel-drive system requres a second to gain purchase on very slippery stuff, but shouldn’t leave you stranded if you don’t get too crazy.
That’s assuming you remembered to turn it on. As with the Trax and Equinox, the Trailblazer defaults to front-wheel-drive for efficiency whenever you start it and you need to press a button to reengage AWD.
Its combined fuel economy rating of 28 mpg is only 1 mpg better than the larger, more powerful Equinox, however, so the feature only helps so much. (The front-wheel-drive Activ is rated at 31 mpg while the entry-level front-wheel-drive Trailblazer L is equipped with a 137 hp 1.2-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that returns 29 mpg.)
Those results will be achieved on pavement, of course, and the Trailblazer Activ performs well there. Even with the lifted profile and knobby tires, wind and road noise are excellent for its class and the ride and handling mix just right. Opt for the towing package and the little guy can tow a little 1,000-pound trailer.
The interior is handsomely appointed with a soft-touch dashboard insert and cloth trim on the door panels, and there’s more rear seat legroom than its tidy exterior dimensions would suggest. Cargo space behind the second row trails the Compass and Bronco Sport, but a flat-folding front passenger seat allows for 8.5-foot-long items to be stored inside.
The Trailblazer comes standard with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and a backup camera, while adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a wireless charging pad and a Bose audio system upgrade are among the optional creature comforts on offer.
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It may not truly live up to the Trailblazer name, but the Activ puts in a good effort and at least makes it easier to head down trails that are already there. If that’s definitely not your thing, there’s also a sporty Trailblazer RS available for the same price that borrows the designation from a long line of Chevrolet performance models, so that’s another can of worms.
Perhaps you should save them for a fishing trip with the Activ, instead.
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ
Base price: $26,695
As tested: $30,780
Type 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder
Power: 155 hp/174 lb-ft
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
MPG: 26 city/30 hwy