Larry Mihalko joined General Motors when the Chevy Blazer had a full frame, a V-8 engine, and just two doors. “This April it’ll be 40 years since I joined the company,” says Mihalko, the vehicle performance manager of the all-new 2019 Chevy Blazer. “I’ve worked on some fun projects,” he adds with a smile.
He sure has. Mihalko was responsible for the suspension tuning on the 1985-1987 Pontiac Trans Am, including the WS6 cars. He also reengineered the suspension on the 1988 Fiero, which was the good one. And he was the ride and handling engineer on the experimental active suspension Corvettes Chevy was playing with in 1989. “It was a hydraulic system,” he says. “We built about 30 cars with it, but it never made production.”
Mihalko would add the 2019 Chevy Blazer to that list. “Most of us are enthusiasts out at the proving grounds,” he says motioning to the Blazer RS. “So it was exciting to work on a sporty dynamic vehicle. The RS here is sort of our ultimate sport interpretation of the Blazer.”
Blazing a new trail
The new Blazer is the polar opposite of the original, which debuted in 1969. Although both SUVs seat five-passengers, the original Blazer was based on a rear-wheel drive pickup truck chassis, while this one shares its front-wheel drive unibody platform with the Cadillac XT5 and the GMC Acadia. It slots between the Chevy Equinox and Traverse in size and price, which range from $29,995 to more than $55,000 for a fully loaded all-wheel drive Blazer Premier or RS.
Built in Mexico, the 2019 Blazer is a couple of inches longer than the Caddy, and its 112.7-inch wheelbase is two-tenths of an inch longer than the XT5’s. Mihalko has also widened the Blazer’s track by about an inch and a half. “So now its as wide as a Traverse, but about as tall as an Equinox,” he says.
GM’s design team took advantage of that additional width and gave the crossover an aggressive look with tight proportions, hard lines, blacked out A-pillars and a radically curvaceous hood line. “The Blazer has attitude,” says John Cafaro, executive director of global Chevrolet design. It does look significant on the road, and people do notice it.
On the road in the 2019 Chevy Blazer
We spent the better part of a day driving around San Diego and the So Cal countryside in a blacked out 2019 Chevy Blazer RS, and while the crossover didn’t stop traffic on the Interstate 5, it did turn heads. More than one passerby took a picture of the Blazer, and one guy in a black BMW 3 Series followed us into a gas station to ask us what it was.
“It looks like a Lexus with those sharp lines,” he said. “Man it looks good.”
He’s right, there is some Lexus in the Blazer’s look. Others have mentioned seeing elements from the Jeep Cherokee and the new Acura RDX. And of course the Chevy Camaro, especially in the SUV’s front end and the more aggressive grille on the Blazer RS. Chevy says exterior styling is the top consideration for buyers in this market, which is heating up fast, and the Blazer’s competition include the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and the new Honda Passport.
A handful of trim levels are available, along with two engines and two all-wheel drive systems. Most Blazers will be front-wheel-drive and powered by a 193-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive models, including the Blazer RS, get the Gen II version of GM’s double-overhead cam 3.6-liter V-6 and the nine-speed.
In the Blazer the engine is rated 305 hp at 6600 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm, which proved to be plenty, despite the AWD Blazer RS weighing about 4300 lbs. With the same power-to-weight ratio and powertrain, the Cadillac XT5 can hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Chevy says Blazers with the V-6 can tow 4500 lbs.
The V-6 is a bit raspy above 4000 rpm, but it doesn’t sound all that bad and the transmission is geared tightly, which keeps the power on. At full throttle it also snatches firm upshifts right on the engine’s 6600 rpm redline. Perhaps wisely, there are no shift paddles as there are in the Cadillac, but the nine-speed can be manually operated with a button on the shift knob.
Chevy added a second clutch pack to the all-wheel drive system used in the RS and the Premier, which allows the rear differential to send power side to side and increase the torque sent to the outside rear tire in corners to help the SUV turn. In Sport mode, which is selected with a large knob on the Blazer’s console, the all-wheel drive system sends up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear differential. During hard cornering up to 80 percent of that 50 percent is applied to the outside rear tire.
The driver can also select a two-wheel-drive mode to save a few sips of fuel and there’s an off-road mode, which slows throttle response and retunes the Blazer’s all-wheel drive and ABS systems for loose terrain.
Mihalko also firmed up the Blazer’s four-wheel independent suspension in the RS, giving it 40 percent more compression damping in the front McPherson struts and 15 percent in the rear shocks. Rebound damping remains the same. The Blazer RS also gets standard 20-inch wheels and tires. All Blazers get a hollow 31mm front sway bar and a hollow 27mm rear bar, except the RS, which uses a stiffer solid 22mm rear bar.
As a result, the ride is firm, especially on our Blazer’s optional 21-inch Continental Cross Contact tires, sized 265/45R21, and there’s very little bodyroll. “I don’t like any tipyness,” says Mihalko.
There isn’t any. The Blazer RS offers plenty of grip and takes a nice set in fast sweepers. Body control is excellent. Although the all-aluminum V-6 is mounted ahead of the front axle line and 56 percent of the SUV’s weight is over its front tires, you can keep a quick pace with very little drama on a twisty two-lane.
There’s also a nice heft to the steering, which is quick with a 15:1 ratio (it’s 16:1 in other models). Sport mode also adds a bit more weight to the steering, but the increase is too little to matter. The Blazer’s four-wheel disc brakes are bit grabby around town but feel good when pushed on a back road.
Inside the Blazer borrows heavily from the Camaro. This is good thing. The Blazer’s dash, with its eight-inch touchscreen and large round air-conditioning vents, is pulled right from the muscle car. The gauges are clean and simple. The gear readout is too small, but the digital speedometer and analog tach are well sized. There are also analog dials for oil temp, volts, water temp and fuel and cool red stitching on the dash, doors, steering wheel and shifter boot.
The seats are too flat, however, and the console armrest is too high. Another issue is the Blazer’s thick pillars, which impair the driver’s visibility (again like the Camaro). Rear seat space is abundant for three and the Blazer’s maximum cargo space of 64.2 cubic feet is competitive for its class.
A Blazer only in name
Overall the new Blazer is an attractive and sporty five-passenger crossover just like Chevy says it is. Yes, it’s quite controversial slapping the legendary Blazer name on an SUV that shares more with a mommymobile like the Chevy Traverse than its does with the brand’s pickups, but the majority of the market isn’t going to care. The guy at the gas station in the 3 Series didn’t. And for those that do, Ford will soon launch its full-framed reincarnation of the Bronco, which is said to be off-road ready and a true spiritual successor to the first-generation of the SUV built from 1966-1977.