2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT
    MSRP
    $30,070 - $34,220
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    2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Smooth and civilized, but ready to blaze trails.

    Introduction

    Chevrolet TrailBlazer is powerful, rugged and capable, yet smooth, comfortable and civilized. Its rigid chassis, sophisticated suspension, powerful brakes and impressive details place it among the best of the mid-size SUVs. It's stable and comfortable and offers a smooth ride. It handles rough washboard surfaces well and is capable off road, offering a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system and skid plates. TrailBlazer is powered by a superb six-cylinder engine. 

    An extended-wheelbase model called the TrailBlazer EXT offers tree rows, seating up to seven people. It comes standard, but a V8 is available as an option. The EXT needs the V8 due to its heavier weight. Due to its much longer length, the EXT lacks the handling and stability that make the standard TrailBlazer great. Equipped with the V8, a Trailblazer EXT 2WD model can tow up to 7,100 pounds. 

    New options for 2004 include adjustable pedals, XM satellite radio, and navigation radio. 

    Lineup

    The 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer comes in just two trim levels, LS and LT. Each of those is available in regular and extended wheelbase lengths, and with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Long-wheelbase Trailblazers are called Trailblazer EXT, and stretch 16 inches longer in wheelbase to provide a third row of seats for seven-passenger capacity. 

    The base engine for all TrailBlazers is the Vortec 4200, a 4.2-liter inline-6 with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable phasing of the exhaust cam, rated at 275 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet. 

    An optional 5.3-liter overhead-valve V8 only available for the TrailBlazer EXT is rated at 290 horsepower and 325 pounds-feet of torque. 

    Safety features include dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, which inflate with less intensity in slower crashes. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional ($350). 

    LS ($27,145) models are nicely equipped with dual-zone air conditioning, CD player, reclining bucket seats and floor console, power windows and programmable door locks, tilt steering, four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, 16-inch aluminum wheels, perimeter lighting, luggage rack roof rails, and three power outlets. The optional LS Preferred Equipment Group ($1035-$1225, depending on the wheelbase length and whether the vehicle is equipped with 2WD or 4WD) adds cruise control, remote keyless entry, an alarm, deep-tinted glass, heated foldaway mirrors, a rear window defogger, trailer wiring harness, color-keyed carpeted floor mats, crossbars for the luggage rack, and Charcoal-colored body-side moldings. 

    LT ($29,645) models add fog lamps, an overhead console with Homelink transmitter and Travelnote digital recorder, body-color grille and door handles, and eight-way power for the driver's seat. 

    The optional LT Preferred Equipment Group ($2050), adds two-tone leather seating surfaces, dual front eight-way power reclining bucket seats with lumbar support and driver-side two-position memory, OnStar, electrochromic rearview mirror with eight-point compass and outside temperature gauge, and body-color exterior moldings. Additional option packages for the LT bundle automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a driver information center, and rear seat audio controls ($585-$1310); and heated leather seats with memory, power adjustable pedals, CD/cassette stereo, and power and heated foldaway mirrors ($1360-$1605). Exclusive options for the LT include a Bose sound system ($495), and a rear-seat DVD entertainment center ($1295). 

    The North Face Edition ($1525 on top of the price of a Preferred-Equipment LT, or $1725 on a Preferred LT EXT) includes all of the equipment listed above, plus unique North Face seats, mesh map pockets, Rainsense automatic wipers, headlamp washers, 17-inch wheels with on/off-road tires, liftgate lighting, an under-floor storage cargo liner, heavy-duty floor/cargo mats, an adjustable cargo shelf with a table (EXT model only) and North Face duffel bags and blanket. the North Face also sports exterior clearance lights and some unique exterior identification. A locking differential ($270), two-tone paint ($150) and skid plates (with 4WD, $130) are mandatory options with the North Face Edition. 

    Trailblazer EXT LS ($29,695) and Trailblazer EXT LT ($31,595) are equipped with third-row seating and separate rear-seat heating and air conditioning controls. EXTs are fitted with 17-inch wheels and tires. 

    Four-wheel drive ($2250) is available for all models. A sliding electric sunroof is available for all models ($550-$800). A trailer-hitch is standard on all Trailblazers. The standard final drive ratio for TrailBlazer and EXT is 3.42:1; 3.73 and 4.10 ratios are available ($50) for more responsive towing though the 4.10 ratio is not available with the V8 engine. GM's OnStar security system is also offered as a stand-alone option ($1235 on LS, $870 on LT). It provides GPS tracking, cell phone communication, and emergen. 

    Walkaround

    TrailBlazer's styling helped blaze the trail for the latest Chevy Truck design. It's an aggressive look with bold headlamps and a split grille. The horizontal bar that splits the grille, headlamps and turn signals is chromed on the LS, body-colored on the LT. The front bumper features a large opening with two vertical slats, and the optional foglights are mounted down low. The front end of the TrailBlazer makes it look like a scaled-down Suburban or Silverado. 

    Overall, TrailBlazer looks sturdy and neat, with confident lines that express utility. The pillars and window lines are graceful, while big fender flares are visually bold. At the rear is a convenient step in the center of the bumper. The stacked round taillights look lumpy and googly eyed. 

    The track (the distance between the left and right tires) is the widest in the class, 2.2 inches wider than the Explorer in front and nearly an inch wider in rear. The seven-seat TrailBlazer EXT is 16 inches longer in wheelbase than the standard five-seat TrailBlazer. 

    Interior

    People either like the relatively cushy seats in GM trucks or they don't. We found a noticeable lack of side bolstering and don't feel the front seats do justice to the TrailBlazer's nice ride, allowing the occupants to feel a side-to-side jouncing that doesn't exist in the similar GMC Envoy, which shares the same chassis and suspension but has better seats. 

    The seats come in cloth fabric or rich-feeling leather. Seat adjustments are manual in LS. Eight-way power operation with memory (including outside mirror adjustment) and seat heaters are available on fully optioned LT models. Chevrolet says the TrailBlazer's front bucket seats are designed to accommodate heights ranging from 4 feet 10 inches to 6 feet 2 inches. New for 2004 are optional adjustable pedals ($150), allowing shorter drivers to move the brake and accelerator pedals up to three inches closer for better positioning and comfort without having to move to close to the airbag-equipped steering wheel. It's a great feature and is popular among women. 

    Standard-wheelbase TrailBlazers seat five passengers, while TrailBlazer EXTs seat seven. The main advantage of the EXT is that third row. Second-row space is nearly identical between TrailBlazer and TrailBlazer EXT. Both offer more room in the second row than the Ford Explorer. (TrailBlazer provides 37.0 inches of leg room and 58.2 inches of hip room, versus the Ford's 35.9 and 54.2 inches.)

    The Explorer, however, offers a bit more third-row room than the TrailBlazer EXT. (Head, hip, and leg room in the Explorer's third row measure 39.0, 45.3, and 34.8 inches, respectively. The corresponding numbers for the TrailBlazer EXT are 38.5, 45.9, and 31.2.) TrailBlazer EXT is 2.6 inches wider than Explorer, which accounts for the additional hip room. But clearly, the Explorer's independent rear suspension, and resulting low floor, allowed Ford to pack more leg and head room into a significantly shorter wheelbase. 

    A monochrome instrument panel is new for 2004. The instrumentation is complete and clean. A big tachometer is on the left, speedometer in center, and on the right are smaller gauges for water, battery, gas and oil. The optional four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel has eight buttons, for climate, sound, cruise control and a driver information center in eight languages. Heating and air conditioning can be controlled separately by the driver and front-seat passenger. EXT models add separate climate controls for rear-seat passengers as well. Interior lights abound, including reading lights. 

    The center console includes an open storage bin, an enclosed compartment and two cupholders forward of the gear lever (plus two more for the rear passengers). There are pockets in the front doors and behind the front seats, though none in the rear doors. Standard behind the rear seat is a small hidden compartment under the floor, while optional features include a cargo net, scrolling tonneau cover and power outlet. An overhead console standard on the LT includes a sunglasses holder, plus Travelnote digital recorder. 

    Available sound systems include radio/CD, radio/CD/cassette, six-disc in-dash CD, or six-speaker 275-watt Bose system. We found the Bose system offered outstanding sound quality and adjustment versatility. All the systems include RDS (Radio Data Systems) technology, allowing the listener to search for stations by type, display information including song and artist information, and provide traffic and weather updates. Also available is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1295), with a seven-inch flip-down screen and wireless headphones. For 2004, TrailBlazer offers XM Satellite Radio and Navigation Radio. XM Satellite Radio ($325) is available on all TrailBlazers in the continental U.S., and provides 100 coast-to-coast, digital-quality channels of original music, news, sports and talk. The basic subscription costs $10 a month. Navigation Radio available on the LT (. 

    Driving Impression

    The Chevrolet TrailBlazer is rugged and capable yet comfortable and civilized. 

    TrailBlazer's six-cylinder engine is smooth and quiet, and the faster it goes, the smoother it seems to get. It's an inline-6, a design that is inherently smoother and more powerful than a V6. Because the engine is so quiet and smooth at idle, a feature was added that prevents the starter from grinding if the key is turned when the engine is already running. 

    Called the Vortec 4200, the 4.2-liter inline-6 features dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and variable phasing of the exhaust cam. It's rated at 275 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque. (Torque is that force that thrusts you off the line and up steep hills.) Ninety percent of the peak 275 pounds-feet of torque is available at 1600 rpm, and it's still there at 5600 rpm. The engine is still striding, not screaming, when the full-throttle upshift comes at 6000 rpm. That torque gave us confident power when attempting passes on steep uphill two-lanes. It offers strong acceleration without having forcing the transmission to downshift. The four-speed automatic transmission is programmed well and makes a good companion for the engine. The smooth-shifting transmission is the proven Hydra-Matic 4L60-E, used in GM applications from Corvettes to Cadillac Escalades. 

    Towing was a high priority with the TrailBlazer. Six-cylinder models are rated at 6300 pounds with 2WD, 6100 with 4WD. The six-cylinder engine is designed to run cool (thanks in part to a big seven-quart oil pan) and efficient. 

    Big ventilated disc brakes provide stopping power, and four-wheel ABS is standard. Under hard braking, the nose didn't dive, keeping the TrailBlazer remarkably level and stable. 

    We found the ride excellent, very smooth: in a word, carlike, without being too soft. The TrailBlazer was designed to roll (lean) exactly five degrees in the corners, and then stop leaning. It features a wide track and low engine position, which drops the center of gravity. A vehicle with a low center of gravity is generally less likely to roll over than a vehicle with a high center of gravity. 

    The chassis and suspension are highly developed, featuring a list of sports car stuff: rack-and-pinion steering, beefy four-wheel vented disc brakes with twin-piston calipers in front, independent front suspension with short/long control arms, solid rear axle using five-link location with Bilstein gas-charged shock absorbers and coil springs, thick antiroll bars front and rear. It was the first truck for the TrailBlazer's chief designer, Ted Robertson, who brought a resume to the assignment that includes the '90s Camaro/Firebird. GM wanted his soul as well as his experience in their midsize SUVs, and they got it. His approach was to put some 'sport' in Sport Utility. The chassis rails are shaped by hydroforming, a process pioneered in the C5 Corvette; it makes the rails stronger and lighter. No less than eight crossmembers contribute to a claimed 260 percent increase in torsional rigidity, and there are 12 tuned body mounts made of urethane. 

    Leaving the highway for the dirt, we found the TrailBlazer impressively stable on washboard surfaces. It bottomed on dips, however, signaling that the optional skid plates are necessary for off-road driving. When equipped with the 17-inch BFG Rugged Trail radials and skid plates, the TrailBlazer easily chugged along at 5 mph through soft sand in Auto4WD. TrailBlazer has a very tight turning circle of 36.4 feet, because the suspension and engine design allow for large steering angles. 

    The TrailBlazer's Autotrac system, standard on 4WD models, offers four settings: 2WD, Auto4WD, 4HI and 4LO. Switching in and out of 4WD can be done on the fly with a flip of the switch, although the transmission must be in neutral to engage or disengage 4LO. In Auto4WD, power is shifted to all four wheels as conditions require. The TrailBlazer can be even be tow. 

    Summary

    Chevy TrailBlazer is among the best of the mid-size SUVs. Smooth, stable, and powerful, it works well around town, on the open highway, and in the back country. Almost none of that applies to the long-wheelbase TrailBlazer EXT, however. 

    TrailBlazer sports a nice design and a well-executed interior, though the seats could use some improvement. 

    Model Lineup

    LS 2WD ($27,145); LT 2WD ($29,645); LS EXT 2WD ($29,695); LT EXT 2WD ($31,595); North Face 2WD ($33,220); North Face EXT 2WD ($35,370); LS 4WD ($29,395); LT 4WD ($31,895); LS EXT 4WD ($31,945) LT EXT 4WD ($33,845); North Face 4WD ($35,470) North Face EXT 4WD ($37,620). 

    Assembled In

    Moraine, Ohio; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 

    Options As Tested

    side-impact airbags ($350); Preferred Equipment Group 2 ($2050) includes leather seating surfaces, dual eight-way power reclining bucket seats with lumbar support and driver-side 2-position memory, OnStar, electrochromic rearview mirror with 8-point compass and outside temperature gauge, body-color exterior moldings; Bose audio ($495), Rainsense wipers ($70); 245/65R17 tires ($140); skid plates ($130). 

    Model Tested

    Chevrolet TrailBlazer 4WD LT ($31,895). 

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