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2021 CHevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ

Trailblazer downsizes to cute, small crossover …

If you’re imagining a mid-sized SUV when you hear the term Chevy Trailblazer, stop right there.

The new Trailblazer is not that at all.

A new Trailblazer rests outside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa.

This is a cute two-tone mini crossover that proves two things – Chevy designers can compete with good styling, and Chevy still knows how to make a low-cost vehicle. Gone are entry-level sedans and coupes, but crossovers, well, that’s where the market has moved.

But Trailblazer is tiny and not meant for off-roading at all. Think Kia Soul, Hyundai Venue, Nissan Kicks, but with AWD available. Or think Toyota C-HR, Kia Seltos, or Honda HR-V, which all also offer AWD.

Trailblazer is built in South Korea, like several of those competitors, and can compete, or beat some on price. A base front-drive Trailblazer L starts at $20,195, including delivery fees. Cool for entry-level buyers without much in the way of savings. It’s primed for recent high school, trade school, or college grads.

The Trailblazer was designed by Chevy engineers, the church by Frank Lloyd Wright!

However, it’s also bare bones for performance and features.

A buyer will need to work up to the fourth trim level, the tested Activ (no e, really!) model to get many of the features most vehicles now offer as standard. And even on this snazzy Dark Copper Metallic AWD Activ model with a white roof, there are options totaling $2,735 to get it closer to what many buyers expect. Final total here is $30,730, without a nav system. None is available.

Still that’s a bargain in today’s crossover crazy world, but many of those mentioned competitors are squarely in that market too.

Chevy’s advantage could be its styling. Some say the Trailblazer looks a bit like its big brother, the Blazer, which may be a first-time crossover buyer’s aspirational vehicle. It’s also a plus that the tested Activ model includes AWD, a feature not all competitors even offer.

But power is mild and ride is as rough and jarring as any vehicle I’ve driven in the past five years. That needs to be refined to give it a better shot at snagging market share from the competition, especially since Trailblazer is late to the marketplace. Nearly all the models listed above were refreshed or new to the market in the past two years.

Let’s start with power, the heart of any vehicle.

Standard in Trailblazer is a 1.2-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that makes 137 horsepower. That’s actually more than a few competitors and its power is channeled through a CVT automatic. The Activ model features the more powerful 155-horse 1.3-liter turbo 3-cylinder engine with a 9-speed automatic. It’s fine for city driving but struggles and moans if you tromp the gas pedal for a quick highway entry. There is a sport mode, signified by a button wearing a checkered flag. That’s a bit optimistic, but it does increase low-end power and firms the steering effort.

Car and Driver magazine reports the 1.3-powered Trailblazer will do 0 to 60 mph in 9. 4 seconds. That’s, uh, not fast.

Of course the benefit is better fuel economy vs. horsier engines, although none of the competitors offer much in that regard either. I got 32.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving and the EPA ratings are 26 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. By comparison, the Nissan Kicks (nearly identical in size) is rated 5 mpg better. It also weighs about 600 lbs. less.

For the record the smaller Chevy engine, which only is used on front-drive models, is rated 28 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Up front Trailblazer uses struts, but has a torsion beam for the rear suspension. That’s old tech, but keeps the price down. Ride suffers though. You feel any road imperfection and a pot hole can jar the crossover considerably.

Handling is small car light and fairly lively, so that adds a bit of fun. It also helps when maneuvering around cracks and potholes in the streets. To the Trailblazer’s credit, it does come with disc brakes standard front and rear.

Note that the entry-level L model also only comes in white, has hubcaps not wheel covers, and includes only a 4-speaker stereo. More on stereos in a bit.

So most folks will likely step up at least to the LS at $22,795 or the LT at $24,895. With the LT a buyer can add AWD and the horsier engine for $2,000 and still be under $27,000.

The two-tone tester was decidedly cute, getting positive comments from family and friends, until they rode in it. All noted the tinny sound when closing doors or trunk. Plus sound deadening is lacking in Trailblazer. A lot of road and engine noise gets thrummed into the interior, and to be honest I’m not sure I’d pay any extra for a stereo upgrade as you won’t hear it without cranking the volume way up.

The Activ added a Technology package that included a premium Bose system with seven speakers and it was hard to hear well even with windows up and A/C on. Oh, and A/C is not standard, but part of a $620 Convenience package.

What is standard? Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are. While on the safety front automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition is standard, as is lane-keeping assist and departure warning. There’s also front collision alert and automatic high beams.

Smart cruise control, an upgrade to an 8-inch touchscreen, a wireless phone charger, LED headlights, HD radio, HD rearview camera and color driver info gauges are part of that Tech package that costs $1,620. The Convenience package includes an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 120-volt power outlet, satellite radio and sliding visors with lighted mirrors.

Another $345 Driver Confidence package includes rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist and lane-change alert with blind-spot warning. This package is a must.

All that said, the interior is comfortable and will fit four adults and there’s reasonable storage space behind the split fold-flat rear seats. The driver’s seat is a 10-way power model while the front passenger’s seat is manual. Both seat bottoms are on the narrow side. Seats are black leatherette with some black fabric trim and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped. The dash and door panels are hard black plastic.

The Activ model adds gloss black wheels, LED taillights, and  roof rack side rails, and a skid plate for protecting the bottom if you do wander off road. Its 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use too and there are SOS and OnStar systems overhead. Plus the accessories will keep running until a door is opened, so you can sit in the driveway and listen to tunes, or that last inning of the Brewer game.

One other benefit, the crossover’s first routine maintenance visit is free. And then one final concern. The thick A- and C-pillars create blind spots, a good reason to add that Driver Confidence package.

Small doesn’t have to be dorky or boring. Trailblazer proves that.

The Chevy also proves that economical low-cost vehicles still exist for first-time buyers. But for slightly improved comfort and features a buyer may want, or expect, there’s a need to move up to a mid-level Trailblazer at least. Also be sure to test the competition, as some feature better ride comfort.

FAST STATS: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ

Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover with AWD available and attractively priced for the entry-level market. Top-end Activ model delivers reasonable safety and comfort content (wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto). Good mpg, light and lively handling, and roomy enough for four adults.

Cool wheels!

Misses: Rough ride, mild power, tinny sound to doors and hatch when latching, noisy interior, thick A and C pillars, narrow bottom seat cushions, no nav system available.

Made in: South Korea

Engine: 1.3-liter turbo 3-cylinder, 155 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 3,323 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Length: 173.7 in.

Cargo: 25.3 – 54.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 26/30

MPG: 32.1 (tested)

Base Price: $27,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Technology package (Infotainment 3 Plus, 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, wireless charging, smart cruise control, memory card receptacle, LED headlights, HD radio, driver info center w/4.2-inch multi-color display, Bose premium audio w/7 speakers, HD rear-vision camera), $1,620

Convenience package (A/C, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, sliding visors w/mirrors, 120-volt outlet, SiriusXM radio, rear A&C USB charge only ports), $620

Driver confidence package (rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change alert w/blind spot alert), $345

All-weather floor mats, $150

Test vehicle: $30,730

Sources: Chevrolet, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Cute new Nissan Kicks up a lot of value …

Car makers competing in the entry-level market, meaning less than $25,000, are working harder and harder to get some notice as value doesn’t sell as well as BIG anything does.

We’re a nation that appreciates big, fast, and strong more than petite, nimble, and adequate, but inexpensive. So what’s an automaker to do? Well, start with a name folks might just remember, like Kicks.

That’s Nissan’s ploy to get you to look when its mini-crossover catches your eye, and it will. While Nissan’s former Juke model caught your eye because it was peculiar looking, the Kicks is downright cute. My tester was a pearly white with gloss black roof, and the two-tone treatment delivers the absolutely right visual appeal.

 Kicks looks cute, fun and crossovery, so at least should be able to register a blip or two on value-oriented shoppers’ radar.

Good for Kicks because it’s a fine entry-level vehicle starting at $20,650 for the S model, including delivery. That’s a bargain, but the bargain pricing continues up to the SV ($22,450) and tested SR ($23,090) models too, so whichever you choose for your first car, or to get that teen to high school or college, is a winner.

All are similar, just the equipment level grows from S to SV to SR, and us oldsters who are spoiled by our current cars would want the SR for a few comfort features, but from a performance standpoint, any of the three trims will suit.

Watch Mark’s video review: SavageOnWheels Nissan Kicks Review – YouTube

That’s because they all feature the same 1.6-liter I4 that creates 122 horsepower coupled with an Xtronic CVT automatic. Power is adequate and shifts are smooth. There’s a teensy-weensy button on the console-mounted shift handle to engage a Sport mode, but it’s a bit awkward to get at, especially if it were winter and you were wearing gloves. Many other makes put such a button on the console so it’s easier to see and tap.

If you have need for speed early on you’d want to engage this at a stoplight or just before merging onto the freeway. It boosts power by changing shift points electronically to increase low-end torque. It’s noticeable, but not a major boost.

The fun factor here, beyond the looks, is handling, which is quick and makes this a breeze to toss into tight turns or maneuver in a parking lot. The handling also makes it simple to dodge giant potholes and rough pavement patches.

That’s a benefit because like all small cars and crossover (usually wheelbases less than 105 inches) ride can be a bit jiggly. It’s never severe here and actually seems pretty good on railroad tracks and bigger bumps. On choppy roads though is where you’ll feel the road a bit more than you may wish. Buyers with younger backs may not notice so much as a 60-something.

Likely most folks also will notice a little more road noise here than in a higher priced vehicle, or even value-oriented sedans. The Hyundai Elantra I drove a few weeks back was quieter.

If you’re hoping to add all-wheel-drive to your Kicks, well, sorry. AWD is not an option on this crossover, but also isn’t on all mini-crossovers like the similar sized and powered Hyundai Venue. But Venue’s sister, the Kona crossover offers AWD and rides on a longer wheelbase (102.4 in.) than Venue (99.2 in.). So like Kicks, the Kona delivers a bit better ride.

Of course what all of these offer is efficient performance at a modest cash outlay.

I got 31.5 mpg with this Kicks in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates it at 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. I got 29 mpg in the Venue, which is rated 30 mpg city and 34 highway. Kona, by comparison, is rated 27 city and 33 highway, and I managed 33.1 mpg in a front-drive model.

Inside, the Kicks is roomy for four with oodles of headroom and still plenty of space behind the split rear seat for cargo, or even more if you fold the rear seats down.

The SV and SR upgrade to an 8-inch infotainment screen, which is simple to see and use, and this SR added an optional Premium package for $1,200 that included Prima-Tex seats that are a leatherette type surface. This package also includes two-level heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a security system, plus cargo cover. It’s well worth the price.

I liked Kicks interior which was black over gray with orange stitching in the seats and door panels that add a little kick (sorry) of color. Dash and door tops are hard black textured plastic as you’d expect, but the gray inserts in the doors are soft and leatherette covered. Trim is matte chrome on the doors, steering wheel and shifter. Door releases are chrome.

Black gloss trims the info screen and the console top also features the same gloss treatment. I liked the cup holders here too, which is odd to comment on I know. But they allow you to flip the holder so it will hold a deep or shallow cup. Clever.

Buttons and dials are easy to use for the single climate control system, plus there’s an electric park brake and below the dash is an inside fuel filler release. Push-button start is standard too as is a D-shaped steering wheel, creating additional knee room and giving the car a bit of flair.

Seats are well-shaped, but hard front and rear. That was fine while on short drives, but likely could be tiring on long trips. Good news for the driver, that seat has a pump handle on the side to raise and lower it, a boon to both tall and short drivers.

Other pluses include a good Bose sound system here, part of that premium package, plus sun visors with extenders. Many pricier cars don’t include those anymore. No idea why.

Standard too is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, a blind-spot monitor, automatic high beams, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The SR also comes with a 360-degree camera, LED head and taillights, leather-wrapped wheel, painted roof rails, dark chrome accents, a small spoiler and smart cruise control that also vibrates the wheel is you wander near the center line.

In short, Kicks ranges from basically $20,000 to $23,000, depending on trim, plus options. The $1,200 premium package on this one left the SR at $24,290. Wow!

For comparisons consider the Venue or Kona mentioned earlier, or Kia’s cousins to those, the Soul and Seltos. One of my favorites, in fact my 2020 Zoomie Car of the Year, is Mazda’s more luxurious feeling and sporty CX-30, and then there’s Toyota’s fine C-HR, also available in a two-tone paint scheme.

Best news of all, there are so many $20,000-$25,000 crossover types available, plus a host of small high-value sedans that get equally good, if not better, gas mileage.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover, quick handling, adequate acceleration and good gas mileage. Roomy interior for four, plus good cargo room, heated seats, heated D-shaped wheel, push-button start, visors have extenders, good info screen and Bose sound system. Sound safety items like blind-spot warning, emergency braking and 360-degree camera plus cross-traffic alert.

Misses: No AWD available, ride is a bit jiggly, but not severe, and there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds. Also seats are hard, but well-shaped.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 2,744 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Cargo: 25-53 cu.ft.

MPG: 31/36

MPG: 31.5 (tested)

Base Price: $23.090 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Premium package (Bose audio w/8 speakers & amp, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, security system, cargo cover), $1,200

Test vehicle: $24,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage