Tag Archives: Kia Soul

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

Lights at night

How good are you at car spotting?

I grew up with a kid in my neighborhood who could tell you what kind of car had just driven by listening to the engine. Yup, he was good. I love doing this, especially when the new cars come out. But when I was driving during the evening rush here in Milwaukee I tried identifying cars by just their tail lights. Relax, we were stopped most of the time. I grabbed ten images of 2018-19 vehicles’ tail lights. See how good you are. To make it tougher, I photoshopped out any logos if they were in the shot. If you choose the wrong answer it will appear red while the right one turns green. Good Luck. BTW, using Google Image Search is cheating and participants will be flogged. Also, right-clicking on the image will not give you the correct answer. I couldn’t make it that easy.

Continue reading Lights at night

2015 ZOOMIE Car of the Year Awards

Zoomies: The Everyman’s Car of the Year, where style and value still matter

Zoomie got kicked to the curb this year, after 25 years of top car selections for the Milwaukee newspaper.

mark savage, savageonwheels.com, honest car reviews, zoomie award
Art: Stuart Carlson

Hey, stuff happens!

So while you didn’t get to see my top car, hybrid, crossover, etc. selections in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after 25 consecutive years, you can see them here. I hope you also hear, or heard, me chat them up on WUWM’s (89.7 FM) Lake Effect show on March 9.

Zoomie backstory

My Zoomie Car of the Year was launched in 1990 as a response to what I thought a travesty. Noted car mag Motor Trend had just dubbed the bulbous whale-like Chevrolet Caprice, that of big city taxi fame, as its Car of the Year.

OMG!

This was the year that Mazda had launched its soon to be iconic Miata roadster, the first, the best and the most affordable sports car ever. I had to right a wrong!

Thus, my first Zoomie (named after my brother Steve’s iguana) went to the Miata, instantly setting the automotive world right – even if said world was fully unaware.

NOW … 26 years later I’ve driven roughly 1,300 cars and trucks and use that as my basis for selections. Yet I only compare the vehicles I’ve driven in the past year, since the last Zoomie Awards, for Car of the Year, and other categories as befit the past year’s fleet.

My intent, as always, is to select a car for the masses, but one with styling flair, something that’s fun, yet also delivers value.

So you won’t see a Ferrari, Bugatti or Lamborghini here (uh, they’ve never even invited me to drive one), but the award also won’t go to a big ol’ truck either, as they simply aren’t fun or sporty, ever.

Now the envelopes please: Continue reading 2015 ZOOMIE Car of the Year Awards

2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Nav

Honda Fit not a hit, just a basic entry-level car

Honda’s new 2015 Fit is larger inside than the previous model, but remains a basic entry-level car that delivers excellent gas mileage.Honda side

But it has its limitations, as all entry-level cars do.

Power is modest, the ride is rough and wind noise is fairly intrusive. This is not the tightly built, quiet muted engine of many previous Honda’s I’ve driven. I was a bit disappointed.

The 130-horse 1.5-liter direct-injection I4 with variable valve timing is a winner as far as gas consumption, but its acceleration is mild to lackluster. Press the ever-present green Eco button on the dash’s left side and torque drops further for less getaway power from a stop.

There is a bit of a solution. On the bright red tested EX-L model with a navigation system there also is a Sport setting for the floor-mounted Continuously Variable Transmission. That helped boost the oomph, but only mildly and turned the already groan prone engine into a big time groaner. The harder you accelerate, the noisier it gets.

With a 6-speed manual transmission it’s possible that the 130-horse I4 would be fairly peppy. But with this CVT it struggles to get out of following vehicles’ way. To be honest, this felt much like a hybrid in the acceleration department.

The upside, and it’s a big one, is gas mileage. Rated at 32 mpg city and 38 mpg highway I managed an impressive 41.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving, about half in the Eco mode and little in Sport.

Honda1Naturally many Fit buyers will be looking for economy, the base LX model starts at $16,315, so meets that need, and also has a 6-speed manual tranny. Move up to the automatic and you’re looking at $17,115, still quite a bargain in today’s market. The test car is near the top of the segment with navigation and heated front seats part of the EX-L package. Base price here is $20,800 and this added only delivery of $790 to hit $21,590. Continue reading 2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Nav