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Car reviews - Holden - Trailblazer - LT

Our Opinion

We like
Keen pricing, much quieter and smoother than before, fuel efficiency, successful interior and tech refresh, off-road skills
Room for improvement
Impressive Colorado ride not carried over to coil-sprung Trailblazer, uncomfortable front seats, no steering reach adjustment, doors need a hard slam, wayward braking on gravel, top-spec LTZ better value

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Holden logo27 Jan 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

HOLDEN has kept the Trailblazer line-up simple, with the LT tested here opening the range at $47,990 plus on-road costs and the top-spec LTZ at $52,490. Both have automatic transmissions as standard and no manual option.

Compared with its Colorado 7 predecessor, the Trailblazer LT’s price remains the same, with the jump to LTZ trim widening by $1000, but Holden claims this is more than offset by an increase to standard equipment levels.

The LT comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity plus DAB+ digital radio reception and voice recognition. A rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are also standard.

Also standard is manual air-conditioning with four ceiling-mounted rear vents, cruise control, dusk-sensing headlights with LED daytime running lights, front foglights and keyfob-activated window operation.

Safety gear in the LT includes seven airbags, auto on/off headlights, ESC, traction control, hill-start assist, roll over mitigation, trailer sway control, hill descent control and a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

Upgrading to LTZ adds to the safety arsenal with front parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers and remote engine start.

The range topper also upgrades to an eight-inch touchscreen and from six to seven audio system speakers while adding leather upholstery, satellite navigation, climate control, 18-inch alloys, remote vehicle start via the keyfob, heated front seats, LED tail-lights, heated and power folding chrome exterior mirrors, a self-dimming rearview mirror, six-way power adjustable driver’s seat and chrome door handles.

Holden has increased the number of factory-approved off-roading accessories available through dealerships, from airbag-compatible bull bars and nudge bars to underbody protection and a snorkel. Tailored clip-on sun shades, cargo barriers and iPad holders are also offered to make the most of the Trailblazer’s family hauling abilities.

Interior

What a transformation! Considering the hard points behind the dashboard had to remain the same, the result and improvement makes it unrecognisable from the clashing textures, cheap-feeling hollow plastics and flimsy storage compartments that went before.

They solved the latter by simply deleting a number of storage options, such as the dash-top cubby that needed closing in a precise way to avoid it popping back open and the upper glovebox that was so shallow it qualified for its own reality TV series.

Joking aside, we held a vigil for the sad loss of two HiLux-style, drawer-like cup-holders beneath the outer air-conditioning vents. These have been replaced by clip-on items – a $27 optional extra per side – and are a mandatory upgrade for those with a thirst, because the lids of vessels placed in the odd-shaped, poorly positioned centre console cupholders clash obstruct the armrest or gear selector.

The overall look of the new dash is similar to the Ford Everest, mixing stitched-leather-look soft-touch areas, glossy plastic trim and hard but convincingly textured plastics. Although less colourful than its rival, the Holden layout arguably looks better integrated and more consistent.

Still, door caps trimmed in soft-touch materials would elevate the Trailblazer as a passenger vehicle above its commercial-oriented Colorado cousin. And a Toyota Fortuner has better storage for up-front occupants.

There is less button-clutter than before, with chunky switchgear and simple rotary controls for audio and air-conditioning functions. Hats off to Holden for getting the mix of physical buttons and touchscreen features pretty much spot on. Oddly, there is not a button to turn off the parking sensor sound.

On that subject, Holden’s MyLink touchscreen system is easy to use and complimented by tough, oversized steering wheel controls we recognised from the Colorado 7 as one of few interior carry-over items.

Air-conditioning controls are not so good, especially compared with the automatic climate control of the LTZ, because there is no ideal fan speed among the four offered. Even the lowest setting is gale-force, making it hard to get the cabin comfort right for all occupants.

Between the clear and crisp instruments, a new multi-function trip computer provides heaps of technical information, including a transmission oil temperature monitor that is useful for driving on sand or other arduous off-road surfaces. Interestingly it is also possible to view how many hours the engine has been on for and how many of those were spent idling.

Pretty much all good news so far, but adult occupants at both ends of the height spectrum found the front seats profoundly uncomfortable with their lack of shoulder support, too much lumbar intrusion and oddly angled base that made us perch on them like a bar stool. It’s as though they were not designed for humans.

The seats also made a bad situation worse by making it impossible to find a good driving position, creating a perfect storm when combined with the lack of steering reach adjustment. Granted, this adjustment is rare on utes with boots like the Trailblazer but competitors such as the Everest seem to suffer less for it.

From our experience in an LTZ-spec Colorado ute with its wonderfully comfortable –also cloth – front seats, we suspect there is a difference in design. We so far have not had the chance to compare comfort with the LTZ Trailblazer’s leather seats. In any case, we recommend finding the extra $4500 to step up as the amount of extra gear makes the price difference look like a bargain.

Holden has rightly made a lot of noise about how much quieter the Trailblazer is than its Colorado 7 predecessor. An acknowledgement of the 7’s agricultural nature has led to substantial improvements to the refinement and isolation, including making the cabin better sealed and quieter.

There is still no mistaking this for a diesel-powered, commercial-vehicle-based wagon, but there is noticeably less vibration at idle, less noise at low speeds or under acceleration and as a result we found the Trailblazer to be much more habitable, even on traditionally noisy coarse-chip country roads. Only driving into a brisk headwind at 100km/h resulted in rustling noises from the windscreen pillars and mirrors.

To us, the fact Holden has programmed the electric windows to drop slightly when opened is an admission that the new sealing has gone a bit too far. We could not switch this function off and the doors were extremely hard to close first time, requiring a slam hard enough to shake the whole vehicle.

For family buyers attracted to this seven-seat SUV, be warned that this door slamming combined with the sound of windows going up and down sent us batty by disturbing children who were sleeping in the back. All that hard work on making this vehicle quieter undone in an instant. They haven’t figured out how to cancel out the sound of whining, screeching infants.

Worse, we found the ceiling-mounted air-con vents disturbed an infant in their rear-facing capsule seat by blowing directly in their face. Luckily the flow can be shut off from the driver’s seat.

Better news comes from the generous amount of room for tall centre-row passengers, who can also enjoy the reclining backrest. There is no sliding function here, which competitors such as the Fortuner provide.

Further back, the Trailblazer nixes the aforementioned Toyota by having seats that fold flat, rather than being inconveniently stowed to the side. Holden has also addressed the Colorado 7’s unfortunate step in the load area with the third-row seats folded by adding a handy Pajero Sport style storage compartment that is ideal for stashing wet or dirty items after a day enjoying the lifestyle SUV adverts like you to think the product will provide.

Seating room at the very back is limited to mid-height teenagers unless complaints are to be heard – and they will, thanks to the quieter cabin.

A trio of Isofix anchorage provisions are provided on the centre-row seats, but usage is limited to either both outboard positions or just the central position and all three cannot be used simultaneously. Unfortunately the interplay of fabric and seat-folding mechanism made initial fitment tricky on the outboard anchorages we used. Better were the easy-to-use top-tether points on the seat-backs of the centre row, but it would be nice to see Isofix and top tether availability on all five rear positions.

The rearmost seats are easy to fold up and down, but boot space is limited with them in use, providing just 235 litres of capacity. With all seats flat, there is a decent 1830L of room. It is better than a Fortuner but cannot match an Everest in this regard. However when the rear two positions are not in use, there is a useful hidden space where the footwell would be that can hold a surprising amount.

Engine and transmission

No changes have been made to power and torque output from the Trailblazer’s 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (still 147kW of power at 3600rpm and 500Nm of torque from 2000-2200rpm) but significant modifications make it quieter, smoother and less polluting – it is now Euro 5 compliant.

The embarrassing amount of diesel clatter and turbo whistle exhibited by the Colorado 7 has been successfully addressed.

Like pretty much every competitor the Trailblazer still rumbles and clatters from cold but no longer is it deafening for bystanders or intrusive for occupants at idle or under acceleration. It also spins smoothly up to its upper rev reaches when pushed hard.

Even though the peak torque band is only 200rpm wide, there is a responsive muscularity about this Holden’s power delivery. The six-speed automatic impressed us, too, performing well when left to its own devices and adding a layer of character with down-shift blips similar to a VF Commodore reminding us of how much Aussie input went into this overhaul.

As previously, the engine is a low-revving and relaxed motorway cruiser and relies on torque, rather than requiring a downshift, for high-speed hills.

There is a manual mode for control freaks negotiating twisty roads, but more useful when off-roading. A rotary controller in the centre console activates four-wheel-drive mode without needing to stop the vehicle. This is only required (and the transmission placed into neutral) before low-range can be selected. On some off-roaders, low-range selection can be a hit-and-miss affair but our experience with the Trailblazer was fuss-free.

The official combined fuel consumption figure of 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres is not unrealistic, as we achieved 9.4L/100km during our week of mixed driving including. After our dynamic and off-road tests, this average increased to 9.9L/100km.

During a 90-minute motorway run through 110km/h and 100km/h limit zones, we matched Holden’s official highway figure of 7.7L/100km.

Ride and handling

We were bowled over by how well the Colorado this Trailblazer is based on rides and handles. It really is quite car-like for a ute, if not in the same league as a VW Amarok.

But the Trailblazer seems to have not benefited quite so much from the extensive chassis tweaking done by Holden in Australia. This is a surprise given the advantages of its coil-sprung rear suspension compared with the Colorado’s load-lugging leaf springs.

To sum it up, the Trailblazer drives more like a van than a car, at urban and suburban speeds where it is too firm, even with our LT test vehicle wearing the smaller 17-inch alloy wheels.

But there is seldom the tell-tale chassis shudder usually experienced in this vehicle category, the Trailblazer always feels pleasantly manoeuvrable around town and ride quality gets better the faster you go.

On a fast and twisty country road the urban firmness translates into a confident, planted feel and minimal bodyroll for such a high-set vehicle.

The steering in this environment is positive and predictable, the front wheels never feeling as though they are about to trip over their tyres as is often the case in this type of vehicle. The Bridgestone Dueler tyres don’t take much provocation to screech though.

If anything, the rear-end skips around on bumpy corners as much as, if not slightly more than the unladen Colorado ute we drove at the same speed on the same roads, while uneven surfaces can result in pitching we never experienced in the Colorado.

Where the Trailblazer does have an advantage over an unladen Colorado is in traction on bitumen roads, due to the more even weight balance. The stability control is also pretty good at letting the driver get on with their job and find deep reserves of grip from the squealing Bridgestones.

From a handling perspective, then, the Trailblazer is great for a separate-chassis off-roader and shames one or two urban-oriented SUVs as well.

When testing the Colorado, it would leave black lines on the road under hard braking as if the wheels were fully locked up and the rear would step out when slamming the anchors on gravel. We put this down to the fact it had no weight in the back.

So we were pretty concerned when these traits were repeated in the Trailblazer test.

Happily, the Trailblazer otherwise feels pretty at home on gravel. Its shorter wheelbase provides an advantage over its ute equivalent when going further off the beaten path as well, and something that really impressed us was the amount of rear axle articulation and the associated traction benefits of keeping wheels on the ground for as much time as possible. Of course there is also ample ground clearance and we easily negotiated some rutted, rain-damaged but baked-dry tracks.

The engine’s low-speed responsiveness and predictable accelerator pedal arc helped, as did the Trailblazer’s good all-round visibility.

We would argue that the standard limited-slip rear differential is a compromise compared with rivals that provide a dashboard-activated locking rear diff option.

In the dry conditions of our test the Colorado’s LSD was more than effective enough and has the advantage of working in two-wheel-drive mode, as well as both high- and low-range gearing. Most factory-fit diff locks are limited to low range only.

Safety and servicing

Based on results from the facelifted Colorado range, crash-test authority ANCAP awarded every variant of the Trailblazer range a full five-star safety rating.

Holden’s three-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty also covers any factory-approved accessories fitted, and includes roadside assistance for the duration. Holden offers upgraded duration and coverage for both, at a price.

The lifetime capped-price servicing scheme quotes 15,000km/12-month maintenance intervals, costing $349 for the first four visits until 60,000km, increasing to $409 until 105,000km (prices correct at time of writing).

Verdict

The Holden Trailblazer is flawed, more-so than the related (and recommended) Colorado ute, but deserves to be considered by families who like to venture off the beaten track on a regular basis.

We’d also recommend ignoring the LT and going straight for the LTZ, which at just $4500 more is a no-brainer for the amount of extra features.

We could not say the same about its Colorado 7 predecessor, which was far too compromised in daily family life by its agricultural, rough-and-ready nature and poor cabin quality. For those not put off by the almost-identical interior, an Isuzu MU-X was a better bet.

This is a remarkable turnaround and one that deserves its new nameplate because it is difficult to believe the Trailblazer is still essentially the same car underneath. About time, too, as the market is now full of great competitors.

One such competitor is the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, which is a lot of car for the money, has an all-wheel-drive mode for wet-weather confidence and comes with a longer standard warranty plus a slightly higher towing capacity.

Downsides on that car include the small fuel tank, lack of integrated sat-nav and questions over the long-term suitability of a small 2.4-litre engine and fancy eight-speed automatic transmission.

A Ford Everest cannot be had for the price of a Trailblazer LT, while a Toyota Fortuner is in base GX trim with a manual transmission for the similar money.

The refreshed Isuzu D-Max has also just dropped and also includes a number of improvements to spec and cabin noise and comfort.

If a seven-seat wagon is not absolutely necessary and you are hooked on buying a Holden, we can thoroughly recommend the Trailblazer’s Colorado ute sibling instead.

And be honest with yourself: If off-roading or heavy towing is never going to happen, buy a Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento and you will be much happier than if you bought any of the above.

Rivals

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS from $48,500 plus on-road costs
Value pick of the segment, long warranty and a nice interior to go with the pleasant driving experience and decent levels of standard kit. But no sat-nav at any price, unless you plug in your smartphone.

Isuzu MU-X LS-M AWD from $50,100 plus on-road costs
A sales success that has just been replaced. The MU-X gets an updated Euro 5 version of its 3.0-litre four-pot, a five-year warranty that is even better than Mitsubishi’s to the tune of 30,000km plus underbody armour-plating make this one tough off-roader and one that has deservedly amassed a loyal following.

Toyota Fortuner GX from $47,990 plus on-road costs
A swish-looking interior and impressive drivetrain blended with unstoppable off-road skills and a reputation for dependability, but at a premium price that is evidently putting buyers off.

Ford Everest Ambiente from $53,990 plus on-road costs
Impressive ride and road manners but expensive and feels bulky and unwieldy around town.

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