By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I’m barely in the new Chevy Blazer five minutes before somebody’s beeping at me.
It’d been awhile since I reviewed a car that turned heads in traffic. I checked the archives: December 2012, when a woman in a red pickup on Las Olas Boulevard turned her head, neck and pretty much everything else short of a character in a Roadrunner cartoon to get a look at my Fisker Karma EcoSport.
That I understood – everybody wanted a look then at “The World’s First Electric High-Performance Luxury Vehicle.’’
But a Blazer?
It’d been awhile since I’d even thought about a Chevy Blazer. I checked the archives: August 1978, when I was working a summer job at a hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I liked having a job between semesters at school, but you know 20-year olds. Life was moving pretty fast that summer, and I decided it was time to stop and look around in case I was missing it.
So I called in sick and took my parents’ Blazer out Tijeras Canyon to NM-14 – the Turquoise Trail – and switchbacked up the Sandia Mountains for a view from 10,679 feet.
That was the best thing about the old Chevy Blazer. It was the rough-and-ready 4×4 you saddled up when you needed a getaway. Your knock-around sidekick. Your trusty box-shaped steed. Tap the horn, and it practically whinnied.
I drove it that day into the highest country I could find south of the Sangre de Cristos for a view of the vista – breathing in cool mountain air scented with juniper and piñon pine, watching red-tailed hawks soar, collecting my 20-year-old thoughts. I got out and followed the Crest Trail while the Blazer cooled on the gravel below, the hot engine popping and pinging from the pull up.
Then near sunset, mountain-air cool and collected, I came down from the hills and stabled the Blazer back in my parents’ garage. The wide grille between the headlights looked like it was smiling.
And so was I.
So why is the guy next to me in traffic beeping his horn now, making the universal gesture to roll down my window, and generally disturbing my happy memories of the Chevrolet Blazer?
“Hey!” he says through the open window. “Did you buy this because of the ad?”
I checked the archives: May 2019, when Chevrolet posted its “Speaks for Itself’’ ad promoting the reboot of the Blazer.
In the ad, “real people, not actors’’ wander past a Red-Hot Chevrolet Blazer RS on a city street that looks suspiciously like a movie set, admiring the “bold, sophisticated styling inside and out.” All of them appear to be about the same age I was when I took my first Blazer into the hills – and, if they were familiar with the Blazer at all, I figured it would be from its star turn as Chief Jim Hopper’s ’80s-retro ride in Stranger Things.
“What is that?” one of the real people, not actors, says. “That’s a Blazer? A Chevy Blazer?”
“Oh, this is dope,’’ another says.
“Oh, man, it’s got a mean face on it!’’
Oh, man, I wondered. What have they done with my smile?
Sure enough, the wide-smiling grille is gone now – replaced by a sporty black lattice beneath running-light slits where the headlights used to be. The headlights are tucked beneath most of the wavy grille now, Chevrolet Designer Steve McCabe says, to give the new Blazer a lower, sleeker look.
In fact, instead of a box-shaped steed, the sporty new Chevrolet Blazer RS kind of looks like what a Camaro would look like before you dropped it off a cliff in a Roadrunner cartoon. I went back to McCabe and checked.
“Our design leadership asked us a simple question: ‘What would a Camaro SUV look like?’” McCabe confirmed. They brought in designer Brian Malczewski, who’d worked on the Camaro, “to essentially inject that classic sports/muscle car styling DNA into a more practical SUV.”
That sounded like a great design challenge, but I wondered if I’d miss what made my knock-around sidekick great. The rough-and-ready AWD you saddled up when you needed some away time.
So I drove my new Blazer away from the beeping traffic and into the highest country I could find in South Florida, out FL-818 – Orange Drive – and switchbacked up Vista View Park in Davie for a view from 65 feet up.
I got out and followed the trail atop the former trash landfill, thinking about how different this Blazer was from my last. Where mine had been boxy, this one was sleek. Where mine had been all rough and ready, this one was comfortable and 3.6L V6 capable. Where I couldn’t remember if mine even had an AM-FM radio, this one had a touchscreen, Bluetooth audio streaming, voice recognition, apps, Bose Premium Audio…
Nothing’s the same about the new Chevrolet Blazer. And nothing’s different.
It’s still there, the trusty sidekick you can saddle up when you need some away time. Even if your view’s from atop a former trash heap. (I was breathing in something up there, but it wasn’t juniper or piñon pine; and I’m pretty sure those were buzzards, not red-tailed hawks.)
Near sunset, 65-foot-elevation air cooled and collected, I came down from Vista View Park and stabled the Blazer back in my garage. The wide grille above the headlights wasn’t smiling anymore.
But I was.
* * *
2019 Chevrolet Blazer RS AWD, list price $43,500; price as tested $49,570 (plus $1,195 destination charge), which includes Chevrolet Infotainment 3 Plus with Navigation, Bose Premium Audio System and power panoramic sunroof, among other features; 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway; 3.6L V6 standard engine. Chevrolet.com.
Interior style: I remember rattling around the rough-and-ready interior space of the old Chevy Blazer like a lug nut in a lunchbox; the reboot envelopes the driver and passengers in spacious, perforated leather-appointed luxury. Sit back, listen to the premium Bose audio system and watch the panoramic sunroof slide back like the retractable roof at Marlins Park. (Let’s play two!) I’d also like to personally thank the genius Chevrolet designer who FINALLY set the top of the touchscreen console flush with the top of the dashboard, opening up a vast savanna of aesthetically pleasing space between the dash and the windshield. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to play whack-a-mole with the top of a console sticking above the dashboard in other cars.
Voice recognition: With one exception (I wanted to go to South Beach from North Broward and the onboard navigation system insisted the fastest way was west on the Sawgrass Expressway), the VR system was one of the best I’ve used.
Ease of use: I tend to rate cars on how long I can go without consulting the owner’s manual. Four out of four stars here: I managed to go seven days without consulting the OM – a personal record! – relenting only when, d’oh, I couldn’t figure out how to open the glove compartment to get the owner’s manual out. (Fortunately, a technician showed me how to do that in person).
Exterior style: The new Blazer is a bold reboot of the old, but the guy in traffic wasn’t beeping at me because he admired the way it looked. I’m resigned there’s only so much you can do to make an SUV look different from all the other SUVs on the road. Look fast, and you might confuse the Blazer RS for a Nissan Murano, Ford Edge or even another Chevy, like the Equinox. Some may find the front-end of the Blazer RS stylish, some a bit too Sam Eagle. Nothing’s necessarily wrong with more of the sameness – unless you’re trying to make a statement that sets the vehicle’s look apart from anything else on the road. I’m holding out hope for the re-boot next year of the Ford Bronco, a contemporary of the Blazer, which early reports suggest is going full Stranger Things-era retro. Giddyap.
Sticker shock: The old Chevy Blazer was tough on a trail but easy on price. Fully loaded, the new Blazer RS begins to climb into the high country occupied by entry-level BMW, Porsche and Cadillac SUVs. Whoa.
Fuel economy: The RS rates an underwhelming 4 out of 10 on the Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas scale. Getting 18 miles on a gallon of gas may be good on your way into the mountains for a picnic, but 18 mpg is no picnic in the city. There’s currently no electric version of the Blazer on the horizon.
PHOTO: The new Chevrolet Blazer at Visa View Park in Davie. (Photo by Mark Gauert)