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Was It A Mistake To Make A Muscle Car Out Of a SUV


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Was It A Mistake To Make A Muscle Car Out Of An SUV?

2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer SS Review

AWD LT 1SE

Black Exterior / Ebony Interior

In the 70’s a muscle car was a large, powerful, fast machine. My father owned a 71 Oldsmobile Cutlass S (badge brother to the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle) Unfortunately it was totaled and pie-wedged as a Big Rig ran over it, but by all descriptions it was fast as hell! It was simple back then: engine, transmission and speed. Of course as the RPM’s went up the gas gauge went down and that car “could pass everything but a gas station.” In this age of high gas prices this would seem to indicate that the age of the pony car is dead and gone. This hasn’t stopped General Motors from introducing a whole lineup of SS’s. The SS originated on an Impala back when my Grandfather was young; in fact he had even had one. Gm has been a part of the family for longer than I have. My grandfather owned Chevies, Pontiacs and Caddys, my dad has gone through Chevies, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and then 2 more Chevies as well as his current Chevy. My mother was a convert from Mopar. She used to drive dusters and furies, then she got an Oldsmobile and drove it for 12 years before shifting to her current 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer (LT 4WD). The last Oldsmobile my mom drove had an engine similar to the Cutlass’ but unfortunately it was saddled with more electronic nannies and environmental requirements as well as a larger car to haul around as this engine was in a Custom Cruiser Wagon.

So there have been SUV’s, Pony cars and just plain big engines in the family in addition to some fine GM family cars. But the newest edition to the driveway combines all the heritage, utility and power of just about every car this family has ever owned. The 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer SS gives the speed of the muscle car cutlass (or at least almost my dad says), the utility of the Trailblazer which in itself encompassed the cargo and family hauling ability of the Buick, Oldsmobile wagon, and Chevy Impala. But all of this in one car? Can this be possible? Towing, SUV ability, AWD, and 5 passengers with their luggage to the airport? Granted the SS is no H3 off-road but it will handle as much off-road as we will ever throw at it. This seems like a bargain deal. Count it, that’s at least 11 vehicles in one! (Ok not really, but the function and heritage of every car in this family has just pulled into the driveway) It’s really serving the function of 3 cars for us or err… me. First, it is an AWD SUV, being here in the north it’s nice to have all 4 wheels and traction to get around. Secondly, it is the family hauler complete with luggage and purchases, 4 people very comfortably and 5 if they are not circumferentially challenged. And lastly (get ready this is the fun part), it is a sports sedan. Yes 4 doors with cargo space and room for 5 complete with 395 (or 391 depending where you read) ponies under the hood. The impala SS my grandfather got decades ago has just been reborn and just rumbled into the driveway (the neighbors even came out to see what the heck had just arrived).

My neighbor thought we just bought a corvette. Well, he was right, kind of. The corvette just happens to be camouflaged as that low riding black SUV riding on Dubs that hails from Moraine, Ohio. Although the SS is no where near the performance of the corvette it does have certain refinements that now put my mom’s 02 Trailblazer to shame. But at the same time, it has not completely forgotten its roots (more on that later). I come from driving a 1999 ford explorer “sport”. It was 2 doors and overall not a bad ride. The power was adequate and handled well enough for what it was. I was shocked when it was taken for inspection at the DMV and they did the brake test. The brakes worked fine, but the whole body of the car lunged up and forward giving the poor tester one heck of a ride (I looked on his chest but didn’t see and imprint of my steering wheel there despite the fact he didn’t have a seatbelt on.). Before the Explorer I had a 1985 Audi 5000 S. I still miss that car, it was beautiful both inside and out. Even after 17 years of age by the time I bought it the car was like new. It was spacious and handled and drove well. Today I leave those cars behind and will remember them as my first cars. Now I drive my first new car and the first one that I personally own from GM. Also, quite proudly it makes our driveway a 100% Chevy driveway. I have driven an SUV and I have driven a sedan, this will be my first foray into driving a sport sedan or as GM calls it an “SSUV.”

Appearance, Features and Impressions

Exterior

Outside it is rather hard to tell which car is mine and which is my mom’s. Both are black Chevrolet Trailblazers with the LT package. Thankfully mine has a different color interior so that we can tell the difference that way (and mine is new and shiny). Also mine is graced with a NJ license plate with and eagle in the corner (it’s a wildlife conservation plate, but I like it because I am an Eagle Scout.) After the interior and the plate, the rest of the differences require a closer look. One in front of the other in the driveway I can see mine sits lower and the overall appearance is cleaner. I have no side moldings and the “power bar” that has graced the front of GM trucks for the past many years is body colored where my mom’s is chrome. Also she doesn’t have those nice chrome brake cooler intakes or cold air intakes in the headlights. When we look from the back to the bumper, mine is level and has no step like the 02 did, also the exhaust tip is glistening chrome and precisely the size of the downpipes from our rain gutters. I imagine to the casual parking lot looker this would be perplexing. But then we glace down the clean, smooth shiny sides of the vehicle and see glistening 20 inch rims. By far these are the biggest rims to have ever come in this driveway. At this point there are hints that this is not the average Trailblazer (but they could think it is aftermarket “pimping”). Then I notice something is missing…..there is no roof rack. This rules out roof cargo hauling without some creativity, but we haven’t done that too often with the 02 Trailblazer so it shouldn’t be a problem. The last changes are again ones that come with this one being 4 years newer; the Onstar phone antenna used to be on the driver’s side cargo compartment window, now it is a sharkfin on the roof that oddly enough seems to contribute to the aggressive appearance of the car. The Onstar system has also been upgraded and is now digital to the 02’s analog system. If the rest of the exterior details didn’t hint at the true status of this vehicle, then there are 3 and only 3 SS badges on the exterior of the vehicle. One on the front area of each of the front doors and one on the back hatch. Even these are simple and no more standoutish than the regular bowties and nameplates on the vehicle. The exterior is not the only part of the Trailblazer that has changed in the SS conversion process though.

Interior

Here sadly, not a whole lot has changed from the 02 Trailblazer. The overall appearance is about the same, but there are some refinements that the SS has brought along for the white knuckle ride. The seating is SS specific. The leather is soft and Caddy like with suede inserts that give it a nice appearance, they were even nice enough to embroider SS on the front headrests. I find the seats as comfortable as the 02, which I like. These seats power adjust and unlike the 02 are heated. The inside door handles are chrome appearance as well as the little lock latch (nice touch). The steering wheel picks up one of the last places the letters SS appear. SS is in the center plate of the perforated leather wrapped steering wheel complete with controls on the wheel (something the 02 doesn’t have). SS is also on a disc that covers the area where the 02’s autotrack controls were. I simply have an all the time automatic AWD system. Also this SS was loaded to the gills with everything from rainsense wipers to the navigation radio but no rear seat DVD. It’s nice to have the touch screen; it makes the interior look both high tech and clean. Also I get to step up to an automatic climate control system. The gauge cluster gets some white to it and picks up a DIC which the 02 did not have. Overall I still like the way the gauges look and other than the white background, it hasn’t changed from the 02. The seating works the same other than the SS having leather to the 02’s cloth. However, in the cargo area I was pleased to find that GM was thoughtful enough to allow us to inflate our (and other’s) tires with the onboard compressor by use of the hose stored in the floor compartment. Also I find a cargo net which would have been a godsend had my mom ever chosen to buy one for the 02. Lastly, I can enjoy the stars at night as this SS has the sunroof. Now all I have to do is stop looking at the DIC, its depressing as it keeps a tally of the gas going out the tailpipe.

Powertrain (A.K.A. the good part)

At first GM was going to be cheap and barely do anything to this SUV much like they have with the rest of the SS badged vehicles. They only wanted to put the 5.3 L V-8 that was already in the EXT version in. I don’t think so! Thankfully the high performance division had bigger goals in mind. They had a perfectly good performance engine sitting there from one of the most loved performance cars the world has known. That car was named for a fast British ship, its none other than the Corvette. Under the hood of that fine machine there is a 6.0L Pushrod V-8 that puts out 400 HP and 400 foot – pounds of torque. Now that’s more like it. Unfortunately the Trailblazer was never designed to have the LS2 crammed under its hood. So the packaging and shoehorning resulted in a small but acceptable loss of power to this epic engine, it is left with 395 (or 391 some say) horsepower. The SS only gets one tailpipe as well which contributed to the loss of power. GM decided there was no way to pull off dual exhaust with the gas tank and spare tire in the way. Remember when I said the steering wheel one of the last SS badges? Well low and behold under the hood we find the last one on the engine cover along with a nice GM high performance division plaque. The under the hood area is not as sharp as the corvette’s polished version of the LS2, but it’s not the looks that count, right?

The engine is linked to the rest of the overhauled powertrain by a new but familiar transmission. This AWD version get a heavy duty version of the 4-speed found in standard 06’s and my mom’s 02. It does its job just fine, all this talk of rough shifts and hesitation be darned; I have become one with the car and can make her behave. The drive shaft is stronger, the center differential is a Torsen, among the best, and the rear differential is equally as strong and among the bombproof components of this SS’s powertrain. Also the SS has stabilitrack, which is not on the 02. The traction control however, seems to come from hardware more than software as I have driven with stabilitrack off and the traction was nothing less than stunning.

Suspension and Braking

With a faster car comes better brakes and here the corvette has donated a kidney again. The brakes are larger than the standard SS’s and the 02. They provide better stopping power than either the standard 06 or the 02. The suspension is one of the other areas of the Trailblazer that got a thorough remake for the SS. The rear suspension has been replaced with an auto leveling air system. This is nice when I load some nice heavy material in the back; the truck rises back up to make the vehicle perfectly level. Some suspension components are 10% thicker, the ride is stiffer and lower. This means that the SS is less likely to roll over and does better in corners. Also it doesn’t bounce and wave and move like the 02. This is a welcome change. The ride is stiffer but it is no more kidney jarring than my Explorer was on the rougher roads on my commute to college. Overall I feel I have better control of the vehicle as the steering was also changed and tuned. As I look down at the DIC (also a handy little tool) I see that I can check the tire pressure and I am notified when it is low, how nice. The overall change by these components is an improvement to the vehicle and I can only hope that some of these changes reach standardization in future Trailblazers.

Performance

The Trailblazer is an SUV, so there are limitations to its body on frame structure. But this particular SUV seems to come very close to the handling of a much lower and smaller sedan. Not an easy feat to pull off. It is a sign that all of the hard work and changes to the vehicle were worth it. It corners like the Audi I had, it accelerates much like the Cutlass S did (according to my father) and it looks better than the current Trailblazer (that opinion was unanimous in the family). Facing uphill at a Red light I am approached by a rice rocket (believe it was a Honda civic from the early 90’s but it was hard to tell.) Its engine had a high buzz like a bee that just drank a venti espresso from starbucks. It had all of the usually enhancements that I see on rice racers around here. There were racing seatbelts, lowered suspension, new louder mufflers, exhaust tips, and possibly a larger engine. The signs were clear, he wanted to race; I guess he recognized what Trailblazer really was. I am not a fan of street racing, but thankfully this was a 50 MPH limit street and there was no one in front of us. The light turned green and it only took a little throttle to get the SS off the line and pulling me back into the seat. But that hyper bumblebee was still off my rear passenger door…..can’t have that. So some more throttle and for the first time I hear the loud exhaust burble that comes from passing the 4,000 RPM mark on the LS2. It was at this point that it became impossible to know for sure what type of Honda it was, as he was in my rearview mirror and getting smaller every second. Then the fun was over and it was time to go back to driving normal, it was fun while it lasted.

Near me there is a reservation and the road that goes through it is lovingly called the S’s by the locals as it goes back and forth and zig, zags and then zigs again. Usually it was scary to drive these in the 02 Trailblazer but in the SS…. It was….well….amazing! It was actually a pleasure to have a vehicle that went where you wanted it to go on that road. I would like to thank the Goodyear corporation for the Eagle RS-A tires that kept us on the road.

Straight line or S line the SS is a true performer in the SUV world. It even handles better than some of our cars did. Now that is impressive, especially for a truck that weighs the better part of 3 tons.

Final Impressions and Outlook

I get to enjoy many more years with the SS. These first few days have been amazing and there is no buyer’s remorse here. The exterior looks fit my taste and the interior is not so bad that I won’t be able to live with it. Although I do wonder if the designers actually put cups in those cupholders up front and tried to drive the car….

XM is nice to have as a built in feature as I think the reception is better on the factory antenna. I can get comfortable in the SS and it’s as close to a Corvette as I can afford insurance for. It hauls all the junk or people I want to haul, and the dubs and engine roar turn more heads then I thought it would. In the end this was a good choice. My commute is short so the gas isn’t a big deal. It is more than I need to get from A to B, but this adds a ton (or rather 3 of them) of fun to getting there. This is about heritage. This SS unlike many of the others truly holds up to the heritage of the SS line. It is a thorough performer. A great deal of thought and engineering went into it. Who would ever have thought an SUV could handle on the Nurburgring? The spirit of my grandfather’s car is at my control. The feel of one of my father’s first cars is at my fingertips. This car has earned my loyalty to the largest automaker in the world. GM has lead in innovations in automobiles for decades before many other automakers’ founders were even born. From the first electric start to the crash tests to seatbelts, GM was there. It means a lot to have that heritage and that history in my car. The 4-speed and 6.0L V-8 are not new to GM, they have been building them a long time, and they are getting better. To all of the heritage and feature this car has, GM has managed to earn one more feature, pride. My previous cars were cars; yeah I cleaned them and liked them, but not as much as this. The SS has inspired passion for the vehicle.

Through this GM has earned a loyal customer for life. In 4 years I may be returning to the showroom for another GM vehicle and I only hope that they have something to offer that will inspire as much pride as the SS has. Just like the commercial from the world’s largest automaker our family is GM “Then, Now, Always.”

So the question remains; was it a mistake for general motors to take a midsize SUV and turn it into a muscle car? It uses more gas than the standard version, but offers more power and fun. It maintains the cargo and towing utility of the SUV it comes from and loses only some of its off-road prowess but that shouldn’t be a problem given that this may not venture off-road that often to begin with. The SS option comes with additional cost but also adds additional value and features to the vehicle. Unlike the other SS members of the current Chevy showroom, this is essentially the only one that has undergone such thorough thought and execution in bringing it into existence as an SS. The SS embodies many of the ideals of the original SS’s, it has more power than the original, it is affordable (compared to the Jeep SRT-8 and the Porsche Cayenne) and offers trim improvements as well as additional sportiness. The car is a sleeper, not at all a bad thing to be. I would like to thank John Heinricy and Thomas Wallace from General Motors for toiling to make this SUV what it is. So was it a mistake to make a gas guzzling SSUV in the midst of climbing gas prices? One look at the wide smile on my father’s face as he floors it and gets an earful of nostalgic muscle car burble and the corresponding burst of speed tells me, not a chance in hell!

Edited by chevynj
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Nice review. Enjoy that monster! 8)

175877[/snapback]

Thank you. So far I am enjoying this monster. I have already been stared at by one truck driver on the whole trip we took to PA. Each time we lined up he looked out the window at it. I want a commission for the 5 potential buyers i created at my party, everyone who saw it wants one. It seems the PA dealers near my relatives were not doing such a hot job of stocking this truck.

The response this truck gets is amazing. People are impressed that it got the LS2. They also liked the fact that it has factory 20's.

Edited by chevynj
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When I first heard about the Trailblazer SS, I thought it was the most asanine vehicle GM could come up with.

Then I saw one...

Then I heard one...

I love it, too. Sounds like a great vehicle you have and thanks for the review! I'll add it to the C&G Drives page. Also, throw up some pics if you'd like.

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When I first heard about the Trailblazer SS, I thought it was the most asanine vehicle GM could come up with.

Then I saw one...

Then I heard one...

I love it, too. Sounds like a great vehicle you have and thanks for the review! I'll add it to the C&G Drives page. Also, throw up some pics if you'd like.

176006[/snapback]

I'll get some pics up soon. I'm still taking some, trying to make sure it looks good and everything.

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