Machine Design

Chevrolet Blazer Xtreme

I have to confess a little disappointment with the Chevy Blazer Xtreme two door. It looks so good on the outside - low slung with dark glass, a front-spoiler below the bumper -a cool truck most would be glad to own. But after a few days with it, it's easy to see the vehicle has more truck qualities and a few more of their drawbacks than cars have -not what I was expecting. For instance, the Blazer is a bit smaller than our family minivan, but getting in takes more effort. Because the floor of the rear-wheel-drive truck is higher you have pull your legs up and in. Then your feet sit on the pedals with your legs nearly horizontal, almost as if you're sitting on the floor.

Being a two-door vehicle makes getting in the back seats a chore for the aged or people like me. Folding the driver's seat-back forward produces only a tall, thin V - not a lot of wiggle room for rear entry. Yes, the passenger side seat slides forward a bit (the driver side does not) but it's still not a lot of entry way. Our two agile teenagers fortunately enjoy a physical challenge and wrestled their way into the rear seats for one drive. Once there, my 6-ft. 2-in. son said he was cramped. But my average-height daughter disagreed saying the rear seats were comfortable. Getting out was not any easier.

The truck rides well enough, but surface imperfections larger than an expansion joint produced an annoying vibration. The Xtreme is equipped with what Chevy calls a low-riding sport suspension that may be the culprit. The standard suspension may be more civilized

For two people in the front, the Blazer is fine. When it's time to transport stuff, it's better. The rear seats fold flat so it's easy to slide things into a fairly roomy cargo space. But there's a downside here, too. By my estimate, 15% of the space behind the rear seats is occupied by a humongous, full-sized, 16-in. spare tire. What's the tire doing there? One assumes that there is no other space for even a minispare.

And then there's poor rear visibility. The rear side and back glass is smoked or darkened, presumably to minimize solar heat. But the smoked glass also makes it difficult to back up in anything less than full sun. When backing up, I found myself very hesitant, pausing every few feet to take a good look around because I could not clearly see what might be behind the vehicle. On the plus side, the Blazer does have two larger-than-usual side-view mirrors. They nearly eliminate any blind spots and give a good look to the rear, from the sides at least.

More good news is that the 4.3-liter engine (190 hp, 250 lb-ft of torque) and four-speed automatic transmission delivered plenty of acceleration for merging into busy freeways. And Chevrolet tells us the Xtreme model has a towing capacity of 5,000 lb. If towing is a frequent function, look at the standard two-door Blazer because its rated for 5,700 lb.

The big question at this time is: After driving the Blazer Xtreme around for a few days, would I like to keep it for a price? I don't think so. But if you do have something to tow, the standard Blazer with four doors would be, I think, the better pick. It's rated for a 5,500-lb towing load. And if you want something less conventional, take a good look at the Pontiac Aztek. It is more nimble, has better acceleration, and more readily accessible passenger room.

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