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In the early 1980s, the term sport-utility vehicle (or SUV) had yet to become a household word and nameplates such as 4Runner, Trooper and Explorer did not yet exist. Outdoor sports enthusiasts who wanted a rugged vehicle that could carry their gear inside and get them into the mountains or to the lake had the traditional, big beasts such as Jeep's Wagoneer, Ford's Bronco and Chevrolet's Suburban and Blazer to pick from. But for those who wanted something a little sportier and more manageable in terms of size, there was nothing. Then Chevrolet brought out its compact S-10 Blazer in the Fall of 1982 as a 1983 model and started to fan the flames of what was to become a very hot vehicle segment.
Based on the S-10 pickup truck introduced one year earlier, the S-10 Blazer shared most of its components and some sheetmetal with that small pickup. Built on a short, 100.5-inch wheelbase and available only in a two-door body style, the S-10 Blazer seated four and weighed about 3,200 pounds. From the doors forward, the body was identical to the S-10 pickup, and aft of that was the wagon-style back of a utility vehicle. The rear end featured a drop-down tailgate and lift-up glass window.
Three trim levels were offered: base, Tahoe and Sport. Base versions were rather sparse, with vinyl seats and a rubber floor covering. Moving up to the Tahoe upgraded the truck with chrome trim, such as around the wheel wells, a choice of deluxe vinyl or cloth seats, carpeting and more gauges in the instrument panel. Springing for the Sport model brought features such as a console, fancier interior trim, a sport steering wheel and additional sound insulation.
There wasn't much in the way of thrust for the S-10 Blazer, as a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that wheezed out 83 horsepower was standard, except in California where a 1.9-liter, 82-horse four banger (built by Isuzu) was the chosen power source. Optional (and the most popular engine choice) was a 2.8-liter V6 with 110 horsepower. In Chevrolet's defense, this was 1983, and it seemed that most automakers had yet to figure out how to get healthy power output from small displacement engines while still meeting fuel economy goals and emissions standards.
An S-10 Blazer buyer had a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. The four-wheel-drive versions had "Insta-Trac," meaning one could shift into (or out of) 4WD high on the fly. Selecting four-wheel-drive low (used on very slippery, rough or steep terrain) required stopping the truck.
Priced around $10,000 and received warmly by four-wheel-drive enthusiast magazines, first year S-10 Blazer sales were strong, with over 106,000 units moved out the door.
GMC also brought out its twin to the S-10 Blazer, the S-15 Jimmy. The two trucks were virtually identical, save for different grille styling and rear-end garnishment. As with the S-10 Blazer, three trim levels (base Sierra, up-level Sierra Classic and sporty Gypsy Sport) were offered. And S-15 Jimmy equipment levels mirrored those of the S-10 Blazer models, meaning, for example, that a Sierra Classic was equal to the Tahoe.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, assume that any yearly changes that occur for the S-10 Blazer also apply for the S-15 Jimmy.
An off-road package was introduced for 1984. Designed for those who would actually take their S-10 Blazer off the beaten path, the package included Bilstein shocks, skid plates for the transfer case and gas tank, front tow hooks and bigger tires. A hydraulic clutch was made standard and the optional cruise control was revised to allow an increase or decrease of the set speed in 1-mph increments.
1985 brought one significant change to the S-10 Blazer, a new standard engine. Provided by Chevrolet's sister Pontiac division, the 2.5-liter "Tech IV" four-cylinder engine boasted fuel injection over the old engine's carburetor and produced 92 horsepower.
Along with the above upgrade, the S-15 Jimmy Gypsy Sport now featured black chrome trim for the grille, headlight bezels, door handles and taillights.
Revisions inside the cabin and under the hood marked the S-10 Blazer for 1986. A new dashboard, instrument cluster, seat trim (on Sport models) and door panels updated the interior. And the 2.8-liter V6 followed the four-banger's lead and got fuel injection, boosting output from 110 horsepower to a more respectable 125 ponies. A new "2.8 Fuel Injection" badge on the front of the truck (under the driver's side headlight) announced the higher-tech induction.
For 1987, a single "serpentine" belt (for the alternator, power steering and optional A/C) that was good for 100,000 miles replaced the former multiple belts, decreasing upkeep costs. The 2.5-liter engine breathed easier via a redesigned intake manifold and cylinder heads, yet output remained the same as before. Midway through the year, a "High Country" package debuted, basically a black and gold appearance option. Features included gold lower-body paint that faded into the black upper-body color, gold wheels and gold badges.
The S-15 Jimmy's changes were again similar, except the High Country package was called the Timberline package.
After five years of production, General Motors realized that 92 horsepower wasn't enough to propel an SUV, so 1988 saw the V6 fitted as the standard engine for the S-10 Blazer. And later in the model year, a 4.3-liter V6 that produced a healthy 160 horsepower became an option. For added safety, rear seat shoulder belts appeared and for added enjoyment, a manual sunroof became optional.
Safety was advanced in 1989 when standard rear-wheel antilock brakes debuted, along with a rear window wiper/washer option that was attached to the liftgate glass. An optional electronic instrument panel provided drivers with video game-like displays for information such as speed, engine rpm and fuel level. A new transfer case that promised smoother and quieter operation was fitted to models with the standard, 2.8-liter V6.
In an effort to help fend off rivals such as Jeep's Cherokee and Isuzu's Trooper, the S-10 Blazer got serious upgrades for 1990. The stout, 4.3-liter V6 became the standard (and only) engine and the standard equipment list was likewise pumped up. A full-size spare tire, a redesigned instrument panel fitted with previously optional gauges (such as voltmeter and coolant temperature) and halogen headlights came on every S-10 Blazer. The Sport model added stylish alloy wheels to further validate its name.
A four-door S-10 Blazer appeared for 1991, right on time to battle Ford's just introduced Explorer (which was available with two doors or four). A wheelbase nearly 7 inches longer than that of the two-door version meant a lot more room for rear seat passengers. The four-door could be had in familiar Tahoe or Sport trim levels, or a new loaded-up and leather-lined Tahoe LT. Four-wheel antilock brakes were standard on four-door versions, though inexplicably, the two-door models continued with the two-wheel antilock system.
A new chrome grille with a thick, horizontal bar in the middle, along with revised emblems, side moldings and wheels marked the exterior of the 1991 S-10 Blazers. The Tahoe interior trim was upgraded and a front bench seat on Tahoe four-doors provided six-passenger capacity.
The S-15 Jimmy also received a four-door version as well as new trim levels. Gone were the Sierra, Sierra Classic and Gypsy Sport and in their place came SL, SLE and SLX. The four-door came only as an SLE. Revisions to the grille (which was now an open rectangle without the previous years' vertical dividers), badges, moldings and wheels also took place.
A third General Motors' division, Oldsmobile, jumped into the SUV fray in 1991 with their Bravada. Essentially a gussied-up S-10 Blazer (or S-15 Jimmy, for that matter), the Olds did have a few unique features. To differentiate itself from its lesser GM siblings, the Bravada had a split grille that was color-keyed along with the bumpers and ribbed body-side cladding. Available only as a four-door and positioned as an upscale SUV, the Bravada came with "SmartTrak," which consisted of full-time all-wheel drive and four-wheel antilock brakes. The expected luxury features, such as a premium stereo with cassette deck, power everything, keyless entry, cruise control and A/C all came as standard.
1992 saw three new options debut: a 200-horsepower, "Enhanced" 4.3-liter V6; an electronic, push-button control for four-wheel-drive models; and a CD deck for the stereo. The optional engine came paired with an electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission. And the standard, 160-horsepower V6 continued with the five-speed manual gearbox as standard and the automatic as optional. Later in the year, a two-door S-10 Blazer LT model joined the four-door LT.
A full-blown luxury version of the four-door S-15 Jimmy debuted. Dubbed the SLT, this GMC matched the S-10 Blazer LT in creature comfort content. And the pavement ripping, all-wheel-drive Typhoon debuted. Based on a two-door S-15 Jimmy, the Typhoon had a turbocharged and intercooled version of the 4.3-liter V6 that pumped out an amazing 280 horsepower hooked up to a Corvette's four-speed automatic gearbox. The combination of brute power and the ability to put it to use resulted in the Typhoon's stunning zero-to-60 mph performance (around 5 seconds) and quick dispatch of the quarter-mile (around 13 seconds). To put this into proper perspective, consider the fact that the Typhoon could easily run with legendary muscle cars, such as the Hemi 'Cuda and LS6 Chevelle SS.
The 200-horsepower version of the 4.3 V6 became optional for the Bravada.
The S-10 Blazer's name was changed in 1993 to S-Blazer, though strangely enough, the truck's badges read simply "Blazer." Tahoe and Tahoe LTs had some comfort and convenience features added this year that included an overhead console (with storage for things like a garage door opener and sunglasses) and lumbar adjustment for the front seats. Grille design was modified slightly with three vertical bars set inside the two horizontal rectangles.
The standard 4.3-liter V6 benefited from numerous refinements designed to reduce noise and vibration. Along with smoother operation, this engine also saw the addition of five horsepower, for a total of 165 ponies.
Once again following a year behind Chevrolet, GMC offers its top Jimmy, the SLT, in two-door form. The "S-15" was dropped from the name as GMC replaced the old full-size Jimmy with the Yukon in 1992. SLS models now sported a monochromatic paint scheme, with color-keyed bumpers, moldings and grille. The Typhoon, in its second and last year, received a few changes, such as suspension refinements, an overhead console, color-keyed grille and the option of a monochromatic, white exterior.
Oldsmobile's Bravada got stronger and more luxurious for 1993. The 200-horsepower V6, a power driver's seat, overhead console (with outside temperature and compass displays) and power lumbar supports were all added to the standard features list. A new, electronically managed automatic gearbox, as well as modified powertrain mounts, further refined the Bravada's performance. And catering to the whims of the market, a gold package debuted featuring gold emblems and gold-accented wheels.
In spite of 1994 being the last year of the first-generation S-10 (or S) Blazer, a few major changes occurred. Guard beams in the doors and a center high-mounted stoplight offered an additional margin of safety. Both V6 engines received long-life spark plugs and numerous improvements, such as composite rocker-arm covers, for even quieter performance. Front seat comfort in four-door models was improved via a new, 60/40 split bench seat with a fold-down center armrest.
Along with the above updates (less the seat comments), the Bravada had its ride improved through revised shock absorbers. And in an ingenious marketing move, a Special Edition was offered that added leather seating, electronic instruments and gold exterior trim for a price tag $1,000 less than the standard Bravada. Ummm....so why would someone pay more to get less?
A long overdue revamp of Chevrolet's compact and popular SUV took place for 1995. The Blazer (the "S" was dropped as the former full-size Blazer was renamed the Tahoe this year) got a smoother, more aerodynamic body with a sloping nose. Wheelbase lengths (at 100.5 inches for the two-door and 107 inches for the four-door) were the same as before, but there was now more distinction between the two body styles, as the two-door Blazer had a wide, canted forward C-pillar that gave it a sportier demeanor.
Length of both body styles was up by around 4.5 inches and width was increased by about 2.5 inches. Weight ranged from around 3,600 pounds for a two-door, 2WD base model to nearly 4,100 pounds for a four-door, 4WD LT.
There were several trim levels for each body style; two-door Blazers could be had in either a base or a well-equipped LS version, and four-door models were available as base, LS or the leather-lined LT.
The top engine from the year before, the Enhanced 4.3-liter V6, (though, at 195 horsepower, curiously rated five less ponies than in 1994) was the standard (and only) powerplant and it was mated to the electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. A unique strength of the Blazer was the variety of suspension options that one could choose from. Four-door Blazers could be fitted with an optional Premium Ride Suspension (geared toward those who liked a softer, luxury car-like ride) or a Touring Ride Suspension (a taut sport suspension geared toward driving enthusiasts). Two-door Blazers had the Touring setup and a 4X4 Off-Road Suspension (designed for seriously rough terrain) as the optional underpinnings.
There was still a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. And for 1995, all-wheel drive was optional (on the LT) that automatically transferred power to the wheels with the best grip.
GMC also unveiled the new Jimmy. Two-door Jimmys came in SL and SLS trim levels, which were identical to base and LS versions of the Blazer. The Jimmy four-door came in SL and SLS trim as well, but slightly more upscale SLE and very luxurious SLT versions were also offered.
Oldsmobile did not produce a Bravada this year.
Although only in its second year, the "new" Blazer had several significant changes for 1996. A couple items that were supposed to appear on the redesigned '95 Blazer debuted this year: daytime running lights and a five-speed manual transmission for the two-door model. The Enhanced 4.3-liter V6 was renamed the Vortec 4300, and along with the new name came many refinements (such as a stiffer engine block and redesigned A/C compressor) aimed at decreasing noise and vibration levels. Curiously, the output dropped to 190 horsepower, but the power came on at lower rpm, slightly improving off-the-line response and towing performance, which was rated at 5,500 pounds for two-wheel-drive Blazers and 5,000 pounds for the four-wheel-drive trucks. Both coolant and spark plugs were rated for 100,000 miles of service.
The Bravada rejoined its siblings and was once again a spiffed-up, four-door version of the Blazer (or Jimmy) with unique body cladding, grille and wheels. All-wheel drive (again labeled SmartTrack) was standard as was most everything else.
1997 brought a few new options: a one-piece liftgate with an integral lift-up glass hatch (as opposed to the standard swing-up glass hatch/drop-down tailgate arrangement) and a power glass moonroof. Blazer two-door models had a new off-road option, dubbed the ZR2 Wide-Stance package, which had firmer shocks, bigger tires (with fender flares to cover them), increased ground clearance and, of course, a wider stance. Another functional improvement took place in the form of four-wheel disc brakes being fitted to the Blazer LT (if equipped with the all-wheel-drive option).
GMC's Blazer twin, the Jimmy, received the same improvements. A Highrider package was identical to the Blazer's ZR2 Wide-Stance package.
The Bravada got the four-wheel disc brakes and one-piece tailgate as new standard features, and the sunroof as a new option.
A new grille, headlight clusters and bumpers updated the styling of the 1998 Blazer.
Seating was redesigned to provide more support and adjustability; the instrument panel's center stack was canted toward the driver. The automatic transmission (on all models, not just the LT) was now column-mounted which allowed more front seat legroom and console stowage.
Other functional changes included the debut of two safety features to the standard features list: a passenger's side airbag and the previously optional (and only on the LT) four-wheel disc brakes. The all-wheel-drive option was dropped.
GMC's big news was the introduction (later in the model year) of the ultra-luxurious Envoy, which had everything a Jimmy SLT had plus two-tone leather interior, wood trim, auto-leveling suspension, high-intensity headlights and the OnStar system. OnStar provided 24-hour access to advisors (via satellite and the standard cell phone) who could provide the Envoy owner with directions and even dinner reservations.
Along with receiving a similar facelift and updates as its brethren, the Bravada had its SmartTrak system redesigned to be more efficient and quieter in operation. The new SmartTrak ran in rear-wheel drive under normal conditions (as opposed to the previous system's 35/65 front to rear power split) and, when slip was detected, would direct power to the wheels with the best grip, front or rear.
1999 marked the debut of the TrailBlazer, an even plusher version of the four-door Blazer than the LT that was similar to the GMC Envoy. Special features of the TrailBlazer included a two-tone leather interior, monotone exterior scheme and unique alloy wheels.
Audiophiles were treated to substantial sound system upgrades: an optional Bose system with CD player, the availability of an in-console six-disc changer and available steering wheel-mounted stereo controls. A flash-to-pass feature on the turn signal stalk and a "tailgate ajar" warning lamp were a few convenient additions to the Blazer's standard equipment list.
All-wheel drive returned to the Blazer in the form of Autotrac, a system that was identical to the Bravada's SmartTrack.
The Bravada had a few small additional refinements this year, such as a smaller steering wheel hub (for better sightlines to the instruments) and a newly standard anti-theft system.
Chevy realized for 2000 that Americans like their creature comforts and hence dropped the base model Blazer. The Vortec 4300 was modified with roller rocker arms and a roller timing chain, which improved this already stout engine's durability. The antilock braking system (ABS) was refined for smoother operation.
GMC likewise dropped the Jimmy's SL (base) trim level. A Diamond Edition celebrated the Jimmy's 30th birthday (even though the older, full-size Jimmy and the newer SUV shared only their name). The Diamond Edition (slotted between the SLT and the Envoy) sported questionable styling "accents" such as quilted seat upholstery and an aluminum appliqué stuck to the lower body side of the Jimmy.
A Platinum Edition of the Bravada debuted and featured driver's seat memory, power passenger seat, towing package and pewter-colored lower bodyside cladding. A cargo management system option allowed small items to be secured in the luggage compartment.
A new Blazer Xtreme model debuted for 2001. The antithesis to the ZR2 Blazer (with its 4WD and increased ground clearance), the Xtreme was a lowered, 2WD Blazer two-door with a sport suspension, meaty, low-profile tires mounted on deep-dish alloy wheels, full ground effects, wheel flares and deep tinted windows. Geared toward the younger generation who liked their rides "slammed" (seriously lowered and fitted with big wheels and low-profile rubber) and filled with booming sound, the Xtreme offered these kids a vehicle that would stand out from the modified Honda Civics and Mitsubishi Eclipses of their peers.
The OnStar system became standard on the LT and TrailBlazer models and the cargo management system that debuted on the Bravada the year before became an option. A new gasoline vapor recovery system helped minimize the release of noxious gasses into the atmosphere.
GMC dropped the Envoy this year but continued to offer the aesthetically challenged Diamond Edition.
The Bravada's already impressive list of standard luxury features was enhanced for 2001 with the inclusion of a driver's seat memory function and a power passenger's seat. These two items previously came only with the Platinum Edition, which was now reduced to being a two-tone paint/cladding option.
Moving into the future with its midsize SUV triplets, GM redesigned the Chevrolet TrailBlazer (the company dropped the Blazer name for the four-door version), GMC Envoy (the Jimmy name was nixed) and Oldsmobile Bravada for 2002. These trucks share virtually nothing with the previous generation, as virtually everything from the powertrain to the interior is new. And yes, improved.
Nostalgia buffs will appreciate that Chevy kept the old-style Blazer two-door, much like what Ford did with the Explorer Sport.
Rather than differing merely in grille inserts, body cladding and interior trim, the new models have more unique body panels that actually give each vehicle a look of its own. The TrailBlazer is the most rugged in appearance, while the Envoy and Bravada have more of a luxury persona. The Bravada comes in a single loaded trim level, the Envoy is available in SLE or leather-lined SLE trim, and the TrailBlazer comes in base LS, mid-level LT and luxury LTZ versions.
Mechanically, a 4.2-liter 24-valve inline six, dubbed the Vortec 4200, replaces the thrashy old 4.3 V6 and is light years ahead of the 4.3 in terms of refinement and power output. In fact, with 270 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque the new I6 puts out considerably more power than most competitors' V8s, let alone their 6s. GM's ultra-smooth 4L60E four-speed automatic handles gearchanges.
A more sophisticated chassis features a front independent design utilizing double A-arms and trades the archaic rear leaf springs for a more modern multilink setup. The new underpinnings promise a much smoother ride on-road while still maintaining respectable off-road ability. An electronically controlled rear air suspension is offered on the Envoy and Bravada that automatically keeps the truck level whether it is loaded with passengers and cargo or just transporting the driver to work.
Both 2WD and 4WD versions of each truck are offered. The all-wheel-drive Bravada continues with Olds' SmartTrak system that kicks in four-wheel drive only when needed. The Envoy and TrailBlazer four-wheeler's have the Autotrac system that features three modes: 4LO, 4HI and an Auto 4WD setting that apportions power to all four wheels as needs dictate.
Plenty of safety features, such as four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS, front side-impact airbags and three-point belts for all occupants are fitted to the Bravada, Envoy and TrailBlazer.