What's New for 2006
Significant changes for the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT include new front and rear fascias for the LT and additional sound insulation on all models. Newly standard this year are OnStar, a stability control system and cruise control.
After years of lagging behind the competition with old-tech engines, bouncy suspensions and cramped interiors, Chevrolet revamped its midsize TrailBlazer in 2002 and turned it into a true class contender. But just because the TrailBlazer is finally in the race doesn't mean it wins it.
Rugged and durable, the TrailBlazer has its roots in Chevy's Blazer line of vehicles, which has long provided transportation to those who take the "climb every mountain" maxim literally. The TrailBlazer traces its history to the S-10 Blazer, a compact sport-ute that first appeared as a 1983 model. Based on the S-10 pickup truck introduced one year earlier, the S-10 Blazer shared most of its components and some sheet metal with that small pickup. In 1991, a four-door S-10 Blazer appeared, just in time to serve up some competition to Ford's Explorer. By 1999, sport-ute fever was burning hot. Chevrolet astutely surmised that buyers would appreciate a dash of luxury with their off-road transportation, and the TrailBlazer was born. This plush version of the four-door Blazer featured a two-tone leather interior, monotone exterior scheme and unique alloy wheels. Unfortunately, this early TrailBlazer didn't quite measure up to its competition.
Thankfully, things took a turn for the better in 2002, when the TrailBlazer benefited from a top-to-bottom overhaul. The EXT was a midyear addition that rode on an extended wheelbase and added a third row of seating. While these improvements have certainly boosted the TrailBlazer's standing, they haven't sent it bolting to the head of its class.
The bottom line? If you can put up with the mushy handling and don't mind the cabin aesthetics, the TrailBlazer EXT is a competent vehicle that offers serious cargo room and above-average passenger space. But from our standpoint, there are even more competent vehicles for the same price or less.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The four-door TrailBlazer EXT seats seven and comes in two trim levels -- LS and LT. LS models come with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone manual air conditioning, OnStar, a CD player and power windows and locks. LT models add a power driver seat, premium cloth upholstery, foglamps and keyless entry. Major options include leather upholstery, a sunroof, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a DVD-based navigation system, a Bose sound system, an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The TrailBlazer EXT's standard 4.2-liter inline six puts out 291 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. That's more power than most of its competitors' V8s, but those who tow a trailer will appreciate the added low-end grunt of the optional 5.3-liter V8, which kicks out 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. Properly equipped, V8-powered EXTs can tow up to 7,000 pounds; six-cylinder versions max out at 6,000 pounds. Buyers have a choice between two- and four-wheel drive; 4WD models get the Autotrac system, which can be set to engage all four wheels automatically when slippage is detected at the rear wheels.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and stability control are standard. Side curtain airbags that protect front- and second-row rear occupants are optional. Though no crash testing has been performed on the EXT model, the regular-wheelbase TrailBlazer rated a perfect five stars in NHTSA tests for side-impact protection of front and rear occupants when equipped with the optional airbags. Frontal-impact testing resulted in a three-star rating for the driver and four stars for the front passenger. The IIHS rated the regular TrailBlazer "Marginal" (the second lowest ranking on a four-point scale) in 40-mph frontal offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The TrailBlazer EXT has a longer wheelbase than the regular TrailBlazer, and this allows it to accommodate a third-row seat, bringing passenger capacity to seven. Fold down both rows of seats in a TrailBlazer EXT and you'll have an impressive 107 cubic feet of cargo space. Most controls are simple to use, but a drab design and low-grade materials leave the Chevy's cabin several steps behind the competition.
While the inline six provides adequate power for most driving, the V8 is our choice, as it provides loads of torque for easy passing and merging and extra stamina when hauling heavy loads. Soft suspension tuning gives the TrailBlazer EXT an extremely comfortable ride around town and on the highway. But push it hard into a corner, or take a bump too fast in the dirt, and the sport-ute's soft setup gets out of sorts quickly.