Previously, the top of the range 2.8D Z7A Trailblazer impressed us on a recent trip to the Kalahari, where we took 13 different 4x4s and put them through their paces. It handled everything in its path with ease and became the first of only three 4x4s to scale the ‘Mother of all Dunes’, christened Heartbreak Hill.
This time we evaluated the 2.8D LTZ 4×4 ‘Blazer (that sits just below the Z7A in the line-up) by packing in a mom, dad, two teenagers, one almost teen and a raft of camping gear. With the rear seats folded flat there was a generous boot capacity of 1229 litres that can be increased to 1830 litres by squishing the kids flat – or more conventionally, you could fold down the second row of seats and go away without them.
In our case we had the kids comfortably occupying the second pew and managed to fit the following in the boot: a large fold-down camping table with two collapsible benches, a braai grid, two tents, four large tog bags for one night (the family in question never travels light, “be prepared” is their motto), food, duvets and pillows, some deflated camping mattresses and a soccer ball. No need for roof racks, no need to tow a trailer. Had we needed a trailer however, the Trailblazer is up to the job and can tow up to 2 965kg.
We set out on a Saturday morning and travelled the 118km on winding country roads from Durbanville to Porteville in the Western Cape’s Swartland, the wheat growing region. The 2.8-litre diesel oilburner that put 145kW of power and a whopping load of torque at our disposal (500Nm), was not even being remotely tested within the reaches of its full potential. It hummed gently while we cruised on the tar roads at 120km/h. Overtaking was a cinch and although traffic wasn’t a problem on this trip and we did get to power past one or two lackadaisical drivers.
We drove through the tiny town of Gouda, – not named after the Dutch city or its cheese, but derived from an Khoi word for ‘antelope’ – in the blink of an eye. A few kilometres on we felt dwarfed as we drove passed towering wind turbines that lie at the foot of the Groot Winterhoek range. The Gouda Wind Facility with its impressively tall energy generators is one of the largest wind farms in Southern Africa. It is owned in partnership between the South African renewable energy and engineering firm Aveng and Spanish renewable energy company Acciona Energia (which just made history when its zero-emission rally car completed the Dakar Rally earlier this year).
The front passenger remarked at how travelling in the Trailblazer felt like Business Class, comfortable with oodles of legroom. Our initial impression of the Chevy’s updated interior was good without being blown away. However, like the girl or guy next door, the more time you spend with the car the more attractive it becomes, until eventually you fall in love and can’t imagine living with out it.
The Chevy Mylink infotainment system is a breeze to work with and we enjoyed making fun of the very South African accent that the GPS offers ( which is ironic because we are South African, but somehow we have become accustomed to taking directions from an uptight Brit). The GPS directed us all the way to Beaverlac campsite, it was easy to sync music from an Apple iPod and also to make calls and play podcasts from a Samsung Galaxy Note (it wasn’t a Note 7, in case you were concerned).
After a pit stop at Porteville’s local Spar, we continued on the R365 and then turned right onto the Dasklip/Cardouw gravel road that would take us to the foot of the mountain and the start of the Dasklip Pass. Although the ‘Blazer could tackle this road easily in two-wheel drive, we soon switched to four-wheel drive (4H) enjoying the added traction that all four paws being powered offers.
From the gravel road we hung a right on to the Dasklip pass, which was tarred some years back making the journey up the mountain safer, although perhaps a little sedate. We zig-zagged up on the steep 7km road that has a couple of hairpin bends. We stopped briefly about a third of the way up to take in the view of the farmlands, which was already impressive from that height.
From the mountaintop at 700m ASL we headed, mostly down, along a 3km gravel road that you could but wouldn’t want to traverse in a regular two-wheel drive hatch or sedan. In fact we’d invited friends who enjoy camping to join us, but having been to the Beaverlac campsite before they declined because of ‘that road’. In the Trailblazer we hardly noticed. The SUV cruised along happily over the rutted, uneven surface of the undulating drive without it being necessary to engage low range.
When we arrived at Beaverlac, we payed our dues and then drove slowly through the camping area looking for the perfect spot, which we found under an unoccupied row of oak trees.
We set up camp in a few minute thanks to the easy-to-use Coleman Fastpitch Instant Dome 5-person tent. Then it was time to relax. We spent the day swimming, jumping off rocks and lazing in the sun with the sound of the water cascading over the small waterfall at the main pool as our background music.
Later we returned to the campsite to read and laze in the shade, before heading back to the pools before dusk. After the summer evening swim the kids kicked the soccer ball around while we got busy with supper on the braai. The day was tied up in a neat bow by toasting marshmallows under the stars.
The next morning we headed down a different path to swim lower down the Olifants River in another pool that also sits under a small cascade of water. We explored the flat rocky pathway that ran along the Olifants and then spent time swimming in the sparkling river water that smells of minerals and the mountain.
When it was time to pack up, back at the campsite, we reversed the Chevy right up to one of the tents, making use of the rear view camera, pushed a ‘magic button’ (called elbow grease) and everything got slurped back into the capacious SUV before we headed off.
We retraced our route back over the gravel road to the top of the Dasklip Pass. Descending the pass we could savour the view as we wound down slowly to the valley floor. A content silence filled the cabin of the Trailblazer and before we knew it the children were dozing and our journey home was blissful.
What we liked about the Trailblazer:
The space, the comfort, the power, the ride (both on and off-road), the easy to use MyLink infotainment system, the reverse parking camera, the versatility, did we mention the space?
What we didn’t like:
Nothing. However if the boot could have just opened a few centimetres higher it would have been above the tallest family member’s ‘bump threshold’…we can’t really hold that against Chevy, now can we?
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ 4×4 AT
Engine: 2.8-litre turbodiesel
Transmission Six-speed auto
4WD System Selectable 4WD with low range
Ground Clearance 219mm
Average consumption (claimed) 9.5l/100km
Average consumption on our trip 10.2l/100km
Price R 613 200