Drive: Chevrolet’s 2021 Trailblazer offers a turbocharged twist

Remember the Chevrolet TrailBlazer? Built on a truck frame, it was a big seller for Chevy during the first decade of the 2000s. By 2010, however, it had been replaced by the Traverse, a midsize sport-utility vehicle that also has done well for the bow-tie brand since 2010.

Now, however, comes the Trailblazer - note the lower-case b, distinguishing it from its discontinued ancestor. It's an SUV altogether unlike the brawny TrailBlazer. Indeed, it squeezes between the subcompact Trax and the compact Equinox in the Chevy SUV line.

Base-priced at $19,000, the Trailblazer is diminutive but big where it counts. There's plenty of legroom in front for 6-foot drivers, decent head room for back-seat passengers, and a respectable 54.4 cubic feet of cargo room when the split back seat is lowered. It's also quite fuel-efficient, delivering 29 mpg city, 33 highway, with the standard 137-horsepower, 1.2-liter engine, continuously variable automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

Our test car was an upscale, Oasis Blue Trailblazer RS, with the 155-horsepower, 1.3-liter engine, 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Its sticker price, with the $1,720 Technology Package, $630 Convenience Package and $345 Driver Confidence Package, was $30,580.

Bracketing the Trailblazer in Chevrolet's SUV line are the Trax, base-priced at $21,300, and the Equinox, $23,800. The price difference notwithstanding, the Trailblazer is bigger than the Trax.

Parked in our driveway in Bethel, the Trailblazer proved to be something of a neighborhood sensation. One neighbor spoke admiringly of the black-over-Oasis-Blue paint job. We liked it, too, because it brought back memories of a Gulfstream Aqua 1969 Ford Fairlane we used to own. Others found the Trailblazer stylish and nicely proportioned.

As a driver's car, the Trailblazer wasn't bad - certainly, vastly more agile than the assortment of TrailBlazers and similar GMC Envoys we test-drove over the years. Our car was equipped with optional blind-spot alert and other safety tech, though some drivers would be willing to do without these features because visibility out the quarters and rear is excellent.

The interior contains some hard plastics and flimsy panels to remind the driver this is, at root, an economy car. And lowering the rear seatbacks creates a steep ridge, rather than leaving a flat cargo deck.

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD RS

Price: $30,580

Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged inline Three, 155 horsepower, 174 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 9-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, Watts link rear

Ground clearance: 8 in.

Wheels: 18-in. aluminum

Tires: P225/55R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 30.5 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 54.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.

Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Our major driveability complaint centered on the transmission's tendency to allow the engine to lug at times.

Which brings us to the Trailblazer's most unique and unexpected component - a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine. The Trailblazer is a relatively lightweight, aerodynamic vehicle, so its 155 horses seem quite sufficient on paper. But a three-banger just doesn't deliver the sound and feel of an engine with more displacement and more cylinders.

By the way, the Trailblazer isn't the first three-cylinder Chevy. That distinction belongs to the forgettable Sprint, Swift and Metro - subcompact sedans discontinued after the 1990s.

Built in Korea, the Trailblazer competes with Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos, from Korea, as well as the Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, Subaru Impreza and Toyota C-HR from Japan.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast who lives in Bethel, Conn.