Super Sport. It's Chevy's vaunted designation for its sportiest, most powerful models. Over the years, it's been applied to vehicles rightly deserving and some not quite as deserving. But, through it all, it has still has emerged as a coveted and desirable nameplate by enthusiasts. In the early '90s, the idea of a genuinely high-performance SUV seemed strange. Indeed, when GMC came out with the Typhoon in the early '90s, it was considered an oddball vehicle by many enthusiasts. Here was an SUV with zero towing capacity and very little payload. So, the utility portion of the sport-utility equation was essentially AWOL. Today's SUV buyers and enthusiasts are far less forgiving of one-trick ponies. They want room, comfort, performance, and of course, all the capability of mainstream SUVs.
The bellowing LS2 is hidden beneath a generic-looking plastic cover.
So, when the General got ready for round two of the performance SUV battle, it came fully prepared. The result is the TrailBlazer SS. Yes, it has all the requisite go-fast goodies: the hairy-chested 395hp LS2 6.0L V-8 plucked from the C6 Corvette, performance-valved Bilstein shocks, 20-inch alloy wheels, and high-performance rubber. But, it can also tow 6,800 pounds. It's not class-leading but certainly more than enough for most suburban dads to tow a few watercraft to the river for the weekend or a couple of quads to the dunes. Utility? Present and accounted for.
As the name implies, the TrailBlazer SS got a double helping of sport. But, unless you're a discerning enthusiast, you'd probably just think it was a slick trim package. Other than a few SS badges sprinkled inside and out, and the shiny dubs, there's not a lot on this hauler that screams "arrest me." This makes it the perfect vehicle for the guy that has an incurable lead foot but a wife who insists on something practical, safe, and relatively affordable. And at $31,205 as tested, including XM radio, our 2WD SS counts as a genuine bargain in our book. Granted, we got the lower-level LS trim package with the cloth seats. But, with that much power under the hood, who cares? Interestingly, the SS trim is a stand-alone $4,895 package that you can get on the LS or LT, 2WD or 4WD.
Driven prudently, the SS is as mild-mannered and civilized as any other midsize SUV. If you never use more than 1/3 throttle, it's simply a smooth, peppy midsize family SUV. The ride is a little firmer than usual but nowhere close to punishing. However, put the hammer down, and the Mr. Hyde transformation is unmistakable. The LS2 barks out a furious growl, and you're catapulted forward at a giddy pace. Scenery passes by like someone just hit the "Fast Forward" button on your VCR. Drivers who were about to move over into your lane are suddenly startled and humbly weave back into their lane. No doubt about it, this family hauler is packin' some serious heat. Of course, having fun has its price, and we paid it at the pump. Under our heavy feet, the SS returned a 12.4 mpg average. The somewhat optimistic EPA estimates are 15 city, 19 highway.
If smoky burnouts are your thing, the 2WD SS is certainly capable of them. But, it took us a while to find the discreet traction control disable button. We finally found a button on the shifter that would usually engage Overdrive or a "tow-haul" mode, and when we pressed it, we saw the display flash "traction control off." Very sneaky. The wife will never know.
Underneath, it's standard-issue GM engine compartment. Why can't we get the Corvette's sty
As good of an all-around package as the TrailBlazer SS is, it's not perfect. Cost-cutting is apparent in a few areas. The hood is still suspended by a prop rod. And rather than employing the C6 or GTO's handsome tubular intake manifold, it instead gets a big piece of Tupperware slapped on top of the engine. Out of curiosity, we peeled back the cover, and underneath was a typical nondescript GM corporate manifold with a plethora of sensors and wires. In this day, when five-speed automatic transmissions are becoming standard issue even in lowly compacts, the four-speed is looking a little dated. An extra cog might help the mileage a little, as well. And it seems Chevy couldn't resist the temptation of non-functional styling gingerbread. Only one of the headlamp vents is actually functional. And although they look substantial, the chrome-accented brake ducts are just molded into the front fascia and flex along with the rest of bumper cover when any force is applied to them.
So, no, you're not going to find the same level of fit and finish as you might on a Range Rover or a BMW X5. But, at about half the price, we're inclined to forgive the Bow Tie boys for a little Motown chintziness for putting the LS2 under the hood. In another obvious penny-pinching move, the front buckets are no different from standard-issue TrailBlazer seats that we can tell, save for the SS logo stitched into the backrest, which means lateral support is minimal. That being the case, the grippy cloth is preferable for enthusiastic driving over the slick leather. Here's where GM's performance division could learn a lesson from DaimlerChrysler's SRT and its beefy bolstered buckets.
Overall, the TrailBlazer SS is one helluva deal. We give GM a big hand for producing a very compelling package that combines the practicality expected from midsize SUVs, with the performance that enthusiasts crave and all too often have to sacrifice when they become a responsible family man. And for around $31,000 starting, it won't arouse spousal suspicion over any issues of self-indulgence. If this is part of the Chevy's American Revolution, we say "Viva la Revolucion!"
Vehicle: Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS LS 2WD
Base Price/As Tested: $29,885/$31,205
Engine: 6.0L LS2 V-8
Transmission: 4L70-E four-speed automatic
Horsepower: 395 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 city/19 highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 12.4 mpg
The brake ducts look beefy but are just molded into the front bumper cover.
The gauge cluster features a white tachometer to emphasize the SS' performance image.
Only one of the headlamp vents is functional, on the passenger side.
The traction control defeat button is cleverly hidden on the shift lever.
The interesting part about the SS package is that it can be ordered on either the LS or LT