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A Short History of the Chevy TrailBlazer (and GMT 360 Siblings) 2002-2009

The original Chevy Blazers were GM’s answer to the Ford Bronco, and could, with a little help, tackle the roughest of terrains with ease. There’s the original K5 Blazer, which the father of the HUMVEE, Vic Hickey used in designing the M1009 CUCV military vehicle. Then came the compact S-10 Blazer, a much-loved SUV adept off-road or on, which received Playboy‘s and MotorTrend‘s Truck of the Year awards when the second generation debuted in 1995.

The Chevrolet TrailBlazer placed a premium in carrying passengers with a lower stance and a car-like ride, yet still used a body on frame, rear wheel drive platform. Here’s a brief look back at this last of its kind Blazer, covering model years 2002 through 2009, and found in Chilton manual 28880.

Birth of a TrailBlazer

28880 cover imageTrailBlazer originally appeared as an upscale trim for the second-generation Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, before becoming its own SUV for the 2002 model year. That year it, the GMC Envoy and the Oldsmobile Bravada all debuted upon the new GMT 360/370 platform, which succeeded the GMT 330 architecture of the S-10. Upon hitting showrooms in 2002, the Chevy TrailBlazer took home the North American Truck of the Year award at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, besting the Chevy Avalanche and the Jeep Liberty.

This mid-size SUV platform would come to be one of the most rebadged platforms in General Motors’ history, underpinning the TrailBlazer, Oldsmobile Bravada, Buick Rainier, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 9-7X. The platform provided everything based on it an independent suspension up front, and solid axle, coil sprung five-link suspension in the back (and for some upscale models, air suspension).

And for those who needed a little more legroom in the back, there was the TrailBlazer EXT and Envoy XL (plus a longer Ascender). The three-row, seven-passenger had an extra 16 inches in length and a higher roofline for a better time in the third row. The EXT also had unique larger rear passenger doors, without a cut out for the rear wheel like those on the rest of the TrailBlazer line. This extended wheelbase SUV was built exclusively in Oklahoma City from 2002 to 2006.

There were also two variations unique enough to get their own GM internal code: The GMT 305 Envoy XUV, and GMT 368 Chevy SSR. The Envoy XUV started with the long wheelbase Envoy XL, then added a retractable roof over the cargo area and “MidGate” to separate the passenger area from the cargo bed when in truck mode. The two-way tailgate could fold down like a truck, or hinge on the side like a wagon, and the glass could retract, which made it unique among these SUVs. The Chevy SSR built a retro-styled, hot rod pickup truck, with retractable hard top and hard cover over the bed on the GMT 360 platform, and is the only variation ever offered with a manual transmission.

Under the Skin

Chevy SSR pace carPowering this all-new GM platform was an all-new engine, and one of the most advanced they had ever made. The standard 4.2-liter Atlas LL8 engine producing over 270 hp was their first straight six since 1984 and was listed among Ward’s 10 Best Engines list from 2002 to 2005. The inherent smoothness of the six, plus innovations like variable valve timing and GM’s patented lost-foam casting process, first introduced with its new division Saturn, made it an obvious choice.

Aside from the LL8, some GMT 360/370 variants offered the option of the 5.3-liter V8, with 290-315 hp depending on year and model; the V8 was standard on the longer TrailBlazer EXT and Envoy XL. A four-speed automatic (either the 4L60-E or 4L70-E) was the only transmission available to GMT 360-based vehicles. Depending on make and model, they offered either rear wheel drive, push-button four-wheel drive, or full-time all-wheel drive.

The TrailBlazer SS and Saab 9-7X Aero brought performance to the family, with a 6.0-liter V8 making near 400 hp. And that six-liter V8? It was basically the same LS2 found in the 2005-2007 Corvette. This TrailBlazer lived up to its name, being the first SUV to wear Chevy’s Super Sport badge.  Paired with a 4.10 limited slip differential, or even all-wheel drive, the TrailBlazer SS burned it up off the line like no other SUV. The factory also thought to lower it (with air ride in the back) and stiffen it up, plus add sticky tires and thicker sway bars to make it corner properly.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

While the TrailBlazer left the North American market after the 2009 model year, in 2012 the name continued in Asia, India, Southern Africa and the Middle East. And like those Blazers before it, this global TrailBlazer rides upon a truck frame, the second-generation Chevrolet Colorado pickup; it is built at factories in Brazil and Thailand. The rest of the world enjoys an off-road capable TrailBlazer (the Holden 7 in Australia), but the North American market saw its TrailBlazer replaced by the Theta-platform-based Traverse. That crossover is now about to spin off a shorter variant, with Camaro styling cues, to be called the Chevy Blazer for 2019.

As one of the last mid-size truck-based SUVs sold in the United States, the TrailBlazer remains an excellent platform for light-duty towing, or heavy-duty family road trips.

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