Times are tough if you’re in the market for a brand new all-wheel drive crossover on a severe budget, but the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer thinks it has the answer. Cheapest model in Chevy’s SUV line-up, its sticker price isn’t quite that attention-grabbing $19k by the time you add AWD, but even then it still won’t break the bank – just as long as you’re willing to put up with the Trailblazer’s compromises to get there.
As you’d expect, the Trailblazer owes many of its styling cues to the larger Blazer SUV. The proportions look more muscular and intentional than the overall dimensions would suggest, particularly the squinting headlamps atop a gaping lower front grille. The Midnight Blue Metallic of my test car wasn’t the most flattering shade, mind: brighter colors help emphasize the contrast sections, like the chrome and the chunky cladding.
In displacement-obsessed America, the Trailblazer’s 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine is a kooky outlier: it’s easy to forget that, over in Europe and Asia, squeezing more out of thriftier sippings of gas has been the status-quo for many years now. Chevy’s three-pot gets you 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, but the biggest surprise is that it’s actually the larger of the two engines the Trailblazer can be had with.
Standard is an even smaller 1.2-liter turbo, coaxing 137 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque from its three cylinders. It uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), unlike the 1.3-liter with its 9-speed automatic. If you want all-wheel drive rather than power to the front wheels alone, you’ll need to cough up the extra for the bigger engine.
The 2021 Trailblazer FWD L starts at just $19,000 (plus $995 destination), making it less than half the average selling price of a new car in America right now. You’ll pay $3,100 more for the Trailblazer AWD LS 1.3L, the first trim offering the punchier engine and all-wheel drive. My review car was the positively-plush (in comparison) Trailblazer AWD LT, at $28,180 with options and destination.
Your money gets you 17-inch high-gloss black alloy wheels, front fog lamps and LED daytime running lights, power-adjusted side mirrors, electric windows, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, OnStar 4G LTE WiFi, a 7-inch infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and both USB Type-A and Type-C ports plus an aux-in. Safety tech includes lane-keep assistance, forward collision alerts, tire pressure monitoring, and automatic emergency and front pedestrian braking.
The $620 Adaptive Cruise Control package added the smarter cruise, leather wrapping for the shifter and steering wheel, a 4.2-inch color display sandwiched between the analog gauges for the driver, and a rear center armrest. Another $620 added the Convenience package, with single-zone automatic air conditioning, auto dimming for the rearview mirror, a 120V power outlet, SiriusXM, an 8-inch upgrade for the infotainment touchscreen, and rear USB Type-A and -C charging ports.
Finally, $345 throws in rear parking assistance, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot warnings. There’s no leather option, only a leatherette upgrade from the perfectly satisfactory cloth, and weirdly no wireless charging pad available, strange since Chevy has been ahead of many by embracing wireless smartphone projection. You can even connect two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, which is more than many far more expensive SUVs can manage.
Out on the road, the 1.3-liter engine underwhelms. Acceleration is on the sluggish side, and though urban nippiness is reasonable the Trailblazer starts to feel a little more out of its depth on the highway. Put your foot down to take advantage of a gap in the next lane and there’s a disconcerting absence of grunt as the gearbox hurries to get you back into the power band. On Michigan highways, where a 70 mph limit typically means 80 mph in the slow lane, I held back from openings in faster traffic more often than I would in other small crossovers.
The same reticence appears on more interesting roads, where the Trailblazer fails to bring the fire. Squishy suspension makes some sense when you’re trying to smooth out unruly asphalt – though the short wheelbase and no lack of body roll means rougher sections still make themselves known – but does no favors for enthusiast drivers.
Perhaps, though, that’s asking too much. Economy works in the Trailblazer’s favor, with the 1.3L FWD rated for up to 31 mpg combined by the EPA, and my AWD version for 26 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. My mixed driving hit those numbers with no problems. The cabin design is unmemorable, with swathes of different tone plastic failing to lift what’s a generally dark interior, but it at least feels decently screwed-together and spacious.
25.3 cu-ft of cargo space with the rear seats up expands to 54.4 cu-ft with them down. Honda’s HR-V has more; Nissan’s Kicks has less. What the Chevy gets that neither rival offers is a folding front passenger seat, opening almost the full length of the cabin for hauling longer items. The HR-V and Trailblazer have more legroom in the rear than the Kicks does, too.
I don’t dislike the 2021 Trailblazer, I just struggle to remember it. The idea of a smaller, peppier version of the Blazer isn’t a bad one, and Chevrolet’s styling has some good angles, it’s just that this compact crossover doesn’t really go far enough in any direction to stand out of the crowd. Mazda’s CX-30 is in the same ballpark for price as this LT trim, but looks and drives so much better. The Trailblazer brings more practicality and cargo space to the party, but I know which I’d rather look outside and see parked on my driveway.
GM and LG reveal second $2.3bn Ultium EV battery plant
GM and LG will build a new electric car battery plant together, the two companies have confirmed today, settling rumors of an expansion of the joint Ultium Cells venture as the automaker tries to maximize production of cheaper EV power packs. The new facility will be in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and see General Motors and LG Energy Solution pump in a further $2.3 billion in investment.
It follows an existing $2.3 billion investment by the pair in a battery production facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Construction there is currently underway, as GM prepares for a rapid uptick in demand across its various brands for batteries.
GM Ultium, announced in 2019, is the automaker’s new platform for all-electric vehicles. It’ll underpin models from Cadillac, GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, and other nameplates in General Motors’ portfolio, with the potential for 450+ miles of range and a variety of drivetrain configurations. However, it’ll also be expensive, at least to begin with, and no small part of that is the cost of the battery cells themselves.
It’s leading to a split in GM’s EV portfolio, of sorts, as Ultium is reserved for the electric vehicles that can command the highest sticker prices. That means models like the six-figure GMC Hummer EV and the Hummer EV SUV, along with the Cadillac Lyriq. In contrast, more affordable – and more mainstream – models like Chevrolet’s Bolt EV and new Bolt EV electric crossover will continue using the automaker’s existing, less advanced but much cheaper, platform.
Looking ahead, though, GM is counting on Ultium coming down in price and making affordable batteries at-scale more of a possibility. The roadmap calls for pack sizes from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours, made up of large-format, pouch-style cells which can be stacked either vertically or horizontally for maximum flexibility. There’ll also be support for either 400-volt packs with 200 kW DC fast charging, or 800-volt packs with 350 kW DC fast charging, depending on model and target audience.
Getting that all to a cost-effective point is vital if planned vehicles like the all-electric Chevrolet Silverado are to be competitive.
The new Spring Hill Ultium plant will be built by Ultium Cells on land leased from GM to the joint venture. Eventually it’s expected to span approximately 2.8 million-square-feet, with construction beginning immediately. However it’s not going to be open until late 2023, GM warns.
At that point, it’ll be supplying batteries to GM’s Spring Hill assembly plant nearby. That’ll be the location where Cadillac builds the upcoming Lyriq luxury electric crossover, alongside the existing gas-powered XT6 and XT5 SUVs.
Samsung’s new smart headlamp tech just leaves me angrier
You might not associate Samsung with car parts, but the company has revealed new smart LED headlamp clusters that could bring active lights to a much broader range of vehicles – though for the moment it looks like American drivers will miss out. The Samsung PixCell LEDs aren’t just one light source but in fact a whole cluster of more than 100 ultra-small segments, built into a single LED chip.
Those segments can be individually controlled, such as by an adaptive driving beam (ADB) system. For instance, if the system spots an oncoming vehicle at night, while you have your high-beams switched on, it could selectively occlude the parts of the headlamps which are directed at that vehicle.
The result would be avoiding glare for that car, but continued visibility around it for you. Alternatively, headlamps using the PixCell LEDs could focus light according to ambient conditions, such as when driving in fog or heavy rain, to maximize how much of the road can be seen.
Samsung isn’t the first company to offer smart headlamp LEDs like this, but its method is a little different. The PixCell system combines 100+ tiny segments – each separated by a silicon wall – with each acting like a pixel. The light-emitting area is only 1/16th of the size of a conventional discrete LED module used in current ADB systems, Samsung says. That means the overall light assembly could be as much as 50-percent smaller without impairing functionality.
That’s great, assuming you live in a country where these sort of headlamps are actually permitted. It’s a problem US drivers find themselves facing, where automakers have been forced to disable the smart lighting features on cars for sale in America. Currently, regulations in the US don’t allow this sort of selective lighting on vehicles, and while car companies and safety organizations have pushed for changes, there’s no telling when – or if – that will happen.
It’s frustrating, because it leaves American drivers missing out on some of the biggest advances in tech we’ve seen in automotive recently. Audi’s digital matrix LED system, for example, is offered elsewhere in the world on vehicles like the e-tron SUV; the same EV in the US, however, doesn’t offer that feature. Mercedes’ Digital Light – as featured on the new flagship EQS all-electric luxury sedan – is similarly blocked by out-of-date rules. Both systems, when functional, can even do things like project graphics on the road to better communicate vehicle behaviors with pedestrians and other road users; in the US, about the smartest thing they can manage is automatically flip between high- and low-beam settings.
Polestar found itself in the same situation with the recently-launched Polestar 2. The EV has Pixel LED headlamps, made up of 84 individual LEDs within each light, and which can do things like selectively shade the brightness in patches so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic.
While US-spec cars are fitted with the Pixel LED hardware, the advanced ADB features aren’t enabled. Polestar has said that it could do that with an OTA software update in future, should the local regulations change, though again it can’t say when that might happen, if it ever does. In fact, owners of the Polestar 2 could have the EV and never get to use the full extent of the features it’s capable of.
Samsung says there are still good reasons to use the PixCell LED system, even if ADB isn’t legally allowed in every region. For a start, it supports different configuration of the same hardware to suit varying light regulations and requirements. “Based on a single standard headlamp design,” the company points out, “lamp makers can customize light output to suit varying design needs and enjoy reduced lead time for development, production, supply and time-to-market.”
With some software architecture foresight by automakers, then, smart LED lights like these could one day be upgraded with a firmware patch to enable the more advanced functionality that the hardware is capable of. For that to happen, though, we’ll need US road safety regulators to get up to speed with the cutting-edge of vehicle tech, and that’s a process which is frustratingly slow in comparison.
Alpha Wolf+ EV has an extra pair of suicide rear doors
California-based startup Alpha Motor Corporation is expanding its electric vehicle portfolio with the Wolf+ (Wolf Plus), an extended-cab version of the brand’s Wolf electric pickup unveiled last month. Whereas a standard Wolf EV pickup truck has only two doors, Wolf+ has dual rear-hinged half-doors to make the rear seats more accessible, similar to what you get in the 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV.
Despite its extended-cab body style, Alpha Wolf+ has the same 5.5-feet bed as the non-plus version. It also gets a bevy of off-road accessories like standard fog lights, a roof basket, and a set of solar panels in the bed cover.
Like the first Alpha Wolf, the Wolf+ you see on this page are just renderings of an incoming pre-production prototype model. We have no word yet of an official launch date, but Alpha is on track to make its first customer deliveries beginning as early as 2023. The company also revealed the JAX (Junior All-Terrain Crossover) SUV earlier this year, a four-passenger off-road vehicle with retro styling cues similar to Wolf and Wolf+.
Alpha claims a range of 250 to 275+ miles from a still-unspecified battery pack. If the Alpha JAX is any indication, we reckon Wolf+ might come with a 75 kWh lithium-ion battery. Additionally, Wolf+ is available in a single motor RWD or dual-motor AWD powertrain. We find this surprising since a standard Wolf with a single motor is a front-wheel-drive unit.
We also found the performance numbers a bit surprising. Alpha claims Wolf+ accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.9-seconds versus 6.2-seconds for a front-drive Wolf. It also has a maximum towing capacity of 6274 pounds (3050 kg). In contrast, a standard Wolf can tow 3000 pounds (1,360 kg). Indeed, you can haul more stuff with Wolf+.
Inside, Alpha Wolf+ has a digital instrument cluster, a large center touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and a premium audio system. Base models get 16-inch wheels, while larger 17 to 18-inch alloys are available. And yes, Alpha Wolf+ has a roomy frunk or front trunk.
Alpha has yet to unveil definite launch dates for its all-electric vehicles, but the reservation books are open for both the Wolf and Wolf+ models. The Wolf has base prices starting at $36,000 to $46,000, while pricing for Wolf+ will follow soon.
Alpha Wolf+ Gallery
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