2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS: In the Autoblog Garage Day 1

Recently, much fuss has been made of "media bias", so let's start off this review of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS with our prejudices as they pertain to the subject matter. First, most of us at Autoblog Towers don't consider ourselves to be huge fans of midsize sport-utility vehicles, prefering instead to grab a like-sized sedan or wagon for general grocery-getting, or select a minivan if there's serious people-hauling that must be performed. Second, we believe firmly that historical monikers - such as Super Sport - need to be treated with respect, and not hung on a mundane product in cynical attempts to cash-in on hard-earned brand equity. Third, we're all suckers for a well-engineered powertrain. Lastly, we're big believers in the "sleeper" or "Q-ship" school of design, as there's much to be said for a wolf in sheep's clothing when it comes to crossing large distances in a short amount of time.

And so with that established, we rolled the TrailBlazer SS into Day One of our Autoblog Garage. A muscular SUV that's packing Corvette power under the hood, and some serious parts to get all of it to the road. Keep reading for a bit of history behind this hot-rod SUV, and we'll also take a walk around the outside of our Silverstone Metallic tester.

 (Click through to the jump for a dozen photos and more of Day 1!)

The Super Sport name and its SS abbreviation traces its origins back to a 1957 entry of a Corvette in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Four years later, the '61 Impala became the first production Chevrolet to wear a SS trim package, and in the years that followed, the two letters could be found following the name of several Chevy coupes.

A mini-controversy of sorts erupted in 1994, when the Impala SS became the first sedan to be called a Super Sport (had car guys discovered the Internet at that time, a much larger stir would've likely resulted). This model earned a reputation that frankly was based more upon its stunning styling than on the merits of its performance, as the exact same powertrain could be found in the garden-variety Caprice on which it was based. Fast-forward to current day, and we now find the SS badge hanging off any number of vehicles, including an economy car, a station wagon, a half-ton pickup truck - and the subject of this review, a midsize sport-utility vehicle.

Lest anyone forget, this is not the first high-performance SUV to come from General Motors. The GMC Typhoon was a spin-off of the Syclone; both vehicles mated turbocharging technology from Buick's Grand National program to the truck division's 4.3L V6, and then shoved the 280 HP motor in front of an all-wheel-drive system borrowed from the Astro minivan. The results were significantly better than the sum of the parts, and these vehicles built a tiny but dedicated following based not just on straight-line performance, but also somewhat surprising handling. Said another way, Chevrolet would do well to live up to the Typhoon's performance legacy.

While the history lesson may strike as superfluous, it's important to establish the background for what appears to be such a strange concept. After all, it's quite logical to question the reasoning behind a top-heavy 4600 lb. vehicle with handling that was tuned on the famed Nurburgring.

A quick glance at the exterior of the TrailBlazer SS may not immediately reveal all the subtle differences that set this vehicle apart from its garden-variety siblings, but even the casual observer can note the overall effect of the changes.

Up front, the TrailBlazer SS wears a redesigned fascia consisting of a new bumper skin and a redesigned grille. Gone is the chrome "power bar" that's been a Chevrolet trademark for the past five years.  In its place is a monochrome treatment and a number of new openings, each with a purpose. Note the two small xenon fog lamps that are mounted inboard of the brake cooling ducts.

Sleekly-shaped body color rocker panels adorn the sides of the SS. The ZQ8 sport suspension package drops this version of the TrailBlazer by approximately one inch, but the visual impact is magnified by the SS' larger rolling stock.

20x8" six-spoke wheels are wrapped in 255/50R20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. With an outer diameter of 30", the combination adequately fills the wheelwells and results in a much sportier appearance.

Out back, similar measures have been taken to clean up the somewhat busy lines of the TrailBlazer.

For starters, the roofrack that is optional on other TrailBlazer models is nowhere to be found on the SS. The "shark fin" satellite antenna may have looked strange a few years ago, but nowadays should simply be regarded as a sign of the times.

The new rear valance extends down to better hide the built-in trailer hitch and muffler. A single 3" stainless steel exhaust tip provides visual and audible confirmation of this vehicle's status, and the center step has been removed in the pursuit of cleaner aesthetics.

The sizeable exterior mirrors not only provide a view of what's behind, but also serve as a platform on which to hang what GM calls "perimeter lighting". This includes curbside illumination upon opening the door, and also provides yet another location for turn signals.

As is typical for recent SS models, exterior badging is minimal and tasteful. There's only two gold Bowties to be found on the outside (not including the center caps), and three SS badges subtly request that one takes note of this vehicle's stature before issuing any challenges. Those willing to raise their profile will be best served by selecting a different vehicle.

The body-colored door handles are large enough to be opening without removing one's gloves - an important feature this time of the year. Our understanding is that this type of handle is not popular among those brandishing long fingernails, though.

We'll conclude this first look at the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS by running through the window sticker.

Actually, for pricing, we're going to rely not on the provided sticker, but instead on up-to-date information from Chevrolet's website. We start at the Build and Price page by selecting a 2006 Trailblazer with the standard wheelbase (select "Base" from the "Style" drop-down), and of course inputing the local zip code - follow along at home if you wish.

If you prefer to put the power down to the ground via only two tires, you can save $2250, but we'd wait until Day Five of the Autoblog Garage before making that particular call. We'll go ahead and select the "4x4" option for this build.

While there are four trim levels available for the TrailBlazer, only two can be built as a SS. Interested parties will want to select either the LS 1SB ($28,235) or the LT 1SE ($30,610). The SS package then adds another $5,270 to the sticker, and in addition to the aforementioned exterior features, clicking this box brings with it the famed LS2 V8 with 395 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque, a heavy-duty version of the 4-speed 4L60E transmission (equipped here with a variety of beefed-up parts and a higher-stall torque converter), a TMPS (tire pressure monitoring system), and some interior trim we'll discuss in the coming days. There are also significant changes to the running gear that will also be discussed later, as the TrailBlazer's AutoTrac part-time transfer case is swapped out for a full-time AWD system. A huge 14-bolt 9.5" rear axle, loaded with 4.10 gears, resides out back and takes the brunt of the LS2's abuse.

After paint selection, Windows shoppers will note that the SS package also requires the $895 "LT Package 2". The sticker now stands at $34,970, and is only a few select clicks away from crossing the $40K mark.

Stay tuned, for in upcoming days we'll peek inside this vehicle to see what Chevrolet has done to keep the occupants comfortable, safe, entertained and informed. We're also going to get underneath the truck to see what's hiding down below, and then we'll hit the road to see if the TrailBlazer can indeed live up to the Super Sport moniker.



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