2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS: In the Autoblog Garage Day 2

In our previous installment of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS review, we took you for a walk around the exterior of the vehicle. Now it's time to open the hatches and see if the interior can live up to the sheetmetal's understated good looks.

Our sample arrived with an Ebony interior, which we generally prefer over the Light Gray alternative. For year-'round usage in the Salt Belt region, we want something dark, and suspect that those who transport children on a regular basis will feel the same. On the other hand, our readers who reside in sunnier regions may wish to select the lighter color, and GM is kind enough to match either interior color choice with all of the available exterior color selections.

Stepping into the TrailBlazer SS, we find that the subtle exterior styling philosophy finds its way into the interior. There is still liberal use of hard plastic, but it's a serious improvement over what we've seen before from the General.

A steering wheel wrapped in perforated leather and capped with a metal SS logo is one of the first things a driver will set his hands upon, and we found it to be perfectly sized in terms of diameter and rim thickness. Four rocker switches are provided on the upper two spokes, with an additional four push buttons on the lower spokes.

The tilt column, unfortunately, is still of the detent style, and we found that our preferred wheel positions usually fell between two of the five widely-spaced available positions. The friction-style tilt column found in some other vehicles offers an infinite number of positions and therefore is much more accommodating to picky drivers.

The 8-way power seats (fore/aft, height, tilt, recline, inflatable lumbar) don't get the perforated treatment for some reason, but instead are covered in smooth, soft leather. The lack of lateral support is partially compensated for by the suede-like center panels. We'd rather see substantial bolsters, but to give credit where it's due, the rougher leather is quite good at keeping driver and passenger firmly planted where he belongs. The embroidered SS logo is a classy touch, as well.

We found the lower cushion to be far too long for the vertically challenged among us, but taller occupants who tried out the seats welcomed the additional support. Oddly enough, the passenger's side seat rides higher than the driver's, so sticking someone taller than 6' or so in the right front may result in some headroom issues.

Optional adjustable pedals were fitted to our tester. We don't often notice an advantage to this feature, but shorter drivers can use such a system to maintain proper spacing from the airbag, and those with odd proportions will undoubtedly find such an option to be helpful. For safety's sake, the pedals can only be adjusted when the vehicle is in Park.

The foot wells offered plenty of room for this journalist's size 11 stompers. Since there's nothing for the driver's left foot to do, a dead pedal is provided to give it a place to hang out while the right foot has all the fun.

Moving our attention upwards, we find an instrument panel that's cleanly designed and offers a complete set of gauges. The speedometer can be a bit difficult to read due to the coarse markings and a needle that seems about 10mm too short; otherwise, the status of critical parameters is easy to ascertain with a quick glance. We'll touch on the gas mileage another day, but one may find himself humming the chorus of Sugar's "Needle Hits E" as the miles roll along.

The multifunction display is located just under the speedometer and is capable of providing a variety of information, such as the trip odometer (there's actually two), fuel economy, and tire pressure for each of the four corners. It also allows for the programming of some vehicle configuration options, such as the key-off headlight timer. All of this is controlled by using the aforementioned pushbuttons on the steering wheel's lower two spokes to navigate through three menus (one per button; the fourth provides the "select/enter" function). The system is rather easy to navigate after only a few minutes of familiarization.

The GM fans among our readership may actually be pleased to see that the multifunction wiper stalk remains; buyers coming from other brands will likely be confused by this device, which attempts to encapsulate more functionality than a Swiss Army knife. We like the way this device implements the cruise control functions, but the small ring that must be rotated to operate the wipers is a bit difficult to operate, especially when wearing gloves. And the rear wiper control is located about two feet away, on the center stack.

There is no tap-up/tap-down selection of gears, but the seven-position shifter allows the driver to manually select the lower ranges if desired. Unfortunately, the shifter is located just a bit too far to the rear for this to be practical during performance driving, and dropping the stick down into D1 results in a conflict with whatever beverage container happens to be occupying the most rearward of the center console's three cupholders. The console also fails to provide sufficient support to the shifter, and the result is a bit more compliance than we'd like to feel from this driver control. We'd rather see the center console redesigned with only two cupholders, and then maybe GM could find a place for us to put our cell phones, PDAs, and whatnot.

The shift knob is covered in high-quality leather, but the satin chrome trim "mohawk" doesn't match any other component in this interior. Then there's the shift boot, which just didn't fit correctly, felt cheap and generally looked to be an afterthought.

Drift slightly south of the knob button, and the driver's thumb will find a switch for the StabiliTrack system. A quick tap of this switch defeats the traction control but leaves the stability control activated, where as holding down the switch for five seconds or so will turn off almost all of the electronic nannies. Some "torque management" remains, which we suspect is required to save the drivetrain from driver stupidity, such as trying to powerbrake an AWD vehicle. But it's not like we'd know anything about that.

Our tester was equipped with the Bose premium sound system, XM satellite radio, and the navigation radio system. The system is operated using the minimalist row of buttons to the left of the display, inputs made via "soft buttons" on the touch screen, and controls located on the upper spokes of the steering wheel. We familiarized ourselves with the unit in the manner of most consumers, ignoring the vehicle's user manual and diving right in. As far as such systems go it's fairly intuitive, but we'd suggest reserving a few minutes in the driveway for orientation before hitting the open road.

Sound quality was generally good, with a stereo image that presented itself at dashboard level. Upper-frequency performance was a bit too bright and some songs would reveal slightly muddy midbass response, but overall the system performed very well for a factory install.

The navigation system was easy to program but, for the most part, does not offer a 3-D view of the road. When intersections are near, the screen will split and usually offer a zoomed-in bird's-eye view, although on occasion a 3-D image of a particular intersection or exit ramp would appear. Our biggest gripe is that there was no indication of upcoming turns if the system was being used to display sound system information. We leave it up to the individual buyer to determine whether this system is worth two Gs, or if a standalone aftermarket nav system provides more value and an inherently easier upgrade path.

Located below the large nav/radio head are the HVAC controls, which presented no challenges or difficulty. The dual-zone temperature control will strengthen relationships and improve marriages.

The final bit of driver controls are located over on the door panel. Here we find the controls for the seat/mirror memory system, and below that is a button to activate the "Easy Exit" feature (this moves the seat back to its most rearward position). Auto-down is offered on the front windows, but there is no express-up function. The rearmost control is for the heated seats, which was put to good use during our time with the vehicle. It was possible to accidentally activate the seat heaters, however, and, as noted by a friend, the High setting is hot enough to lower the sperm count of even the most viralent males.

It's time to move around to the rear seating position, where we find a 35/65 split folding bench. The rear passengers have access to their own HVAC system and audio controls. Legroom back here is plentiful; with the front seats moved to the full rearward position it's possible that adults may find themselves a bit cramped, but unless the person in the front seat works for the Detroit Pistons, there should be few issues.

The optional Panasonic DVD player and drop-down video screen should prove popular with rear-seat passengers, who also get a multifunction remote control and IR wireless headphones. A set of RCA jacks is provided to allow the use of external A/V sources, but there's no A/C power source for video-game consoles or the like.

Putting the "utility" in "SUV" is the rear cargo hold of the TrailBlazer SS. It can be accessed via two means - flipping up the rear glass or opening the entire liftgate. While the first method may be useful in confined areas, we found the rear-over height to be a bit excessive, and preferred simply to sling open the hatch. The keyless entry remote offers no ability to pop the hatch, so you'll need to free up a hand.

There are a variety of storage locations available in the rear of the TrailBlazer, such as this shallow pocket in the floor. We don't know how often we'd use this compartment on a day-to-day basis, but it looks like a good area to store tools and other supplies for roadside emergencies. The air hose and pressure gauge are provided for use with the vehicle's on-board air compressor, which also serves another function that we'll explore tomorrow.

When serious cargo hauling is required, it's possible to expand the cargo area by about 50% through the process of folding the seats. Since the seat cushions must be flipped up before dropping the seatbacks, there are two steps per side, and the load floor doesn't end up perfectly flat. To be honest, we think that the system used in the old GM B-body station wagons was preferable, as it required only one step and yielded a dead-flat load surface. Regardless, it's possible to fit a lot of Home Depot's inventory in the vehicle.

With a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 6001 lbs and a vehicle weight of approximately 4600 lbs, it's possible to load up with about 1400 lbs of people, snacks and luggage. Additionally, our AWD test sample is rated to tow 6600 lbs. While that's not going to make the TrailBlazer SS a hero at campgrounds, it will definitely allow for transporting a decent-sized boat or for towing a racecar in style.

Hopefully, we've drawn a picture of a quality interior that is comfortable, ergonomically friendly, and loaded with features, because that's what we found inside the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS. It's possible to nitpick a few trim details, but the interior was free of squeaks and rattles, the switchgear felt fine and we encountered little that would keep us from enjoying this vehicle on a daily basis.

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