If there's one thing the TrailBlazer wasn't crying out for it was more power. A new interior, maybe... but not more power!
To my mind, the 300-hp, 5300 Vortec V-8 offers about as much performance as the TrailBlazer really needs for the daily school run, but that didn't stop Chevrolet from slotting the Corvette's LS2 V-8 into its engine bay and beefing up the looks and suspension to match. The resulting vehicle is called the TrailBlazer SS, although confusingly, it's sold as a package on LS or LT short-wheelbase models with 2WD or 4WD, rather than being a model it its own right. Go figure.
So what, exactly, does the SS package get you for an additional five grand or so? Well, obviously there's the 6.0-liter, pushrod Corvette V-8, restricted to 391 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque in the SS due to space constraints in the TrailBlazer's engine bay and the fact there's only room for a single tailpipe. Even so, Chevrolet has specially tuned the exhaust system (complete with single storm-drain-sized tailpipe) to make all the right noises under acceleration while keeping its distinctive V-8 rumble impressively mute at highway speeds.
Sadly, that fine engine is saddled with an awful transmission - an ancient four-speed automatic that offers no manual shifting and the electronic sophistication of a lightbulb. Kickdown is reasonably quick but it's anything but smooth and because it has been programmed to be as economical as possible, it's far to eager to jump back into top gear again making it impossible to enjoy the SS on any kind of a challenging road.
That said, when it comes to straight-line butt-haulin', the TrailBlazer is tough to beat. For maximum performance you simply stomp on the gas pedal and wait for the horizon to come to you - 0-60 mph takes around than six seconds in the RWD model we drove and the quarter-mile is dispatched somewhere in the 14s - not bad for a 4552-lb SUV.
If you lean on the brakes before building up revs, the TrailBlazer will break the rear wheels loose or cause the rather crude stability control system to slap you across the face if you forget to turn it off (or at least as "off" as GM's lawyers will let you) but the chassis really isn't set up for heroic powerslides or delicate drifts. The standard 20-inch wheels are wrapped in some impressively large and sticky Goodyear Eagle tires, which seem to contribute more to the TrailBlazer's ride and handling than you might expect.
All blinged up
In addition to the bling-bling wheels, the SS also gets special bumpers, mesh grilles, turn signals in the mirrors, and some special badging, which doesn't sound like a lot but it has the same effect as slipping off the dowdy glasses and letting down the school-mistress bun. The TrailBlazer SS oozes just the right amount of understated aggression to be handsome without being overwrought and cartoon-ish like the Grand Cherokee SRT-8. The SS also gets a slightly lower suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, thicker front stabilizer bars, a quicker steering rack, a limited slip rear differential, bigger brakes with Corvette brake pads (steady now), self-leveling rear air suspension, and a Torsen center differential on 4WD models. The "sports" suspension is definitely firmer but not so stiff it'll rattle your teeth out. Indeed, the SS feels to me like every TrailBlazer should, offering a reasonable amount of information about the road surface beneath with none of the usual float or wallow.
Unfortunately, while the suspension modifications do wonders for the TrailBlazer's overall ride and handling, they don't go far enough to actually make the SS a sporty drive. There's still a fair bit of roll in corners and too much unwanted body movements when braking, accelerating, or stumbling across mid-corner bumps. The tires grip well, though, and do an admirable job of keep the SS on line through the twisty stuff, while they also contribute significantly to the SS's impressive highway refinement. The brakes, too, feel strong and are more than capable of reining in the SS from big speeds, which is reassuring given how rapidly it can accelerate.
The steering is probably the biggest difference between the SS and standard TrailBlazer. It's quick without being go-kartish and makes the TrailBlazer SS feel smaller and more agile than the regular TrailBlazer. What a shame, then, you have to steer with the same massive tiller you find in every Chevy truck, and I'm not even going to get started on the dashboard. All I'll say is that I can't remember the last time I saw sliders on a vehicle's HVAC controls and why can't Chevy please, please, please find some other plastic to make their interiors out of? That said, it is an extremely spacious machine and the extra bolstering on the SS emblazoned front seats holds you in place much better than the stock chairs. As with just about every other modification Chevrolet has made to the TrailBlazer SS, the seats are about as good as the stock items should be in the first place but, once again, fall short of actually being sporty in the traditional sense of the word.
The Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is, overall, a very likeable and enjoyable machine to tool around in provided you get it out of your head it's any kind of a performance machine. It steers, rides, grips, and goes with the kind of poise and involvement you would expect from a modern SUV, though you'd do well to forget that there's a Corvette engine under the hood and treat it like a rapid family conveyance rather than some kind of bargain Porsche Cayenne chaser.
If you're thinking about a 5300 V-8 TrailBlazer then I would very strongly recommend you spend the extra $3000 on an LS-based SS because it really is a considerably better vehicle for not a lot of extra cash. Compared to the $40k, 415-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, the $31,180, 391-hp TrailBlazer SS seems like something of a steal but if ever there was a time to heed the old saying "You pays for what you gets," this is it.
2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS
Base Price: $31,180
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8, 391 hp/395 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length X width X height: 191.8 x 74.6 x 67.8 in
Wheelbase: 113.0 in
Curb weight: 4552 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 15/19 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags; anti-lock brakes, stability control
Major standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, sport seats, sport suspension; styling kit; 20-inch wheels
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles