Actions speak louder than words, and the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is the automotive equivalent of a big, fat apology for all those front-wheel drive Impalas and Monte Carlos running around with Super Sport badges on them. This is a basic ‘ute equipped with 395 horses courtesy of the Corvette’s LS2 V8 motor, able to grip the pavement with the rear or all four 20-inch wheels. This move by Chevrolet effectively mutes anyone who complains that an SS isn’t what it used to be. Yet, despite the hefty horsepower, a minimalist approach to design changes, pitiful gas mileage, and those big tires, there are a few points that still separate the TrailBlazer SS from its heralded ancestors. The most obvious is the fact that it’s an SUV, but more important, this truck handles remarkably well for a 4,400-lb. vehicle, and could likely out-maneuver any SS-badged Chevy from decades past. Learning that it starts at about $31,000 sounds almost as good as the deep exhaust note, and this fact nearly overshadows the low-budget interior materials and worst-of-GM build quality.
Key to an enjoyable experience with the five-passenger 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is accepting that everything except the engine, the wheels and tires, and possibly the suspension, is rental grade. Once drivers get past that hurdle, they can focus on what makes loud noises and makes the truck move so briskly – a 16-valve V8 engine pushing 395 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. Power is transferred to the rear or all four 255/50 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires via a heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission that lacks any type of sport or manually-interactive mode. A limited-slip rear differential and StabiliTrak stability control serve to maintain grip. Pressing a button once on the shift knob deactivates the traction control; holding the button for several seconds turns off the traction control and stability control systems; push the button again and all systems are go. A rack-and-pinion steering system keeps the rubber pointed in the right direction while a sport-tuned suspension with shocks and coil springs up front and an automatic load-leveling, multi-link setup in the rear controls the ride. Stabilizer bars are standard, along with beefy vented antilock disc brakes. TrailBlazer SS models with four driven wheels add a push-button 4WD system with automatic locking hubs.
To have or not to have four-wheel-drive capability, that is the only real question. Rear-wheel-drive SS models, starting at $30,410 including a $710 destination charge, come well equipped with OnStar, SS badges and unique air dams, fog lights, power mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, an exterior temperature gauge, a tire pressure monitor, dual-zone climate control, and a single-disc CD player. Buyers also get a leather steering wheel, a power driver’s seat, and a tow hitch receiver. Options include various preferred equipment groups, power adjustable foot pedals, heated seats, a full-size spare, and more. The four-wheel-drive model offers the same equipment with its base price of $32,660.
The truck used for this evaluation was a rear-wheel-drive 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS with a sticker that read $31,505. That price included the $710 destination charge, $325 for XM satellite radio service, and $995 for an LS Preferred Equipment Group that added oversized power mirrors, floor mats, a rear window defroster, rear privacy glass, keyless entry, and a vehicle alarm.
Stuffed with a milder 395 horsepower version of the 6.0-liter LS2 small block motor from the C6 Corvette and priced under $32,000, who cares how the 2006 Chevy TrailBlazer SS drives? It’s a 4,400-lb. SUV that moves like stink with a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 5.7 seconds and quarter-mile times in the 13’s (according to GM). ‘Nuff said. Or is it?
The TrailBlazer SS has surprisingly predictable road holding manners around sweeping corners with better-than-expected steering response. Credit the tuned SS-specific ZQ8 Sport Suspension package with Bilstein shocks and high performance Goodyear RS-A tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels for making the SS feel downright nimble around these sweepers. But as an SUV, it doesn’t fare nearly as well on tighter slalom-like turns requiring scalpel-sharp precision, or on brisk drives on the highway where wind buffeting pushes against its slab sides.
Unrealistic expectations of a corner-carver aside, stab the throttle and let the LS2-equipped SS do what it does best: pound out power and torque. Off-the-line starts are bit tamer than one would expect with nary a chirp but once the TrailBlazer SS gets going it does so with brutal authority. Acceleration isn’t quite up to the C6 Corvette, which weighs about 1,100-lbs. less, but fellow commuters in their sports sedans are in for an unexpected lesson in torque over heft. On the highway, the TrailBlazer SS is never at a loss for passing power. Before you know it, you’re exceeding safe highway speeds but the four-wheel disc brakes (with Corvette-spec pads) do a competent job of reigning in the horses. There is little brake modulation offered. Scrubbing speed on a two-plus ton SUV is more akin to on and off braking but ABS is present should braking require more elegant intervention. One niggling annoyance for me was the height and placement of the pedals relative to each other. On more than one occasion, letting off the throttle meant brushing the brake pedal with the inner sole of my shoe – during panic stops one can’t help but feel he’s going to get caught on the underside of the brake pedal before being clear and able to step on the brakes.
Now the question comes to mind: Why would anyone need almost 400 horsepower in an SUV while gas prices inch toward the $4.00 per gallon mark? The TrailBlazer can’t handle quite like a sports car and nobody needs such prodigious power to haul the kids to soccer practice. But for the select few (most likely husbands and fathers who lived and breathed petrol and smoky burnouts in their youth), having a Corvette engine stealthily transplanted into an SUV gives them the best of both worlds, a stoplight bruiser that can bring home the groceries and eight bags of potting soil for the garden.
Christian Wardlaw’s 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS Driving Impressions:
The 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS caused me to laugh out loud the first time I punched the accelerator and hauled ass down the road, and I cannot remember any vehicle having that effect on me in 10 years of test driving – except the Ford Mustang Cobra R. Maybe I was tired from two trying days spent attempting to pick the TB SS up after a Detroit-based buff magazine’s west coast flunkies A.) kept it longer than they were supposed to, B.) forgot to tell Chevy that the truck was to be picked up in Costa Mesa rather than at their offices in West L.A., and C.) failed to inform anyone that it had a flat tire requiring repair. Regardless, I was overjoyed by the TrailBlazer’s thrust, vociferous exhaust note, and bare-bones equipment level. This test vehicle adhered to the classic muscle car recipe like no other modern interpretation of that iconic American performance species: Take one pedestrian, stripped-down, utterly unremarkable mainstream vehicle, insert a huge V8 engine, and call it a day.
Chevy tightened down the rest of the TrailBlazer’s hardware, too. The brakes feel terrific, the truck is shod with 20-inch low-profile performance tires on handsome wheels, and the suspension is firmed up and riding lower. The result of these changes is the GM SUV that should have been available when the current crop of Buick, Chevy, GMC, and Isuzu marshmallows debuted back in 2002. The steering still needs work, though. It’s vague on center, and the giant Goodyears tend to hunt on lumpy pavement, giving the TrailBlazer SS an unsettled feel in a straight line. Handling is better than expected, especially considering how the standard version rolls over and plays dead when turning corners. I wasn’t too thrilled with the transmission, though. It hesitated to downshift, and when it did grab a lower gear, it shifted hard into a well of unexpected power and torque.
Despite my glee over this SUV, acceleration is not overwhelming. The TrailBlazer SS sounds faster than it is. Driving home down Pacific Coast Highway, a guy with a Hemi in his Dodge Ram Quad Cab four-by gave chase. He couldn’t keep up, but neither did that gleaming gun-sight grille fade to a speck in the Chevy’s rearview mirror. If you buy this rig, don’t take on any Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8s – you just might get spanked. I expected more from what is essentially a transplanted Corvette motor.
Thom Blackett’s 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS Driving Impressions:
This is one car that, more than any other, makes me think of Tim Allen and his apish grunts from the Home Improvement television series. Tim was all about more power, added to everything from a blender to a lawn mower. And he was a fan of American muscle. The Tool Man would like the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS.
Packed under the hood is a 395-horsepower Corvette engine with punch aplenty, using 400 lb.-ft. of torque to aggressively launch the truck. Put the hammer down and speed climbs quickly, all while the tuned exhaust screams a deep growl. That’s the good stuff. What’s not so pleasant is the excessive wind noise and a four-speed transmission that randomly decides whether to shift smoothly, though a quick dip into the throttle will invariably result in a sudden lurch and some possible neck pain. Even more disappointing is the inability to get the rear 20s smoking. With StabiliTrak turned off and a heavy foot on the throttle, the SS simply launches; standing on the brake and gas at the same time will get the rubber spinning a bit and the tail drifting side to side, but any high school kid can do that in his dad’s beat-up pickup.
Out on the road and away from burnout experiments in deserted parking lots, the TrailBlazer SS proves to be quite nimble, especially given its 4,417-lb. curb weight. In tight corners the front end and Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires give up some traction, but when hitting some gentle sweepers at high speed the SS holds the line with no worries and minimal body roll. However, in a stretch of quick switchbacks the tail end can get a hair loose. The highway ride is on the stiff side, with expansion joints causing some mild bucking, and regardless of speed or road surface, the steering is short on feel and responsiveness.
The 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is by no means luxurious, nor does it pretend to be. Our test vehicle came with the LS trim meaning cloth seats and a spartan interior. There is an LT trim available for SS models offering leather-appointed heated power seats.
Front and rear headroom and legroom are what one comes to expect in an SUV, and the TrailBlazer offers space to spare. The TrailBlazer’s front bucket seats offer adequate but not sporty bolstering. Larger drivers may find the seats to be on the tight side offering no thigh bolstering whatsoever. Accessing the front seat controls is difficult because of the intrusive armrests on the door panels, resulting in chafed arms as you blindly squiggle around in search of the buttons. The rear offers two bucket-like seats with an unbolstered center seat. The backrest angle of the rear seats is a tad too upright, most likely to maximize marketable storage volume of the smaller-than-expected cargo area directly behind. The rear seats would not be the seat of choice for extended trips. Our test model came with rear zone climate controls which offer the rear passengers some flexibility in comfort.
Like most SUV’s in the class, the TrailBlazer SS offers expansive views forward. I did find that I relied more on the side mirrors than the rear side windows to check for vehicles during lane changes. This is more indicative of the TrailBlazer’s riding height above most cars than any loss in visibility out of the rear side windows.
The TrailBlazer SS lacks any further refinement and comfort from available normal TrailBlazer trims. Pricing of the SS strongly suggests that most of the price difference between the SS and other trim levels lies solely in the LS2 powerplant, making the TrailBlazer SS financially accessible to those who appreciate the power increase over any improvements in luxury and comfort.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Comfort:
In terms of front seat comfort, I give the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS a passing grade, but just barely. The front seats, covered in mousy fabric, have odd, concave bottom cushions with wide and firm outer bolsters that don’t hold you still so much as prop you up. It’s almost as if Chevy designed them for overweight people who tend to crush seats into submission over time – the target buyer, perhaps? The steering wheel rim is too thin for a performance vehicle, and though it lacks a telescopic feature, I was able to dial in a good driving position, sitting up high with a great view out. The upper door panel is padded and wide, a good place to rest your elbow or arm while driving, and there’s a soft center console armrest. Getting in and out is easy, thanks in part to the flat front seats and the TB SS’s lowered suspension.
The back seat is cramped, but passengers sit up tall and get rear glass that goes all the way down. Leg space is adequate, toe room is tight, and the seat cushions are a little too soft to provide long-term comfort. When loading the large rear cargo compartment, watch your head on the center latch if you’re taller than 5-feet, 10-inches tall. Folding the seatbacks is a hassle. You need to raise the bottom cushion first, and if the front seats are positioned too far back, they must be moved up a bit to allow the seatback to completely collapse for a flat load floor. The headrests, however, handily flip and don’t require removal.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Comfort:
Oddly enough, Chevy uses the term performance to describe the seats in the 2006 TrailBlazer SS. Interesting, given that the front chairs are large with bottom cushions that are too long and lack useful bolsters. Riding into hard corners on a small, flat seat is bad enough, but sliding around on an expansive SUV bucket gets tiresome. The Cobalt SS gets some great seats, so why can’t the TrailBlazer? And while they’re at it, maybe Chevy designers could add some upholstery that’s a few steps above rental-grade.
In everyday commuter traffic, where most SS drivers will likely find themselves, those big front buckets are more enticing, with firm cushions and multiple power adjustments. Padded armrests are appreciated during hours spent behind the tilting leather-wrapped steering wheel, as are the generous overall interior dimensions. Rear passengers plant their butts on a soft lower cushion and rest their backs against a comfortably reclined rear section. There are padded armrests on the doors, though there is no center armrest. Fan controls are located on the center console.
As often as people complain about cheap GM plastic, these complaints fall on deaf ears year after year. Upon lifting the hood of our TrailBlazer SS, I tried to grab the hood support rod but it was stuck on its plastic clip which is part of a larger plastic plate – every attempt to pull the rod from its clip lifted the entire plastic plate that spanned the width of the engine bay. So inevitably one must hold the unusually heavy hood with one hand while picking apart the clip with the other. At $32,000 for the TrailBlazer SS, customers would gladly pay another $150 for hydraulic hood lifts if it meant that the heavy hood wouldn’t mistakenly drop on the hand trying to pry the rod away from its clip. The plastic engine cover flaps wildly when flicked with a finger, exposing a cheap and chintzy effort at glamorizing the engine bay, a technique perfected by the Germans and Japanese but executed half-heartedly by Chevy.
The interior does no better to indicate improvements in quality. The center console holding the shifter, cupholders and storage compartment shudders and moves as one single flexible unit from casual pressure. The cloth upholstery looks cheap. The fabric is less than stylish with thin seams making the seats look more like patchwork than an integrated collection of bolstering cushions. Knobs for the climate and stereo controls wiggle in place with a lightness only GM can attain. The stereo suffers from poor audio imaging and clarity, resulting in sound quality marginally better than AM radio. The brake pedal of our test model made a sound of air being expelled from a fireplace bellow – hopefully a situation unique to our truck. The front passenger airbag cover did not fit tightly but instead could be pressed like a big rubber button, a button that would seem to tell the airbag to deploy. Yikes!
Unfortunately, the choice in materials and execution made our TrailBlazer SS look more like a fleet rental vehicle than a special limited-edition tire scorcher.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Quality:
Frequently held up as the poster child for slipshod build quality and budget materials, the TrailBlazer isn’t as bad as some reviewers make it out to be. Yeah, the headliner is fuzzy and cheap looking, the seat fabric isn’t going to win any design awards, and the carpeting is low rent, but the plastics and other parts aren’t awful. The upper dash panel is covered with a matte-finished, soft-touch material that’s much better than the glossy hard plastic in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The black plastic surrounds on the dash don’t reflect much light, the turn signal stalk is nicely dampened and feels solid when activated, and the controls are on par with others in the class in terms of refinement and appearance. It wouldn’t take much effort on GM’s part to make the TrailBlazer a nicer ride inside.
Build quality could be improved, as evidenced by the extremely sloppy fit of our test truck’s front fascia and rear tailgate. In front, the fascia was tucked under on the right side and bowing out on the left side. In back, the giant gap between the tailgate and the left side of the SUV was wide enough to swallow my Bic pen. I also noticed other issues with door fit, the rubber trim around the windows, and the rear bumper cover. Inside, the TrailBlazer’s parts and pieces display lots of flex when pressure is applied, including the A-pillar covers and the center console. The driver’s airbag cover was mounted askew, and the pod containing the controls on the driver’s door panel popped up with little effort.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Quality:
All-new or extensively redesigned models from General Motors, including those heading to Chevy dealers, have generally shown much improvement over the past several months. Though technically a new trim, the 2006 TrailBlazer SS isn’t really a new vehicle, so it’s not surprising that any quality gains are absent from this model. Outside are the same deep valleys between the headlights and fenders, the dark crevasses where the fascias (loose in front) join the sheet metal, and the misaligned tailgate. It doesn’t get much better inside. Whether it’s the cheap plastic used everywhere (except for the padded dash cap) or the loose pillar covers, there’s not much to compliment here.
The 2006 Chevy TrailBlazer SS differs from its normal TrailBlazer brethren with more aggressive front and rear fascias. The body hunkers down an inch lower over large 20-inch wheels shod with 255/50 tires, giving the SS instant urban street credibility. Tasteful and minimal SS badges are a welcome respite from over-the-top special edition vehicle emblems and graphics seen on such cars as the Charger R/T Daytona or the NASCAR race-inspired Monte Carlos. Sans the “SS” badging and wheels, the TrailBlazer could make for an effective sleeper as it is difficult to discern from regular TrailBlazers at a glance. At the same time, the TrailBlazer SS carries on the GM tradition of testing the tasteful limits of proportion and shapes. The rear license plate is framed by an oversized rectangular surround which is round on its corners and concave in the middle. In the language of design, the license plate surround relates in no way to the rear in general but does expound on the language of bubbly plastics. The tail lamps are oddly shaped, too, again not quite rectangular nor completely rounded but peppered with odd bulges. These examples may seem nitpicky but put it all together and you end up with no cohesive design language at all – it’s just a four-wheel box with strange random-radius curves and odd bulging pieces.
The interior is a mishmash of GM parts bin plastic and design school non-theory. The interior A-pillar finishing is executed in a manner particularly unexpected, noticeably thinner at the base than at the top. The dashboard is an amalgam of textured and flat plastic trim pieces contorted into concave and convex shapes. There are so many odd shapes inside odder shapes that one can’t help but to hypothesize that GM may have been testing physical bending limits of plasticized polymers all in one vehicle. The gauge clusters are painted with numbers and letters in a size and font that only nearsighted boy racers could appreciate. On a positive note, the climate control and stereo control knobs are intuitively placed and competently sized for easy access and modulation. The TrailBlazer SS doesn’t come with bells and whistles so there is little chance that one will encounter the frustrations found in high-tech cars that tout technology and every imaginable creature comfort.
Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Design:
The Chevrolet TrailBlazer is a fundamentally handsome SUV traditionally ruined by too much make-up in the form of chrome or black plastic, or with the added weight gained by stretching the design to accommodate seven passengers in the now-defunct EXT version. In SS trim, which replaces chrome and black plastic with body-color bits and pieces while dumping the side moldings for a cleaner look, the TrailBlazer is at its best. Those beautiful 20-inch polished aluminum wheels help plenty, too.
The TrailBlazer SS looks cheap inside, but not necessarily because of the materials used in construction. Rather, it is a design issue. Forget about finding a flush fit anywhere, because the snap-tight interior’s panel joints resemble balls of pizza dough left in a cooler overnight to rise. Plus, everything is dark charcoal except the headliner and pillar trim. The truck could stand a few silver trim panels to dress things up a bit.
Thom Blackett’s Opinion of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s Design:
There’s something to be said for sleeper rides. Unlike the flashy Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is understated. During our week with the truck, several people asked if the vehicle was indeed an SS model. True enough, except for the 20-inch wheels, honeycomb grille inserts, SS nomenclature on the front seats and dash, SS badges on the doors and tailgate, and a larger exhaust pipe, the truck looks much like any other TrailBlazer. The number of visual alterations may sound significant, but when taken as a whole and viewed on the road, they’re rather inconsequential, which makes surprising those supposedly bad-ass tuner folks all the more enjoyable. Dude, you just got smoked by a Chevy SUV – no aftermarket turbo or cat-back exhaust can take the sting out of that.
The heart of the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS is its LS2 Corvette motor. To keep it affordable and not tread into the territory of the TrailBlazer’s more expensive and luxurious brethren like the Tahoe, GM has rightfully opted not to upgrade the TrailBlazer’s interior and minimize changes to the exterior. The TrailBlazer SS is for the dedicated Chevy enthusiast who wants power and performance…luxury and comfort be damned. The drive to do what is fun, affordable, and to speak to the hearts of Chevy owners is laudable on GM’s part.
Although there are several alternative SUVs in the same affordable price range offering greater luxury and comfort, the visceral grunt and obscene acceleration of the two-plus ton SS in a utilitarian package is almost too good to pass up.
Christian Wardlaw’s Advice about the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS:
Honestly, I cannot decide if I should be overjoyed or appalled that the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS exists. It’s not the most fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly, highest-quality piece of work on the planet. It’s based on an outclassed vehicle that was past its expiration date the first day in showrooms. And the package is not nearly as impressive as, say, a GMC Typhoon was in its day. What makes me glad that Chevy built this thing is that it shows somebody at General Motors gets it. This is a product that could only be embraced by enthusiasts, the same influential group of consumers to whom each one of us turns when we need advice about new and used cars. Chevrolet’s broad Super Sport program reaches the friend, the family member, and the office colleague who knows and loves cars. Chrysler’s SRT efforts do the same thing. These vehicles aren’t for everybody, but they grab the attention of the people who will broadcast the brand for them, and word-of-mouth recommendation from trusted sources is the best kind of advertising in the world. The TrailBlazer SS is, effectively, a viral marketing campaign for Chevrolet, and it tells me that GM might just pull out of its death spiral and survive. Now, the trick for GM is to make the cars and trucks people actually buy just as appealing as the enthusiast models.
Thom Blackett’s Advice about the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS:
To be fair, I slammed the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS’s main competitor, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, for being a gasaholic that represented social irresponsibility in these times of high fuel prices and global energy issues. In my opinion, the same needs to be said of the Chevy, which returned only 13.9 mpg during our week of testing. For buyers who truly need utility and/or cargo capacity, there are countless other vehicles that can get the job done more efficiently, one being the regular TrailBlazer. However, if it’s got to be a relatively affordable muscle SUV, the options are Chevy or Jeep. The Jeep offers 30 extra horses and comes standard with four-wheel drive for about $40,000, whereas the TrailBlazer SS can be had for about $10,000 less in rear-wheel-drive guise, or about $8,000 less with push-button four-wheel drive. Neither is big on materials or build quality, but the Jeep outmatched the Chevy in the handling department by just a bit. So, if you’re looking for a rip-roaring SUV that will have you actually enjoying those spirited runs from Mobil to Chevron, one that’s a relative bargain, the TrailBlazer SS is worth consideration. But for shoppers seeking slightly better handling, more power, and don’t mind the added expense or conspicuous styling, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8 may be a better bet. Just don’t drive either one to an Earth Day rally.
Price of Test Vehicle: $31,505 (including a $710 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 6.0-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 395 at 5,400 rpm
Engine Torque: 400 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,417
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 15/19 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 13.9 mpg
Length: 191.8 inches
Width: 74.7 inches
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches
Height: 72.5 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 46.9/37.0 inches
Head room (front/rear): 40.2/39.6 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 80.1 cubic feet
Max. Payload, lbs.: 1,449
Max. Towing Capacity, lbs.: 6,800
Ground Clearance: 7.8 inches
Competitors: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8
Photos by Ron Perry