Think of the 2021 Chevrolet Blazer as Michael B. Jordan to the original Chevy Blazer’s Michael Jordan. Much as the actor and former NBA star share the same basic name but are gifted at different crafts, the new and old Blazers bear the same moniker but feature contrasting talents. Just as we know which Michael Jordan we want to watch perform on the silver screen and which we want to watch drop buckets, we know which Blazer we want to drive on twisting tarmac and which we want to take to the trails.
Admittedly, the 2021 Blazer is no Camaro or Corvette. Still, the midsize SUV is arguably among the most entertaining options in its segment. Well, at least in Blazer RS guise. The $41,995 RS trim forgoes the four-cylinder engines that power its peers—a 193-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter in the L and 1LT and a 227-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter in the 2LT, 3LT, and Premier—for a standard 308-hp 3.6-liter V-6 (it’s a $500 extra on 2LT, 3LT, and Premier trims). It also includes model-specific features such as specially tuned dampers, a quicker steering ratio, and an available all-wheel-drive system with a torque-vectoring rear end (other AWD Blazers have a simpler system without torque-vectoring). The AWD feature tacks $2,900 onto the bill but brings additional balance and fluidity to the SUV’s lateral dynamics.
Thanks to its ability to shuffle power between the left and right rear wheels, as well as the front and rear axles, our test Blazer neatly and neutrally clawed its way through corners in a controlled four-wheel drift as its 20-inch Michelin Tour A/S all-season tires struggled to find grip on Chicago’s snow- and ice-covered roads. Turn off the traction and stability control systems and toggle the flimsy-feeling drive mode selector to Sport, and the accelerator pedal’s response livens up just enough to allow for the slightest hint of right-pedal-induced oversteer. Switching off AWD and routing the engine’s power to the front wheels, however, unleashed a deluge of understeer through turns.
While winter weather conditions limited our ability to test the Blazer’s acceleration from a standstill, it did not stop us from calling on the six-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic for an extra bit of kick as we merged into—or passed slower-moving—traffic at highway speeds. Even with its rather high power and torque peaks (the engine’s full 308-horse stable comes online at 6,700 rpm—practically at redline—and the entirety of its 270-lb-ft of torque turns up at 5,000 rpm), the Blazer’s engine and responsive transmission never struggled to bring this 4,250-pound SUV up to speed. No surprise, really, given the last Blazer RS AWD we tested accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and crossed the quarter mile after 14.6 seconds at 95.6 mph.
In spite of its specially tuned dampers, the Blazer RS managed to suppress any major impacts from large bumps in the Midwest’s pockmarked roads. We imagine our test car’s 20-inch wheels and tires contributed to its ride quality, too, as the available 21-inch wheels ($1,000) and their lower-profile tires might have compounded the effects of the RS trim’s sport-tuned suspension setup.
Even so, the Blazer RS strikes a nice balance between ride comfort and driving engagement. No, it’s not quite as exciting to pilot as similarly priced compact luxury SUVs such as the BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, but it’s far more fun to drive than a competitor like the Ford Edge ST. Credit the likes of the Chevy’s relatively communicative chassis, quick and precise—albeit largely lifeless—steering, and the aforementioned, RS-exclusive AWD system. Don’t plan on taking the Blazer too far off the beaten path, though, as its road-oriented tires and 7.4 inches of ground clearance surely handicap its abilities off-road.
Exciting performance, however, only matters so much to the typical midsize crossover SUV buyer. Arguably, the low-slung Camaro-inspired style of the Blazer is more likely to attract consumers to this Chevy. Despite entering its third model year, the Blazer’s design is no less striking today than it did when it first made its debut. With its large maw, low roofline, and taut fenders, the Blazer is among the best-looking SUVs on the market.
Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for the Blazer’s cave-like cabin, which features small and crowded physical HVAC controls, a dearth of covered storage compartments, and middling materials, as well as inconsistent gaps between the low-grade plastic pieces that make up the lower dashboard and center console. Adding the $1,595 panoramic sunroof might add some airiness to the interior, but our test vehicle lacked the option. Chevy further hinders the RS trim by limiting it to a single dark color scheme: black with contrasting red stitching and trim on the likes of the leather seats and dashboard. Meanwhile, the Blazer’s 8.0-inch infotainment screen looks especially small next to newer offerings from Subaru and Ford, which measure in at 11.6 and 12.0 inches in the Outback and Edge, respectively. That said, the Chevy’s touchscreen responds quickly to touch inputs and is easy to use due to its crisp graphics and uncomplicated on-screen menus.
At least the SUV’s sliding and reclining, 60/40-split second-row bench remains a comfortable place for rear-seat passengers to while away miles. Plus, the lack of a noticeable driveshaft hump results in a reasonably accommodating middle seating position. Cargo space is on the small side, though, and the Blazer’s 30.5-cubic-foot hold behind the rear seats (64.2 cubes with the rear seats’ backs folded) barely tops that of the compact Chevy Equinox’s 29.9-cubic-foot rating. Those willing to sacrifice the Blazer’s style will find a number of competing SUVs with more room for carrying cargo.
Surely, Michael B. Jordan can play basketball and Michael Jordan can act, but if we’re trying to improve our game on the court or on stage, then we know the specific Michael Jordan we want to turn to for advice. The 2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS AWD may not offer the off-road performance of Blazers past, but the mainstream midsize SUV sports a compelling combination of competent on-road dynamics, a comfortable ride, and head-turning looks. It’s a different set of talents for a different kind of automotive craft.
|2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS AWD|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/308-hp/270-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,250 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||191.4 x 76.7 x 67.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.1 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||19/26/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.90 lb/mile|