Enter the new Trailblazer. We recently attended the launch and were pretty much impressed by the new level of quality that GM brought to South Africa. However, this segment is currently pretty much dominated by the ever so popular Toyota Fortuner. It’s not only that it’s a brilliant vehicle in one role, but that it does everything with little or no fuss.

The new Trailblazer is here to dethrone the king. Whether the 4×4 model will jump at the Fortuner with its claws out, remains to be seen. However, this report is not at all about the 4×4, but the entry level 4×2 models. Call it the bread and butter vehicles.

Lets start with the Trailblazer.

It’s new, it’s fresh and you won’t find 5 million of them on our roads so, naturally, there would be some head turning here and there with onlookers gawking at the first sight of it. Personally, I like the Trailblazer. The lines run neatly from front to back, but there is just so much of a resemblance to the Fortuner, or so nearly everybody tells me.

The 2.5 is powered by a 110kw and 350nm turbo diesel engine which runs pretty well and is very quiet. You sometimes wonder if this really could be a diesel when you are driving it. It is priced at R364 000; a little more expensive than the Fortuner, but it does come with a little bit more kit.
The Trailblazer is fitted with 245/70/16 tires which seem to soak up the dirt roads very well. There is also very little squirming when cornering on tar and although the Trailblazer has no traction control, there are times where a heavy foot will screech tire tires. The 76l fuel tank is good enough for about 700km in mixed driving conditions and we averaged about 12km/l with our trip to Mossel Bay. The 5 link suspension makes things pretty smooth going on even the roughest roads and I must confess that I did not think it was that wonderful until we switched vehicles.

If you like towing, you would be pleased to hear that the Trailblazer can tow a mammoth 2.5 tons versus 1.7 tons of the Fortuner. The Trailblazer is also about a 150kg heavier in its gross vehicle mass and measures in at 2620kg, vs 2505 of the Fortuner.

The infotainment system on the Trailblazer is pretty good. You have a front-loading CD player with mp3 support, Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, audio player and a micro USB, which is a little annoying since the industry standard is obviously full size USB. The Trailblazer is also fitted with 6 speakers and the sound is average for a vehicle this size.

Cruise control is a big plus for an entry level vehicle like this. Long roads can be extremely tedious and the ability to keep your speed set at a certain level makes things a little bit more convenient. Unfortunately, the Fortuner lacked this – something which was sorely missed on the drive back to Cape Town.

The Fortuner.

I must admit that I was bias to the Fortuner from the start. I mean, how could a bad vehicle sell so many units month after a single month? Sure this is not the 3.0 D4d, but the concept stays the same. High ground clearance and a reliable diesel engine is all part of the package.

The 2.5 Fortuner is powered by a turbo diesel engine making 106kw and 343nm. Admittedly a few ponies down from the Trailblazer, but it’s hardly noticeable. The Fortuner did feel like it was more alive through the gears, but seemed to have lost power when speeds approach 160kph. The 220mm ground clearance is sufficient enough to forge rivers and streams and also don’t forget that the Fortuner is fitted with a rear difflock, Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control as standard and will keep things in check on bad gravel roads.

While the Trailblazer lacked the difflock and stability control, it was no more unstable than the Fortuner. Only in extreme cases of badly corrugated roads did you feel a bit of a tail wiggle. The difflock did prove a handy feature when we crossed the Moordkuyl river. It meant that the Fortuner would be able to stop and pull away without much issue. We did have a bit of an issue with the Trailblazer digging into the loose and slippery rocks, but it was due to us being negligent and wandering ever so slightly off the trail. After we tugged the Trailblazer from its resting spot, we went through that same spot several times without trouble. A mental note; momentum, momentum and more momentum.

Nearly an oops, but the Diffloc saved the day.

The Fortuners interior is a bit of a let-down compared to that of the Trailblazer. While the interior is a practical colour, the cabin lacks certain aesthetics and resembles that of a bakkie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I enjoyed the cabin of the Trailblazer a little more. The Fortuners drivers cockpit was a little bigger and I had more leg room, but the difference is very marginal. There are only 4 cup holders in the Fortuner, vs. 11 – yes eleven – in the Trailblazer. Why you would need eleven of the things is beyond me; I suppose it makes sense for a family trip.

The 80l tank, coupled with good fuel consumption, will give you a great range. We averaged about 12.5km/l on our initial test and a little bit heavier heading down to Cape Town in gusting winds. Loading space in both vehicles is impressive with both being 7-seaters. I do think that the Trailblazer will be able to seat actual passengers at the back and not just double jointed kids. With the seats flat, the Fortuners space is claimed at 1680l versus the 1830l of the Trailblazer.

The infotainment, or rather lack thereof, is also another point of concern on the Fortuner. Luckily in this case we have a full size USB, so playing music from your phone is thankfully a little easier than it would be in the Trailblazer. There is also CD/mp3 support and there are only 4 speakers in the vehicle.

These two vehicles are a bit of an odd bunch. You have a lot of space for hauling the kids around and some decent ground clearance if you want to jump a pavement or two. Neither of them are suited to any sort of real off-roading or rather trail riding, but they can and will take any rough gravel road with ease. There are pros and cons with both vehicles and it comes down to vehicle taste and obviously personal requirements.

The Trailblazer lacked a difflock and traction control, which would have completed the car and put it a step above the Fortuner.

The Fortuner, although kitted with a difflock and great electronic stability control, it lacks cabin ambiance and obviously also convenient things like cruise control, Bluetooth and PDC.

Both of these vehicles are standard with a 5 year, 90 000km service plan, but the Trailblazer trumps the Fortuner in terms of a longer warranty period; 5 year, 120 000km vs. a 3 year 100 000km. This could be a deal breaker for certain buyers.

We were fortunate (no pun intended) to have these 2 vehicles available to us for a thorough testing out in the Southern Cape where we drove various terrains and different conditions. The idea behind this test is not to say which vehicle is necessarily the better of the 2, but which would suit your lifestyle better.

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