You don’t have to buy a boring car if you need one that is practical. The Chevy Blazer is a roomy and capable two-row crossover that looks cool and can be dressed up in sporty RS trim. And you may think the Toyota Camry is just a well-built sedan without having ever driven the barnstormer that is the TRD edition. These vehicles are immensely useful…and enjoyable.
2021 Chevy Blazer Defies The Critics
Some of you think Chevrolet messed up the Blazer. You think the bow tie boys should have rolled out a hard-core off-roader like the new Bronco and original Blazer. While I think the Bronco is very cool, that path would have been a dumb idea for Chevrolet. It needed a larger two-row crossover to fill out its lineup. Besides, it already makes a modern version of the classic Blazer. It’s called the Tahoe, and dealers will be glad to sell you one with the Z71 off-road package. This is the vehicle Chevrolet needed to build.
Based on a shortened Chevy Traverse platform, which is also shared with Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia, the five-seat Blazer fits neatly between that full-size crossover and the compact Equinox – a formidable competitor for the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, and Nissan Murano. It’s offered in three personalities: “Blazer” is dignified and affordable, “Premiere” is the elegant Belle, and sporty “RS” – our fly ride - channels the fit gent in skin tight running gear.
Designers Jawook Koo and Soo Kim aimed for tight proportions without compromising interior space. The exterior looks as if a Camaro copulated with a Malibu. Thin-set LED driving lamps over big headlamps accent a face fit for a Transformers Camaro. Chevy’s twin-port grille looks best in black mesh on RS. Beyond the grille, Blazer’s calling card is its upturned split D-pillar. Not everybody will love it, but it’s good to see Chevrolet taking risks.
Interiors are less special than the swoopy bodywork, but are still nice. The dash is dominated by a large touchscreen placed above circular air vents whose bezels (rendered red in RS) double as temperature adjustors for climate control. Designer touches include stitched dash and door coverings, carbon-look trim, and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. There’s no head-up display, but analog gauges are easy to read.
Load up the Blazer with heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and heated steering wheel. You’ll also want Bose audio, navigation, wireless phone charging, and 4G Wi-Fi. There’s also a full suite of safety gear: Adaptive cruise, blind zone alert, lane keep assist, and forward auto brake. The rear seat reminder keeps kids from being left behind.
Tap fingers beyond the veneer and there are swaths of hard plastic, but it all looks most excellent. I’m a fan of the new generation Chevrolet infotainment systems with their intuitive touchscreens, but I’d praise the return of actual tuning knobs. I despise click-clicking buttons, though there is also swipe-screen and direct tune functionality. Tap into Spotify, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
You can get the Blazer with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, or 2.0-liter turbo-four, but the RS comes with a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 308 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s adequate, but the RS really needs a twin-turbo V6 with 350-400 horsepower to keep Ford in check. A 4,500-lb. tow rating totes pop-up campers and ski boats easily. Auto stop/start and a 9-speed automatic transmission enable 19/26-MPG for the V6 paired with all-wheel-drive.
Critics should quit whining about Chevrolet not building a “real Blazer”. You can still buy one. It’s called the Tahoe, but most people today want an efficient crossover with a bit of swagger that stands out in a sea of blobs. That’s exactly what Chevrolet delivered. A base price of $28,800 rises to $48,565 for our well-equipped RS edition.
2020 Toyota Camry Gets Kissed By TRD
I had a nice sunny day and decided to go for a drive. Apexes were being clipped, highways were getting slayed, and I was as one with a tight-handling sport sedan that inhales inspiration from its NASCAR siblings. The car looks the part too with all kinds of ground affects and aero trickery. Step down and it delights the ears. I had to look at the window sticker to realize I was whomping a Toyota Camry. A Toyota Camry, for goodness sake! Who would’ve thunk?
Try to work out in your mind that this fine sedan has both “Camry” and “TRD”, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, in its name. It is not in-fact a NASCAR racer, but sure looks like it could be one. Camry TRD shares its basic sporty styling - metallic black roof and aggressive facia - with the XSE edition, but goes full racer with a front splitter, side aero skirts, winged spoiler, and rear diffuser. They actually enhance high speed stability. Further styling enhancements include a gloss black grille, red brake calipers, and TRD exhaust tips.
Like a proper racecar, the interior is a bit sparse, but continues the TRD theme. I do like the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching and supper supportive sport seats with fabric inserts, red accents, and red-stitched TRD embroidered headrests. Red seatbelts flash a bright safety smile. The swervy-curvy dash with large touchscreen, metallic trim, and red stitching adds a touch of sporty starship.
As expected in a Camry, everything is functional. The touchscreen intuitively controls the audio system with devices connected via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G Wi-Fi. Conjure up your latest desire with Amazon Alexa. Proper volume and tuning knobs add convenience. There’s an available 800w JBL audio system, but our car went without. I’d also like a head-up display and heated seats, but they were AWOL too. Fortunately, safety was a key priority with a heap of standard equipment: Pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitor, and rear cross traffic alert.
What this car really needs is a couple of turbos, but they’re not on the menu either. Instead, the car drives its front wheels with a 3.5-liter V6 delivering 310 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque through an 8-speed direct shift automatic transmission. There’s no manual option, so click paddles to shift yourself. It sings like a symphony of happy banshees through the cat-back dual exhaust system. Settle down to achieve 21/31-MPG city/highway.
How Toyota’s engineers turned grandma’s sedan into a track champ should be studied. Reflexive steering and wheels that seemingly step through every road feature are the extreme opposite of what I assumed would be a boring fluffbox with over-wrought styling. Nope, thicker underbody braces increase torsional rigidity and redesigned coil springs lower the car 0.6 inches to improve the reflexes. Stiffer springs and sway bars resist body roll while TRD shock absorbers, light alloy wheels, and larger brake rotors back it all up. Once you find this car’s groove, you’ll want to drive all night.
With the advent of crossovers, mid-size sedans are in steep decline. Yet, Toyota has shown how to turn a family sedan into a very engaging driver’s car whose styling is seriously undergirded. Best of all, it’s still a solid, reliable Camry at heart. While base Camrys start at $24,425, our TRD came to a value-packed $33,090. Competitors include the Nissan Altima SR, Kia K5 GT, Honda Accord Sport, and Subaru Legacy Sport.
Send comments to Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com; follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.
2021 Chevrolet Blazer RS
Five-passenger, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6, 9-spd trans
Output: 308hp/270 lb.-ft. torque
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Driving
Towing: 4,500 lbs.
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/hwy
Base/As-tested price: $28,800/$48,565
2020 Toyota Camry TRD
Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6, 8-spd trans
Output: 310hp/267 lb.-ft. torque
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 19”/19” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Chassis
Fuel economy: 21/31 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Georgetown, KY
Base/As-tested price: $24,425/$33,090