The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR

MOST SUVs can barely han­dle a patch of dirt road, let alone any se­ri­ous off-road­ing. And then there are the likes of the Holden Trail­blazer.

Un­like most SUVs, which have a car-like body struc­ture, ve­hi­cles like the Trail­blazer have old-fash­ioned heavy-duty chas­sis rails on which the body is mounted.

They’re cheaper to build and more rugged to drive and can get where most SUVs can’t.

It’s also eas­ier for car com­pa­nies to pro­duce dif­fer­ent de­riv­a­tives from a shared chas­sis at a lower cost.

For ex­am­ple, the Trail­blazer shares much of its chas­sis with the sta­ble­mate Colorado ute. It’s the same for Ford’s Ever­est and Ranger, the Toy­ota For­tuner and HiLux and Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport and Tri­ton.

Given our ap­petite for the great out­doors, car com­pa­nies have been cram­ming their show­rooms with these ute­based 4WDs in the hope of hook­ing more buy­ers. Holden had a crack at this mar­ket niche with the Colorado7, in­tro­duced in 2012.

But, as with the ute on which it is based, it was a vic­tim of cost cut­ting by Gen­eral Mo­tors dur­ing the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis and was un­der­done in ev­ery sense of the word. Buy­ers stayed away from it in droves, de­spite su­per-sharp pric­ing.

The Isuzu MU-X — which was ini­tially a twin of the Colorado7 un­til an ac­ri­mo­nious split with Gen­eral Mo­tors — has con­sis­tently and com­pre­hen­sively out­sold the Holden by more than two-toone de­spite hav­ing roughly half as many deal­ers.

But now the Colorado7 has re­turned with a new look and a new name. Holden has adopted the name given to the ve­hi­cle in Asia and the Mid­dle East to dis­tance the Trail­blazer sev­enseater from the Colorado ute — even though they are made on the same pro­duc­tion line in Thai­land and look iden­ti­cal from the front.

As with the re­cent over­haul of the Colorado, the changes to Trail­blazer are more than skindeep. There’s more sound dead­en­ing and other tech changes de­signed to im­prove on-road re­fine­ment.

Holden en­gi­neers also got the span­ners on the sus­pen­sion and de­vel­oped unique set­tings and tyres for Aus­tralia. The steer­ing is now elec­tri­cally as­sisted (rather than hy­draulic).

In­side, there are now seven airbags and Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto on all mod­els.

The high-grade LTZ comes with for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing (al­though not auto brak­ing) and lane wan­der alert (al­though not lane keep­ing). ON THE ROAD The big­gest changes are in the way the Trail­blazer drives. The en­gine is re­tuned, though with no more power, and the sixspeed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion’s new cal­i­bra­tion im­proves fuel ef­fi­ciency and drive­abil­ity.

The auto holds on to gears at lower revs, mak­ing free­way in­clines easy and gear changes less in­ter­mit­tent.

There have been at­tempts to make the ute qui­eter — Holden has been more suc­cess­ful at mut­ing the Trail­blazer.

Even though the en­gines are sup­pos­edly iden­ti­cal, changes to the emis­sions hard­ware make the seven-seater qui­eter than the ute.

As with the ute, the Trail­blazer is more pleas­ant to drive than pre­vi­ously, al­though it’s still not class-lead­ing.

The sus­pen­sion tun­ing is iden­ti­cal for the LTZ and base LT and the Trail­blazer rides more com­fort­ably on the lat­ter’s 17-inch wheels rather than the 18s on the dearer model. It’s one of the great au­to­mo­tive ironies: lux­ury mod­els cus­tom­ar­ily get bet­ter­look­ing (larger) wheels that limit their level of com­fort.

Other short­com­ings are rel­a­tively mi­nor: there are not enough USB ports (good luck ar­gu­ing over who in this sev­enseater gets to use the one port) but there are three 12V sock­ets to share the load. The driver’s seat lacks un­der-thigh ad­just­ment.

The Trail­blazer’s big­gest as­sets are its price and sim­pli­fied model range.

The LT starts from $47,990 plus on-roads and the LTZ is $52,490 plus on-roads — al­most dol­lar for dol­lar the HOLDEN TRAIL­BLAZER PRICE $47,990-$52,490 plus on-roads WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km CAPPED SERVICING $1396 over 3 years SER­VICE INTERVAL 9 months/15,000km SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags EN­GINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/500Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 6-speed auto; AWD THIRST 8.6L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4887mm (L), 1902mm (W), 1846mm (H), 2845mm (WB) WEIGHT 2194kg-2203kg SPARE Full-size al­loy TOWING 3000kg same as the Toy­ota For­tuner and equiv­a­lent grades of the Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport.

Im­por­tantly, both Trail­blazer mod­els un­der­cut Ford’s Ever­est by at least $8000. VER­DICT The Trail­blazer may not be the best in class but, with sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments and a sharp price, it earns a place on the shop­ping list.

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