Enthusiasts all over the world sing the praises of the venerable small block Chevrolet LS V8 engine. People have shoehorned LS engines into everything from Mazda Miatas to Dodge Challengers. Though, some of the coolest LS specials have come from General Motors itself. In 2006, LS fans could buy a Chevy TrailBlazer SS, an SUV packing 395 horsepower of 6.0-liter LS2 V8. This was a family SUV that got you a Corvette-derived engine for cheaper than a Corvette that would allow you to hit 60 mph in under 6 seconds. Oh, and did I say you could get it as a Saab, too?
Last time on Holy Grails, Volkswagen fan TR H reminded us that for just a single year, Volkswagen gave America something close to a diesel sport sedan. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition was the street legal tribute to the diesel sedans used in Volkswagen’s spec racing series. While buyers didn’t get more power, they did get GLI parts including plaid seats and a sport suspension. They also got the same bold body kit found in the racecars and tall wheels. Jetta TDI Cup Edition cars were just a tune away from being the diesel performance GTD models that Volkswagen never really sold in America.
This week, we’re returning to the familiar waters of a common vehicle given a whole heaping of power.
Like many Holy Grails entries lately, we’re going back to the 2000s. If you had a need for speed but wanted high velocity in a larger form factor, this era was another sweet spot. In fact, America’s Big Three each had their own performance trucks out in the aughts. Ford had its 380 HP SVT F-150 Lightning pickup, Chevy had the 345 HP Silverado SS, and Dodge was arguably the king of the 2000s performance truck wars with the 500 HP Ram SRT-10. If there’s anything more silly than a Viper, it’s a truck with a Viper’s engine!
Trucks And SUVs Get Real Fast
Performance SUVs were also a pretty big deal during this time, too. Jeep sold a Grand Cherokee SRT8 that punched out 420 ponies from a 6.1-liter V8. And if you weren’t fond of American marques, Volkswagen was willing to sell you a Touareg with a 310 HP V10 twin-turbo diesel engine, while Audi was even more nutty offering a 500 HP V12 diesel in its Q7. Basically, if you wanted to haul 2x4s or your kids at warp speed, the 2000s were chock-full of SUVs and trucks with big engines dealing big power.
In 1991 and 1992, General Motors released the GMC Syclone and GMC Typhoon, respectively. The Syclone was a pickup truck with a payload of just 500 pounds, but a 280 HP 4.3-liter turbo V6 that catapulted the truck to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds, a full second faster than a base Corvette of the day. The Typhoon got the same powertrain and was a little slower, but was still as fast as a contemporary Corvette. Sadly, relatively few enthusiasts were able to enjoy Typhoon firepower as just 4,697 Typhoons were built. There were fewer Syclones built, with just 2,998 of those hitting the road.
General Motors wasn’t left out of the modern performance SUV competition, and the company dropped LS power into a pair of otherwise forgettable SUVs, effectively paying homage to the Typhoon.
A New Midsize SUV
The TrailBlazer nameplate appeared in 1999, but not as a standalone model. Instead, it was a high-end trim level of the Blazer. Features included color-keyed bumpers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an upgraded interior, and new alloy wheels. Options included a leather interior, Bose sound system, sunroof, gold accents, and more.
The Blazer TrailBlazer remained in production until 2001, when General Motors released its successor, the TrailBlazer SUV. Today, many enthusiasts see these mid-sizers as an example of a bad period of GM. After all, the GMT-360 SUVs were victims of many rebadges. There was the Chevy TrailBlazer, Isuzu Ascender, Buick Rainier, GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Bravada, and the Saab 9-7X. They all looked more or less the same, but the interiors were different depending on which one you got.
At the time, however, the TrailBlazer meant business, from the press release:
The 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer is an all-new, completely redesigned, reengineered midsize sport utility vehicle that delivers unequaled strength and durability far beyond the demands of everyday life. ‘This is an authentic SUV designed to exceed the expectations of the most active, adventurous adults and families with its outstanding strength, power, security and ride quality,’ said Russ Clark, TrailBlazer brand manager.
The TrailBlazer’s strength is exemplified in its completely new frame and chassis. The hydroformed frame gives it exceptional toughness, best-in-class structural stiffness and optimal isolation from road vibrations and noise.
TrailBlazer’s power derives from its all-new high-tech inline six-cylinder 24-valve Vortec 4200 engine. The Vortec 4200 has more power than any V8 in its class – yet provides the fuel efficiency of a six-cylinder.
Chevrolet boasted the TrailBlazer’s best-in-class 23-Hertz rating stiffness and independent front suspension paired to a five-link, solid axle rear. The marque was also proud that the TrailBlazer measured in at 8.3 inches longer and 6.9 inches wider than the Blazer it was built to replace. My favorite factoid from the press release is the fact that when new, a TrailBlazer’s HVAC system supposedly moves 300 cubic feet of air per minute, a figure Chevy says is enough to cool a house of undetermined size.
As for the engine under the hood, I’ll let David Tracy’s enthusiasm do the talking:
I love straight sixes for their smoothness and (often) low-end torque, and the Vortec 4200 in the 2002 to 2009 TrailBlazer is a true gem, as I wrote in my article One Of The Last American Inline-Six Engines Was In Your Normal Everyday Chevrolet TrailBlazer for Ye Olde Lighting Site. It’s an all-aluminum, dual overhead cam 4.2-liter straight six that — for the 2008 model year — made 285 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque. Those are phenomenal numbers, especially if you consider that six cylinder engines in the mid 2000s just weren’t putting out those power numbers. Dodge’s high-output 3.5-liter was making 250 horsepower, and that was a big deal. Ford’s 2005 Mustang 4.0-liter V6 made 210 ponies. Sure, Toyota had a 3.5-liter making 280 ponies in the mid 2000s, but when the TrailBlazer came out for the 2002 model year with 270 horsepower from that six, that was nuts. Those were V8 figures!
Check out this review from MotorWeek:
The GMT-360 platform and its derivatives birthed some properly weird vehicles. The GMC Envoy XUV tried to be a pickup truck and an SUV at the same time with a novel roof while the Chevy SSR was a polarizing retro-styled convertible truck with a V8 and, if you look hard enough, you could get it with a manual transmission.
If you’re shopping for a GMT-360-based SUV and want some addictive speed, General Motors served up two SUVs worth looking into.
As LSX Magazine writes, in 2002, General Motors set up the High-Performance Vehicle Operations Group (HPVO), a sort of skunkworks team working in the GM Performance Division to develop vehicles with some serious firepower. HPVO was headed by SCCA champion racer John Heinricy. Working alongside Heinricy was fellow SCCA racer, Corvette Chief Engineer, and mid-size truck Vehicle Line Executive Tom Wallace.
The pair souped up the TrailBlazer and then took it on the road. The TrailBlazer Super Sport was run at the GM Milford Proving Ground and shipped to Germany to tear up the Nürburgring. Miles and miles of Nürburgring testing led to changes in the TrailBlazer SS, from suspension to braking, steering, and chassis.
In 2006, the testing paid off when the TrailBlazer SS was unleashed into public hands. This is an SUV that r1ma78 was disappointed not to see in David’s article about how great the TrailBlazer is:
A whole article about the Trailblazer and not a mention of the SS?
In the late 00’s they were the cheapest way to get a LS2. Really rare though, less than 2% of all Trailblazers were SSs.
Don’t worry, r1ma78, I have you covered!
For the price of $33,600 (a base TrailBlazer LS was $24,430), or cheaper than a $43,690 2006 Corvette, buyers were able to buy a TrailBlazer SS with a 6.0-liter LS2 V8 ripped right out of a Corvette.
This engine makes 400 HP in a Corvette and you get nearly the same output in the TrailBlazer SS with 395 HP and 400 lb-ft torque. LSX Magazine says the slight difference in power is from a more restrictive exhaust, tall truck-style intake manifold, and some losses from having to drive a belt-driven fan. Still, the SUV was plenty fast.
When MotorWeek tested the TrailBlazer SS, the tester got it to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds:
Yes, that’s slower than the Typhoon of old, but unlike the Typhoon, the TrailBlazer SS could tow a 6,600-pound trailer when equipped with all-wheel-drive and 6,800-pounds when the 4L70E four-speed automatic (derived from the Corvette’s 4L60/65E) is driving just the rear wheels. That power is also routed through an American Axle Manufacturing 9.5-inch axle, 4.10 gears, and an Eaton limited-slip differential.
TrailBlazer SS models could be ordered with rear-wheel-drive or equipped with a Torsen-based AWD system with a 33/67-percent front/rear torque split. This AWD system is able to direct up to 44 power to the front wheels when needed.
Supporting all of this horsepower is an SS-specific suspension, again from LSX Magazine:
From the onset, the TBSS was to be a balanced machine, not just a TrailBlazer stuffed with a bigger motor. That said, all of Heinricy’s track exertions in Deutschland netted a superb SS-specific suspension that more than compliments the mighty LS2. The setup includes specially-valved Bilstein monotube shocks and stiffer spring rates with load-leveling coils out back, a larger (36mm) front anti-roll (sway) bar/24mm-rear piece and harder durometer bushings all around. This equates to a sportscar-like 1-inch dropped ride height as compared to a non-SS TrailBlazer, a lower center of gravity and a much more aggressive stance.
Stopping the show are 12.8-inch ventilated rotors front and rear with pistons clamping down on Corvette Z51 pads. The TrailBlazer SS even got quicker 16.0:1 steering compared to the 20.3:1 ratio found in non-SS versions. In other words, the TrailBlazer SS was not just more power, but GM’s HPVO team engineered a legitimate sporty version of the family SUV.
In Car and Driver‘s testing, the TrailBlazer SS hit 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, slower than the 4.5 seconds achieved by the 420 HP Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. Despite that, the publication preferred the Chevy over the Jeep, from Car and Driver:
Let’s hope our trail of excuses explains away some of the reasons the slower truck emerges in this standoff. But the TrailBlazer did not win solely because of its hauling credentials.
Excuse this, but the SS hauls ass, too. A 5.5-second blast to 60 mph is still quick enough to make it feel much less like a truck and more like a sports car. As in the Jeep, there’s an electronically controlled center differential that automatically sends power to the wheels with the most traction. As powerful as these machines are, forget smoky burnouts. At least there’s a musclecar soundtrack. In that arena, the Jeep is throatier, but the Chevy is no mouse, especially when the throttle is wide open. Pity, the Chevy’s four-speed transmission is one of the few GM trannies that’s not transparent in its actions. Downshifts seem delayed, and full-throttle upshifts are uncomfortably abrupt.
The Chevy’s stability-control system can be fully disabled, however, which gave it the edge in the lane-change maneuver (61.9 mph versus 61.3) and allows the sort of juvenile power slides that these things seem made for.
By all accounts, the TrailBlazer SS sounds like a Corvette wearing the body and tow rating of an SUV. As I said earlier, the TrailBlazer SS was also the cheaper way into LS2 power, too!
The TrailBlazer SS is somewhat rare for a mass-production SUV. Of the 1,626,309 TrailBlazers built, just 26,441 units are TrailBlazer SS. If that’s not rare enough or you just can’t live with that solidly 2000s GM interior, you could buy the TrailBlazer SS with a Saab badge.
Earlier, I noted that the GMT-360 platform underpinned many badge-engineered SUVs. Released in 2004 for the 2005 model year, the Saab 9-7X was Saab’s first-ever SUV, even if it was really a Saab in name only. The 9-7X was indeed a parts-bin special, but it at least got a few unique details to make it a bit more Saab-like. Check out this interior, I’d say it’s an improvement over a TrailBlazer:
In 2008, the Saab 9-7X Aero was introduced, featuring the same powertrain as the TrailBlazer SS. Though, now the SS and Aero were making 390 HP. Much like the Saab 9-2X “Saabaru,” I wouldn’t consider this a Saab, but a better Chevy TrailBlazer. These were sold for just two years, 2008 and 2009, and just 554 of them found a home. That makes the Saab 9-7X Aero quite rare for what was supposed to be a mass-market SUV.
If you’re looking for either of these SUVs today, you can expect to pay about $10,000 and up, depending on the condition. In other words, these are sleeper SUVs for an affordable price. Nobody will know what you have until you fire up the LS2 and put a smile on their faces.
Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it down in the comments!
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