It was deja vu all over again as I climbed into the front seat of the 1992 Chevrolet Blazer 1500 Silverado. (Maybe I should say "cab" instead of front seat; it is a truck after all). Virtually everything there replicated the interior of the '92 Chevy Suburban I had tested earlier this month.
The Blazer, Chevy's new for '92 full-size sport-utility vehicle, has the Suburban's button-laden stereo-cassette player - with the cassette and equalizer in the middle of the dash more than an arm's length from the driver; it has the same, well, let's just say unusual heating/-air conditioning controls below the radio; the same deep storage bin between the seats which allows access only to the top layer of flotsam and jetsam; the same instrument panel; the same steering wheel; the same fold-down armrests; the same beige cloth material on the seats and doors . . .Well, you get the idea, I'm sure. Suburban owners will feel right at home in the new Blazer. What is missing, of course, is the 'Burban's two rear doors and its enormous carrying capacity. You'll find no back seat behind the back seat, as in the Suburban. And in the Blazer you have room to haul only the entire contents of your garage, instead of your garage, basement and living room, as in the Suburban.
The similarities do not stop with the interior. Standard engine for the Blazer is the same 5.7 liter electronic fuel injected V8 found in the Suburban, as are the 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, suspension, steering and brakes.
All this similarity didn't happen by accident nor is it limited to these two vehicles. Along with Chevy's Crew Cab Pickup, the three are direct descendants of Chevy's successful, full-size C/K pickup truck in all the ways that count: styling, chassis and powertrain.
What those changes mean for Chevy is that, after watching Blazer sales drop from 46,935 in 1984 to 4,207 in 1991 as sport/utility buyers defected to competitors such as Ford Explorer and Mitsubishi Montero, it once again has a strong contender in the niche.
Chevy did a complete makeover on its full-size pickup in 1988 but left Suburban and Blazer stuck with their old design. Now it's their turn in the limelight.
The new 1500 Blazer is not only as stylish as the C/K pickup, but its ride has been civilized thanks to a five-inch longer wheelbase, and its shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system that can now be handled by people other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The new Blazer still seems more truck-like than, say, the Explorer but it is roomy for its class and can tow 7,000 pounds, up 1,000 pounds from the previous model. Towing is a major concern for people who buy this kind of vehicle. Many of them have boats, horse trailers, utility trailers or trailer homes.
Washing the Blazer is no cinch. Even running a rag over the windshield involves getting out the stepladder. That's because the Blazer sits high (more than six feet) on its huge 265/75 tires on 16-inch wheels made for rolling over rocks and through the mud although studies indicate most Blazer drivers never go over anything chancier than I-15 on a snowy day. Even climbing into it can be a problem for short people or women wearing skirts.
Standard transmission is a five-speed manual, which I drove; a four-speed automatic is optional. The five-speed shifts easier than some others I have tried lately but I don't see many people ordering a Blazer with it. For some reason, GM likes to equip its press evaluation vehicles with standard transmissions even though they don't show the cars off to their best. If you buy a Honda Civic, by all means get a 5-speed; if you buy a 4,676-pound Blazer, go shiftless. Trust me on this, you'll be happier, even though the manual shifter does get a little better gas mileage.
Speaking of mileage, we might as well get that out of the way here: combined city-highway EPA rating for the Blazer is a meager 14 mpg. The tank holds 30 gallons. Blazer buyers will become good friends with their local gas-o-mat.
Since we're already talking bad news, we might as well take a look at the Blazer's sticker. Base price is $19,280. Our old friend the "preferred equipment group" (AC, cruise control, stereo, power seats/door locks/mirrors; the usual suspects) adds $3,832.75.
Then there are the upgraded tires, color keyed wheel opening flares, tinted windows, yet another charge for upgrading the stereo; rear window defogger, off-road chassis equipment package, beige "custom cloth" reclining seats - it's amazing how many things in this vehicle are options.
Cutting to the chase, we find a bottom line of $24,725.35. If you were to add the automatic transmission, it would boost that by about $1,000 more.
A lot of money? Agreed, but still $4,000 less than the Suburban I tested earlier - but then you don't get four doors, the third rear seat and the extra carrying capacity. If it were me making the choice (and it's not) I would take two aspirin and sign up for the larger payments to get the Suburban.
But many will go with the Blazer, and not just because of the lower price. Sport utility buyers are looking for a certain image and the big, friendly Suburban doesn't have it. The Suburban is a family car (for large families) whereas the Blazer is a macho, two-door, go-in-the-dirt kind of car. The Blazer is made to order for those TV ads where they helicopter one up to the top of some spire in Monument Valley or show them churning up mud followed by the good old boys sitting around the campfire telling each other how it doesn't get any better than this (beer commercials and sport/utility car commercials have a lot in common.)
Incidentally, despite its off-road image, the Blazer's ride is not as choppy or stiff as you might think (but it's no Cadillac Seville, either). The independent front suspension uses torsion bars for extra ground clearance, and the front differential is mounted to the frame with rubber bushings.
In the back, the cargo floor is 76.6 inches long, up some 3.4 inches from the previous model.