Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT LTZ

Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT LTZ Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT LTZ
Short Take Road Test

Boeing does it. Airbus does it. Hell, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt have been doing it to Sedan de Villes for years. So why shouldn't Chevrolet?

Introducing -- ta-dah! -- the TrailBlazer EXT, now stretched to give 50 percent more seating rows (this makes three, if you've lost count).

Chevy gave a mighty grunt on this one, pulling the wheelbase and the overall length to make the truck 16 inches longer. No more the nimble, mid-size truck. Think dachshund. The EXT is nine inches longer than the "full-size" Tahoe, on a wheelbase 13 inches longer. It's so long it arguably nudges into Suburban territory. The EXT's 129.0-inch wheelbase is only one inch shorter than the big guy's, although it's almost a foot shorter in overall length.

Still, the added length accurately predicts the stretcher's personality. Whereas the standard TrailBlazer is notably quick on its feet, whether you're squeezing on the power to pass or hustling toward that last empty slot across the lot, the EXT tends toward the ponderous. Ride motions are soft and slow, setting up that Town Car mood, and don't expect much response when you apply the whip. The lusty 270-hp, twin-cam in-line six is hauling a heavy backpack -- 5196 pounds in our fully optioned EXT test sample, up 559 from the last TrailBlazer LT we tested.

Let's come right out and say it: The fun is gone. The EXT is plainly a beast of burden, fairly smooth-riding, reasonably quiet, easy on your blood pressure. Yawn! Nonetheless, we think Chevy has succeeded in its mission here. This bus has a real third-row seat, big enough for two adults to rattle around back there. And this is added room; space in the second row is undiminished from the standard two-row model. Soccer moms, you won't be disappointed.

About time?

Ford definitely one-upped Chevy when the new-for-2002 Explorer debuted with an optional third-row seat. But it's a kid zone, pretty much unsuitable for adult males. Still, that's exactly what many SUV buyers want. Shrewdly, it was accomplished without enlarging the vehicle, thanks to the Explorer's independent rear suspension, a design that allows a lower floor. Clearing the TrailBlazer's bouncing, jouncing live axle costs interior space and necessitates this stretch -- plus a 5.2-inch bump in the roof -- to accommodate more than five passengers.

Chevy has done a nice job of opening access to the way back. Levers marked "1" and "2" fold and then tumble the second-row seats, opening up a clear path. The third seat is firm, and in our leather-trimmed LTZ it was also slippery, but we found good kneeroom and excellent head clearance. The cushion is high, too, raising our eyes enough to have a theater view forward. The surrounding walls have an intriguing satiny gloss that nearly denies you're cooped up in Plasticville. Rap your knuckles on them, though, and they tunk like Rubbermaid buckets.

With the rear rows folded, cargo space is 100.2 cubic feet, up 20 percent from that of the standard TrailBlazer. That's the good news. Not so good are the contortions needed to lower the third row; you must crawl back there and lift the cushion to start it on its way. If you're hoping for a level playing field as a load floor, fuhgedaboudit. A substantial ramp appears where the third row was.

Again, this comes back to the live-axle problem. The underbody must be high, and a seat on top makes the load floor higher still. The stylists have tried every trick in their portfolio to disguise the necessary hike in the upper sheetmetal for head clearance, including blending it into the roof rack. But it's a cut-and-paste job, and it's visually awkward from every angle.

From the driver's view, the EXT looks to be a normal TrailBlazer, except for the tailgate being back in the misty distance. All TrailBlazers have a relatively high beltline, and present you with a high dashboard festooned with lots of buttons and sculpting. The headliner, too, is deeply contoured around vents, handles, and various drop-down compartments for storage, not to mention screens and slots for entertainment systems. As part of the $995 DVD entertainment package, our loaded test car had numerous sets of headphones bulging from the rear's storage pockets.

All the fun in the EXT apparently happens in seats other than the driver's.