Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Chevy Blazer EV is a $60k smartphone on wheels


San Diego — Tesla Inc. may dominate headlines with its sci-fi Cybertruck, (purportedly) self-driving cars and stratospheric stock valuations, but among legacy automakers, General Motors Co. is no less radical. The General has staked its future as an all-electric technology company under the banner, “Zero. Zero. Zero.” Zero emission, zero crashes, zero congestion.

The 2024 Chevy Blazer EV is the first real glimpse of that future.

It is the latest model built with GM’s common Ultium electric architecture, but — unlike the niche-focused GMC Hummer EV moon-shot, bling-tastic Cadillac Lyriq, or Chevy Silverado EV pickup work tool — Blazer EV is a mainstream, volume family vehicle planned to replace its gas peer.

Compared to its small, competitive electric set — Tesla Model X, BMW iX, Kia EV6, Vinfast VF8 — the midsize Blazer EV is a compelling vehicle. Compared to the internal combustion engine Blazer, it is Exhibit A in how jarring a government-forced transition to EVs will be.

First, the competitive set.

Like the Tesla Model X, a smartphone on wheels I first drove in 2017, Blazer EV is more device than automobile. Keyless operation, column shifter, regenerative braking for one-pedal driving. Unlike Tesla, it accomplishes its task without gull-wing doors, yoke steering wheel and mono-screen. Blazer EV takes a more familiar route for our smartphone-run, autonomous future. If Tesla is Apple, think of Chevy as Android.

Tesla has pursued a vertical, proprietary business model from building its own, Linux-based operating system (buying Google data for navigation) to building its own charger network. Like Android, GM is more horizontal — buying its OS from Google (Google Built-In) and relying on third-party chargers. The result is a device — er, automobile — that became an extension of my Android phone.

With the key fob in my pocket, Blazer unlocked as I approached and locked when I walked away. Inside, I woke the twin, 11-inch instrument and 17.7-inch dash screens with a touch of the brake pedal.

“The screens are very icon-based — like smartphones,” said Blazer product marketing manager Chris Boman at our media test in sunny SoCal. “They are easy to use, which is one of the benefits of Google Built-In.”

“Hey, Google, navigate to Las Vegas,” I commanded, and the screen methodically charted my course, complete with charging details. GM admits the shortcomings of third-party chargers (like ensuring they, um, work) compared with Tesla. But Chevy adds helpful details like ensuring the SUV reaches its destination with 30% of range so you’re not stranded upon arrival. In keeping with that common-sense approach, Blazer EV eschews Tesla’s Spaceballs obsession with performance — Insane, Ludicrous, Plaid mode, take your pick — for a more serene ride.

On long drives, Blazer EV’s semi-autonomous Super Cruise system (available on all models) beats Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD) as a true hands-free system.

“The Blazer EV contributes to our zero, zero, zero future as an EV with zero tailpipe emissions,” said Boman. “It aspires to zero crashes with its standard, comprehensive, safety-assist system. And it aims for zero congestion with our automated Super Cruise system.”

GM’s zero, zero, zero vision ultimately lies with the pod-like, driverless Cruise Origin. Sit in the hushed, spacious, passenger-focused back seat of Blazer EV and that dream feels much closer than the tight back seat of Cruise’s Chevy Bolt that I autonomously rode through Frisco a year ago.

But judged against the broader auto marketplace, my $60,215, all-wheel-drive Blazer EV RS has tough competition from the comparable $47,465 all-wheel-drive Blazer ICE RS across the showroom.

At 564 miles, the Blazer ICE has double the range of Blazer EV. To achieve its 279-mile range figure, EV AWD’s 85 kWh battery lards on 900 more pounds (a longer range, 324-mile, 102 kWh battery is also available) compared to its 4,313-pound gas stablemate.

The resulting 5,235-pound, battery-powered behemoth — about the weight of a V8-powered Chevy Silverado Trail Boss pickup — requires an attitude adjustment. Whether the Blazer or Camaro sports car or compact Trax ute, ICE Chevys have always been fun to toss through the twisties. But the girth of Blazer EV robs it of corner-carving aspirations.

Bury my right foot in SPORT mode and Blazer EV’s 0-60 mph acceleration is a smooth-but-hardly-urgent 6.0 seconds — on par with its V6-powered ICE sibling. Despite losing its front engine and gaining nine inches of wheelbase, the EV matches the interior volume of its 112.7-inch-wheelbase ICE sibling.

Front occupants gain three inches of legroom (44 inches compared to 41 for the ICE model) but the rear seat is smaller (38.9 inches vs. 39.6) and cargo shrinks from 30.5 cubic feet to 25.5. Drop the second-row seats and cargo space is 59.1 cubic feet for EV, 64.2 for ICE. OG FTW.

Despite the substantial price hike from EV to ICE, I was disappointed Blazer EV hadn’t caught Silverado EV’s frunk fever. Similar Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E skateboard chassis boast front trunks, but Blazer EV punts.

Frunks require extensive engineering and Blazer EV wants to keep it simple. It’s available as a $57,710, all-wheel-drive LT model (a sub-$50k FWD LT should come in a year), $61k rear-wheel-drive RS or my $60k, AWD RS. The interior shares Blazer ICE’s fondness for Camaro-like rotary vents, but the dual, digital dash screens are common to Silverado EV and the upcoming Equinox EV. Its U.S.-sourced battery pack will likely gain approval for the coveted $7,500 federal tax subsidy, but manufacturing is in Mexico to avoid soaring UAW labor costs.

“By manufacturing everything with the same Ultium drivetrain, we get economies of scale and everything becomes easier to manage,” Boman said of a future where Ultium replaces an assortment of V-8, V-6 and I-4 engines. “We’ll only have to do the engineering once for all our vehicles.”

Curiously, then, the Blazer EV is priced right on top of the similarly-contented, $57k, RWD Cadillac Lyriq — despite the Caddy’s unique, 33-inch mono-screen, jeweled interior and front grille light show. That’s well above the $40k average transaction price of a gas-powered Blazer.

The Caddy is a bargain compared to the $80k Tesla Model X. What to call my $60k Chevy EV RS?

With its horizontal front LED strip, raccoon-eyed headlights and chiseled bod, Blazer fits in with its new EV family. Like smartphones, except for their increasing size. EVs are unlike smartphones in one crucial respect, however: convenience.

Blazer EV will add 69 miles in 10 minutes at a fast charger, ICE Blazer will add 500 in three at the pump. Because of government regulations pushing the industry toward EVs, consumers will have to adjust to life with the cord.

As governments nix new Blazer ICE sales over the next few years, Chevy customers may embrace Blazer EV’s technology. Or will they walk across the dealer lot and buy a pre-owned, Blazer ICE’s convenience?

GM’s EV future won’t come with zero compromise.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, front, rear, and all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $57,710 including $1,395 destination ($60,215 EV RS AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 85 kWh or 102 kWh lithium-ion battery mated to electric motor(s)

Power: 288 horsepower, 333 pound-feet of torque (Blazer EV LT AWD and RS AWD); 340 horsepower, 325 pound-feet of torque (Blazer EV RS RWD)

Transmission: single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Motor Trend); towing, 1,500 pounds

Weight: 5,000-5,500 pounds (5,235 pounds as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. range, 279 miles (AWD, 85 kWh battery); 324 (RWD, 102 kWh battery)

Report card

Highs: Tech-tastic Google Built-In; superior size compared to EV competitors

Lows: Heavy handling; lacks Blazer ICE’s road-trip convenience

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.



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