Holden steps up and offers its popular seven-seat Trailblazer family 4x4 as the tow-tug for our comprehensive BAV tow test.
Image credits: Phil Cerbu, Cam Innis, Marcus Cozzolino
Each year the convoy of caravans that stretches around our coastline and into this country’s vast interior gets longer. As more Aussies discover the delights of caravanning, the mobile homes we travel with are tending to become bigger and better.
These larger, more comfortable and sophisticated vans require powerful and structurally sound tow rigs to safely handle payloads of up to 3.5 tonnes. For many the task of choosing a suitable tow vehicle is as great a challenge as choosing the van itself.
Holden has a deep relationship with caravanning in Australia that goes right back to the original locally-built 48-215 (FX). Just as caravans have changed incredibly and for the better, so too have the rigs we tow them with, and these days Holden customers have several quality options to choose from, including the Acadia at the lighter end of the spectrum, on to the Trailblazer wagon, and ultimately the Colorado Ute with its muscular 3500kg braked towing capacity.
Best aussie vans performer
With Holden stepping up as our official towing partner for BLA Czone Best Aussie Vans 2019, and a selection of vans weighing between 2330kg and 2960kg, we could have safely gone with either the Colorado or the Trailblazer for this exercise. But we opted for the seven-seat wagon as an alternative to the ubiquitous dual cab utes that have become the machine of choice for so many caravanners.
Of course, the Trailblazer is not all that far removed from a dual cab ute anyway, given that it’s based on the chassis and mechanical underpinnings of its stablemate, the popular Colorado. A key difference, aside from the fact the Trailblazer is a fully enclosed wagon body style, as opposed to an open tray ute, is its slightly shorter wheelbase and its adoption of coil-spring multilink rear suspension, where the Colorado sticks with a hardy leaf spring.
The different rear suspension setups help explain why the Colorado boasts a 3500kg braked tow rating where the Trailblazer has a lower 3000kg rating. Nevertheless, with all eight vans put over the weighbridge at Koo Wee Rup on the morning of our BAV tow test, we were confident that nothing exceeded the Trailblazer’s GVM (2820kg), or (GCM) 5700kg.
Of course, to tow anything north of 2000kg you need a fair bit of grunt and here the Trailblazer doesn’t disappoint, its 2.8L Duramax turbodiesel mustering 147kW at 3600rpm and a muscular 500Nm at a low 2000rpm. For context, the rival Isuzu MU-X’s larger capacity 3.0L engine produces a lower 130kW and 430Nm, so the Holden is well endowed in the power and torque stakes.
The four-cylinder engine hitches to a smooth and impressively intuitive six-speed auto, which puts power to the rear wheels via a limited slip differential. The Trailblazer also features shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive activation via a control knob on the centre console, though we chose to run in rear wheel drive mode throughout our test for consistency and fuel efficiency.
Of course, one of the advantages of a ute-based seven-seat wagon over other 4x4 wagon alternatives is price, with the 4x4-only range kicking off at a respectable $47,990 (plus ORCs) for the LT model tested, rising to $52,490 (plus ORCs) for the better equipped LTZ. This is much cheaper than the Toyota LandCruiser Prado ($53,490 to $84,119) and Mitsubishi Pajero ($53,990 to $58,990), and compares favourably with its direct competitive set, which includes the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner and Isuzu MU-X.
Despite being a base-model, the LT Trailblazer is quite comfortably equipped, with standard features including 17in alloy wheels clad with 255/65R17 tyres, side steps, seven airbags, digital radio, six-speaker audio and a rear-view camera. The image from the latter is displayed on a 7in colour touchscreen mounted in the centre of the dash, which incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection. The latter means that even though the LT doesn’t get standard sat-nav, when connected to the car with a charging lead you can project nav and other features such as music from your phone to the screen.
SAFE AS HOUSES
The LT Trailblazer is reasonably well equipped from a safety perspective as well, with essential features like antilock braking, dynamic stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, and roll over mitigation. It also gets standard hill start assist, trailer sway control and hill descent control, all of which are excellent features to have when towing. However, it misses out on some other important safety features that are available on the more expensive LTZ, including lane departure warning, forward collison alert, blind spot assist, rear cross Traffic alert, and front park assist.
Such features were little known on passenger cars, let alone 4x4s and commercial vehicles just a few short years ago, but we recommend them as excellent safety inclusions to have, if your budget can stretch the extra $4500 to the LTZ.
Despite lacking leather trim, electric seat adjustment and numerous other niceties the cabin of the Trailblazer LT is nonetheless a fairly comfortable place to be, with supportive manually adjustable cloth-covered front seats, a height-adjustable but not reach-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel, single USB input, four 12V outlets, power windows all round, and plenty of storage nooks and cupholders.
Cargo space is a generous 554L to the beltline with the first and second row seats in use, or 878L if packed to the roof. This expands to 1043L and 1830L respectively, with the 60/40-split tumble-fold second row folded. The third row of seats features a 50/50 spilt fold function and folds flat into the cargo bay floor when not in use. However, when the seats are in use cargo volume shrinks to 205L and 235L respectively.
Both our Holden LT Trailblazer test vehicles came equipped with integrated Redarc Tow Pro Elite electric brake controllers and we equipped both with extended trailer mirrors. The Trailblazer’s standard reversing camera with guides also made hitching up to the various vans relatively easy.
Our tow test route took us on a 40km circuit starting at our foreshore location at the BIG4 Inverloch Holiday Park in the pretty Victorian seaside town of Inverloch, out through the town’s neat rows of suburban homes to arterial roundabouts onto a two-lane country road which presented a variety of tarmac conditions and elevation changes. Road conditions varied from very good to average with significant sections of the tarmac presenting with bumps, ragged edges, muddy verges and other irregularities that tested our driver, tow rigs and vans. So too did the consistently strong and gusty crosswind we experienced during the test, which at times gusted upwards of 46km/h and were rarely below 28km/h. The latter had a significant impact on the towing performance of the vans and tow vehicle, and should be considered in any discussion of the day’s results.
The route included a long and gradual incline that highlighted steady pulling power, a moderately steep uphill section that kicked the auto down a cog and worked the engine hard at a steady 3000rpm for several minutes, and a hilltop T-junction that necessitated a complete stop before making a hard right turn into an even steeper uphill section that wound around the edges of a hill. The latter called for strong pulling power and good steering accuracy as a series of blind curves meant you needed to stay accurately placed in your lane to avoid oncoming traffic heading down the hill.
The outbound section culminated at the 20km mark with a turnaround point at a scenic lookout that provided sweeping views across verdant fields dotted with contented-looking dairy cattle, leading to distant vistas of rolling storm fronts over a choppy Bass Strait. At this point we turned and repeated the loop in reverse, this time testing engine braking, as well as vehicle and trailer brakes as we wound back around the hillside and into the valley below, where the blustery crosswinds again made their presence felt.
The test route was repeated eight times with the author driving all vans over the entire route behind one Holden Trailblazer and the judges swapping at the halfway point and towing each van one way behind another Holden Trailblazer to complete their testing requirements.
At the end of each full loop the vans were unhitched and a new van hitched, while judges swapped notes on towing performance, fuel consumption, distance travelled and average speed for each vehicle-van combination.
THE JUDGES' VERDICT
After a full day at the wheel the consensus was that the Trailblazer’s main strength is its impressive powertrain, which proved well and truly up to the task of towing the rated 3-tonne capacity. The 2.8L turbodiesel is muscular and exhibits respectably brisk off-the-mark acceleration and powerful mid-range performance. Indeed, it’s in the mid-range where the engine tended to do its best work on our test, and it felt under-stressed throughout, despite being asked to work hard on the different uphill stages with some of the more portly caravans.
The six-speed automatic shifted assuredly up and down the ratios without dithering and there was no evidence of flaring or shuffling between gears, suggesting the Trailblazer is equipped with a well-spaced spread of ratios.
Ironically, the very thing that makes the Trailblazer a more comfortable and civilised vehicle to drive than its Colorado ute counterpart, also proved an Achilles’ heel when towing. We’re talking here about the car’s multilink rear coil suspension, which squatted too much when laden.
Most notable in this regard was the steering which became lighter and a tendency for the car to be steered via the weight on its rear end. While this wasn’t universally the case, and it did seem to vary from van to van.
However, as alluded to above, any analysis of the Trailblazer’s towing performance needs to be prefaced by stating that there were significant mitigating circumstances, notably the weather. Throughout the entire eight hours of testing we experienced very strong and gusty crosswinds. The combination of strong crosswinds, large caravans, potholed and bumpy roads led judges to conclude that the Trailblazer is best suited to caravans with a smaller ATM than the placarded limit.
Several judges experienced ESP or trailer-sway control activation in the Trailblazer, indicating that the van was beginning to develop undesirable sway. Obviously not a desired action, the positive take on this is that the Trailblazer is fitted with this valuable safety feature as standard, and it was most certainly appreciated in our testing conditions.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
“Competitively priced and has an excellent warranty”
TOWING PERFORMANCE 7/10
“Strong engine and gearbox let down by soft suspension”
HITCHING UP 8/10
“Reversing camera with guide-lines helps here”
CREATURE COMFORTS 6/10
“Not overly flash but has everything you really need”
ACCESSIBILITY OF SPARE PARTS 8/10
“Holden has a large and well-established dealer network”
FUEL ECONOMY 8/10
“Turbo-diesel engine sips reasonable frugally for the car's size”
SOLO PERFORMANCE 8/10
“Ride comfort of coil-spring rear end comes to the fore”
ENGINE POWER 8/10
“Not the smoothest or quietest diesel
but plenty of towing urge”
“Trailer sway control a valuable feature”
“Solid and dependable, but not much that's out of the box”
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Width (excluding mirrors): 1902mm
Ground clearance (unladen): 213mm
Kerb mass: 2194kg
Gross Vehicle Mass: 2820kg
Gross Combined Mass: 5700kg
Towing capacity unbraked/braked: 750kg/3000kg
Towball (max): 300kg
Engine: 2.8L intercooled turbodiesel four-cylinder, DOHC
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Power: 147kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 2000rpm
Gear ratios: 1st 4.06, 2nd 2.37, 3rd 1.55, 4th 1.16, 5th 0.85, 6th 0.67
Final drive: 3.42
Fuel capacity: 76L
Suspension: Independent, double wishbones, coil springs (fr); five link live axle, coil springs (rr)
Brakes 300mm discs (fr); 318mm discs (rr)
Wheels: 17in alloy
Warranty: Five years unlimited km/ seven years' free servicing*
Roof load: 100kg
$46,990 (plus dealer and ORCs)
Price as tested
$48,840 (plus dealer and ORCs)
Tow bar ($1110); brake controller ($740).
*Seven years free servicing offer runs to December 31, 2019
To enquire about this vehicle, please contact Holden: