I've never really been a fan of the big stuff, I like the small, light and nimble things that can be chucked around if the desire kicks in. After a week behind the wheel of the 2015 Chevrolet Trailblazer, the 2.8 Duramax Diesel variant, I can tell you that my mind has changed somewhat. I'd obviously seen these around before and even taken a look at one at a dealership, but I only really realised the dimensions of it when it was delivered to my house. Having one of these while staying in one of the North's cramped complexes wouldn't work too well. Luckily the complex I stay in has great space, but it would still battle to fit into my garage. Luckily that wasn't something I had to contend with.
The Trailblazer is, as you can see, a large SUV that seats 5, but if you fiddle with the configuration, in less than a minute you'll have space for two more at the rear. During my test week I had the car in both configurations. 5-seater mode was used when the boot was fully loaded and the 7-seater mode was used on shorter trips to keep the squabbling kids apart. There's more than enough space in both instances but even if there wasn't I didn't really care too much, as long as my position as pilot isn't compromised in any way I don't really care what happens behind me. For this test week, I really made it count. The Trailblazer wasn't about to only be subjected to the urban jungle even though that's where I suspect the majority of these will spend their days. This Chevrolet Trailblazer was going to be put through it's paces properly.
The initial drive to our accomodation was around 300km and that was more than enough time to get familiar with the Trailblazer's controls and the way it drives. As big and cumbersome as these SUVs look, they're very easy to drive. I now know why you often see them barreling past you in the fast lane. They're not speeding, they're simply cruising along comfortably. This Trailblazer was the daddy of the bunch, the 2.8 Duramax Diesel that makes use of a 6-speed automatic gearbox. It's a rather powerful 4-cylinder producing 144kW with a massive 500Nm of torque so getting the thing up to speed is pretty easy. If you mash your foot flat you'll see 100km/h come up in less than 11-seconds which is rather impressive considering what you're sitting in. At highway speeds the 'box likes cruising along in 6th gear and this keeps the revs nice and low and also means the Chevrolet can return consumption figures of 10.3-litres/100km, pretty close to the claimed 9.5, which I'm sure I would have managed if the SUV wasn't five up with a large load of luggage. Cruise control is cool, but with such a comfortable ride and the car doing all the work, a long road can see tiredness set in - bends are a welcome change.
Overtaking was also easy, besides having a great view being so high up (I'm used to low and fast cars that make seeing ahead a mission) all it takes is more throttle input and the 'box kicks down to the appropriate gear and the hefty Chevy lifts its skirt and starts galloping. The gearbox did seem like it wasn't sure what gear it wanted a few times, but this was on small town roads where the limit was 80km/h. It would often jump between 4th and 5th (or 5th and 4th) with just slight throttle input, irrelevant if it was an uphill or not. I got used to it though. Even with it's size it handles well, it doesn't feel like you're as high up as you are and has a turning circle that I swear is smaller than in my old Focus.
The Trailblazer is well-specced, it has everything you need and being part of the GM family of which I've tested a fair amount of cars lately, the on board computer was all familiar to me. The LCD display located in the centre of the instrument cluster shows battery voltage, an adjustable speed warning, transmission fluid temperature, engine hours and an oil life indicator. It stayed at 65% for my journey, but it's more of a service indicator counting down from 100% to zero over the course of a year. It now also includes an economy gauge and a throttle position indicator that tells you if you're saving or killing the forests.
Last year the Trailblazer LTZ models received an upgrade and now feature the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system too, which is a great system that's easy to use. As in the other GM cars, It synched up to my phone instantly. I used it to stream my music when we were on roads with no radio signal, which was a must to drown out the rest of the people in the car. The MyLink system is headed up by a 7-inch touch screen display that's pretty intuitive and the sound system it links to is made up of six speakers. It plays pretty well. It can play media from a host of different sources including apps. It has the ability to play video too but it wouldn't read the .mp4 files on my 8mb USB. I forgot to check if it would play .avi or any other formats though.
There's climate control that feeds the front and rear of the car which was good for keeping everyone happy. It's not dual zone so the rear passengers will have to settle for the setting the driver wants, which is cool by me. It's better accepting what I do than walking. Another of the changes the latest upgrade brought on was the new Ash Grey interior trim, it looks good and seems to not get dirty even with the lighter colour. It's a perfect match for the Royal Grey exterior paint.
As said, this was going to be a proper review, and one of the stop offs on the trip was at Riverwild Eco Outdoor Destination in Nelspruit. I'll get onto it a little more later as a destination in the trip report that will follow this review. At Riverwild there were a few different 4x4 courses to try ranging from beginner to intermediate as well as having a training course. The training course offered up a few obstacles that would properly test any 4x4 so this is where I pointed the Trailblazer. I've done a decent amount of 4x4 before of course, but the full load of passengers hadn't, which was pretty evident when the first uphill challenge was seen. They were convinced that the the large SUV would never make it up such a steep gradient and that if it did manage to get part way up, that it would topple over backwards. Oh ye of little faith...
On entering the course I engaged 4-high on the dial knob in the lower part of the centre console. This was fine until the first serious incline. The bottom had a bit of a ditch first which made for a small axle-twister and this saw the wheels start spinning it an attempt to gain traction. It was going nowhere though so a quick reverse, another turn of the knob to 4-low and a second attempt saw the huge SUV simply crawl up, much to the delight of my passengers. Once at the top it was time to come back down and the return hill was even steeper. Staying in 4-low and letting the hill descent control do it's job the obstacle was done with absolutely zero fuss. Of course the passengers didn't quite agree that we'd make it down without taking the bumper off and flipping over forwards, but the Trailblazer has a ground clearance of 218mm, an approach angle of 30-degrees and a departure angle of 22-degrees. I must admit that I did think the lower part of the front bumper may scrape, but I'm happy to report that I was wrong and gave back a 100% scratch and scrape free car.
Oh yeah, at one section the Trailblazer had to navigate an overgrown path and I heard a few small branches screech against the body and a visual inspection did show a slight scratch from end to end. Luckily I like to give my press cars back after a full valet with an included hand polish and this brought it back to showroom condition. Testament to the durability of the paint of today's cars and one less thing to worry about if you do actually take your off road capable vehicle, well, off road. With a name like Riverwild you'd expect to find a river, and there was one, although in winter the levels are quite low. The Trailblazer crossed one section with ease. It wasn't deep at all, maybe 400mm at most, but the Trailblazer has a wading depth of 800mm anyway. The Trailblazer made light work of the course and I had a blast messing around for an hour or so showing the family exactly why I'm a fan of getting off the tarmac whenever possible.
Chevrolet has a few catch phrases that go along with the Trailblazer; "Why go from A-B" and "Find New Roads" and that's exactly what I did. Out where we were staying there were plenty sand roads that cut across the land between the tarred roads. One of the roads cut the tarred journey down from 120km to 70km and if I was in anything else I wouldn't have dared, but the Trailblazer made it possible to explore and see some of the amazing views SA has to offer.
The 2015 Chevrolet Trailblazer LTZ 2.8 Duramax Automatic didn't disappoint at all in any way. Drive, comfort, space, capability and ability. There are more pros than I can mention, and on the cons side all that I didn't like was how the car hunted for gears in the lower speed situations. Build quality, trim levels and interior fit and finish don't leave anything to be desired. Sure, there are more premium cars in this class but for a daily runner and a family holiday car, this thing ticks all the boxes. Many in SA are brand blind and opt for the brands they know well, which is a pity because the Trailblazer range offers up a great alternative and a very competitive price. It has best in class towing capabilities and also class-leading power. Anyone in the market for an SUV simply has to take a closer look at the Trailblazer range. It simply must be taken to the bush though, it's too good to spend its life on tar.
The 2015 Chevrolet Trailblazer LTZ 2.8 Duramax Automatic as tested retails for R569 800-00 but the range starts off at R434 900-00.
All Trailblazer models come standard with:
5 Year/120 000km Warranty & Roadside Assistance
5 Year/Unlimited Kilometers Anti-Corrosion Warranty
5 Year/90 000km Service Plan (Service Intervals 12 Months/15 000km)
For more information click on the .pdf below or head on over to www.chevrolet.co.za
But wait, there's more!
For a full trip report, carry on scrolling down.
Blazing Trails in a Chevrolet Trailblazer!
As I mentioned, for this review I decided that I was going to put the Chevrolet Trailblazer through it's paces properly, none of this pussyfooting around on the country's highways and byways. In the review you saw pics of the thing being tested on a proper off road course, but that was 300km away from Jo'burg. I didn't magically appear in the bush or at the rest of the great destinations the Trailblazer took us to, so let's start at the beginning shall we?
The timing for having the Trailblazer for a week coincided with a family getaway my wife planned (in meticulous detail I must add) for us, including the kids as well as me mum-in-law. Of course I did find out if it was ok to use the Trailblazer on the trip beforehand from the press fleet chap, it's just the right thing to do. Anyhoo, with a bigger ride available it meant the family had the chance to pack a little more than they would have if we used the Jazz and the Getz, which was the original plan. I was convinced everyone went overboard especially considering all I had was a few pairs of jeans, some Ts and the right amount of jocks and socks. Luckily the Trailblazer isn't short on space. With 5 people in transit the extra 2 seats weren't needed so we had a full 1229 litres of packing space. It sounds like a lot but I was sure it wouldn't be enough... I was worried for nothing as you can see. I still had a clear view in the rear view mirror too, a non-negotiable for me.
Our destination was a friend's house in Waterval Boven (Emgwenya is the official name). We'd be staying in the small town for a week and it served as our base from where we'd be visiting a few of the hidden gems our beautiful country has to offer. I would say Waterval Boven was a one-horse town bar for the fact that there were two horses strolling around the area. It's the sister town to Waterval Onder, an equally small town. There's just over 6000 people staying in the area according to Wikipedia, but during our week there I don't think we saw more than 50 people. The towns were established in 1894 as a supply depot along the Pretoria - Delgoa Bay (in Mozambique) railway line and it never really grew into something bigger. A lot of the houses are holiday houses and there's also a fair amount of B&Bs running too. Again, Wiki tells me that there are loads of rock climbing venues in the area so in the summer you can expect to see loads of people wearing harnesses and helmets carrying a few metres of rope walking around.
If you do find yourself in either of the Bovens, it's probably best to take all your essentials with as there's not much by way of shopping. There are a few small places to buy things from with one main supermarket that carries just about everything, but not all the creature comforts you'll find in Jo'burg. The place is great though, it's quiet and you can properly relax. Using Boven as a base was a good idea, we could visit the spots on my wife's itinerary (yes, there was an actual itinerary) by day and then chill in the evenings and recharge.
Riverwild 4x4 Eco Destination
From, Boven, heading towards Nelspruit side for about an hour, you'll arrive at Riverwild. I wouldn't recommend trying to get there in a streetcar as there's quite a stretch of a sand road you need to travel on. Luckily the Trailblazer was in its element. I had the SUV in 4-high to be safe, and traveling at around 60-70km/h felt as composed as being on tar. Riverwild is a bush camp that's a community-run project that caters for those wanting the full outdoor experience. It has a stream running through the camp (Houtbosloop) that turned into a rather angry river not too long ago during a session of heavy rains and it washed away a fair section of the domed tent accommodation but plans are in the works to have them replaced. They featured comfortable bedding and even had their own electricity feed. Since we were just day visitors this was of little consequence.
The main reason for visiting Riverwild was to try out the 4x4 course and the capabilities of the Trailblazer. The venue has a few different 4x4 trails to choose from ranging from beginner to expert. Being a press car I didn't want to unnecessarily put it at risk of being damaged so I wanted to try out the trail rated for beginners. Gideon (the chap running Riverwild) suggested we first check out the area used for 4x4 driver training called the Chicken Run. In this section the obstacles were more along the lines of an intermediate 4x4 trail and so this is where we spent most of our time. As mentioned in the review, the Trailblazer performed flawlessly. 4-low and the electronic diff-lock were put to good use a few times. There was another short trail that lets you drive along a section of the river over some smooth rocks, but being winter there was no water flowing over them so it wasn't much of a challenge. Gideon did have some guys on his team dig open the ground to let the water flow more but it didn't work as planned. After making my passengers scream and squeal with excitement, we settled down for a pre-packed picnic.
There are a bunch of other activities you can do at Riverwild and one of them that my wife booked us for was archery. Now I've only ever messed around with homemade bows and arrows and it was good fun. When I was told we were going to be shooting proper arrows I thought we would be using compound bows and all sorts of fancy, technical stuff. Luckily we used a normal bow making it easy for the whole family. It was good fun and I'd like to do it again. If you haven't done it, give it a try. After about an hour of killing a poor, defenceless target, we headed out of Riverwild. A big thanks goes to Gideon for the awesome hospitality and making our visit to Riverwild a memorable one.
I'm pretty sure there aren't many people in SA who haven't heard of Sudwala Caves, but positive there is a fair amount who haven't actually visited them. They're only a few kilometers away from Riverwild and so it was the next stop on the itinerary. Again, it's a road I'd rather not try in a streetcar even though it is paved. It's not the greatest and it's pretty steep. Having 500Nm of torque from just 2000rpm meant we could idle up though, which would have taken hours so we didn't do that. On the way back down the hill I did have a bit of fun showing the family how the Hill Descent Control works as well as what the Hill Brake Assist does. The ABS was tested too when a monkey decided to play chicken with the Trailblazer. I could have actually just cruised over the thing without touching it but I didn't feel like taking a chance and possibly traumatising the family by showing them how to remove primate parts from panel gaps.
The caves themselves are awesome, they're somewhere in the region of 240 million years old and since prehistoric times have been used as a place of shelter by both man and beast. The tour through the caves takes around 45 minutes or so, and while I went there for a school tour many years back, I loved hearing all about the formations and the history of the place. It's affordable at R90 per person and would even make for a great day trip from Jo'burg. There's not too much to show you by way of pics of the place though. It's rather dark and the possibility of whipping a few thousand bats into a frenzy with my flash made me not want to test the guide's warning. It really must be seen though. From Sudwala it was back to Boven for the night...
I hadn't heard of Kaapschehoop before so I wasn't sure what we were in for. It's another small town pretty much in the middle of nowhere, even smaller than Boven, like less than 200 residents small. It's claim to fame is that it was a mining town during the gold rush, it was set up after gold was found in a small stream that runs through the town in 1882. It was originally called Duiwel's Kantoor - Devil's Office - because it was a lawless little place where the dodgiest of the dodgy hung out trying to get rich. The gold didn't last long which is why the place never turned into a major city.
These days the small town is a cool spot to visit, many of the old mining houses are now guest houses, B&Bs or pubs and restaurants. The first stop for us was Koek n Pan, a place rumoured to have the best pancakes you've ever had. It's a toss up, I'm not sure if I prefer this place or Harrie's Pancakes in Harrismith, but Koen n Pan is definitely in a better setting.
Kaapschehoop has another claim to fame - horses. Not just any horses, wild, evil horses! There are up to 200 horses roaming around the 17 000ha property and they're not really owned by anyone, they've managed to successfully breed on their own from the days when the town thrived. Some can also be traced back to the horses used in the Boer War by the British soldiers.
Yeah, I said evil horses. At first I thought they were cool, you know, just horses being horses. When I saw the first small herd I stopped next to them and wound down the window so I could say hi. I should have realised that this was a bad idea after seeing reports of wild animals attacking tourists and game rangers that same week. Well the leader of this evil pack of equines decided to put his whole head inside the Trailblazer and sample the goods. It went for the steering wheel, first sniffing it and then it tried to bite it. Well I thought it did but it was actually just flapping it's lips all over it before turning it's attention to my face and crotch, I wasn't too worried about my face or man bits, I was worried about having to try and explain to GM's Product Communications Manager, Lunga Ntsendwana, that the damage to the Trailblazer's leather steering wheel was caused by the razor sharp incisors of one of the most feared predators on the planet. That would have been an odd conversation...
I wish I'd seen this sign on the way into the town!
After a look around we chilled in a pub watching the Durban July (which I won a few hundred bucks on after betting on the horses for the first time ever) until the after the sun had set, which was when our next adventure was set to start. Another thing that you can do in Kaapschehoop is go on a ghost tour. There's a company that does these tours but when my wife wanted to book with them they said they don't do groups of less than ten people. The company did put her in touch with someone else who would be willing to take us on the tour. This is where Vic came into the picture. In the dark of night, and with no streetlights, he took us on a walkabout through the small town regaling tale of murders, killings and ghost sightings. It was pretty cool. I would have preferred if he had a torch on hand or had told us to bring torches with us. Using cell phone torches just didn't cut, but it was a cool night nonetheless. After stumbling around in the dark for an hour or so and being completely terrified, not because of possible ghost sightings but because I was sure that damn horse was going to track me down in the dark and rip my head off, we headed back to Boven.
Cat, my wife, is a huge ancient Ancient Aliens fan and so anything out there that cannot be explained is a must see. As luck would have it, in Waterval Onder there's a place called Stone Circle. There was no way this could be missed. Lunch was booked at the venue, although upon arrival they had gotten things messed up and so the single visitor the day before was presented with a full spread for ten people and we were presented with a meal for one. After a bit of explaining we all had pizzas on the way, made up mostly from fresh ingredients grown at the venue. Not bad, even the chillies were good.
While the pizza was in the oven, Henlie Thomas who runs the place when owner Mike Tellinger is away, took us through to the small museum dedicated to the stone circles and the artifacts found at stone circle sites around the world. It was pretty interesting stuff, seeing the different things uncovered over the years that have no explanation certainly make you think. Also, I thought there would be a few of these sites scattered around the planet, but there are something like 4 million sites documented and more being found thanks to Google Earth letting people explore without having to physically go on an expedition.
An excerpt from the website www.michaeltellinger.com explains a little more;
"Scholars have told us that the first civilisation on earth emerged in a land called Sumer some 6000 years ago. The persistent research by South Africans Michael Tellinger, Johan Heine and a team of leading scientists, over a seven-year period, has resulted in astonishing new archaeological and scientific discoveries. It shows that the Sumerians and even the Egyptians inherited all their knowledge from an earlier advanced civilisation that lived at the southern tip of Africa more than 200,000 years ago… mining gold. These were also the people who carved the first Horus bird, the first Sphinx, built the first pyramids and built an accurate stone calendar right in the heart of it all. Adam’s Calendar is the flagship among millions of circular stone ruins, ancient roads, agricultural terraces and thousands of ancient mines, left behind by a vanished civilisation which they now call the First People. These were the ancestors of all humans today with an advanced knowledge of energy fields through planet Earth. They carved detailed images into the hardest rock, worshipped the sun, and were the first to carve an image of the Egyptian Ankh – key of life and universal knowledge, 200,000 years before the Egyptians came to light..."
Now I know there are loads of skeptics out there, but until anyone can explain to me where these structures came from and what they were used for, I'll keep an open mind. Anything is possible. Of course my wife was beside herself with excitement at going to see one of these stone circles just a few kilometers from where we were. These sites must have taken ages to build, nevermind the amount of time it would have taken to assemble all the flat stones used. It really does boggle the mind, especially when there are identical ones all over the world. How the hell did they communicate with each other to share the design? Luckily we were in the Trailblazer because Henlie needed to get to the site with us but had no transport there. A 7-seater definitely comes in handy. The main site the tour visits it just outside of a SAPPI plantation with a sand road for access, but it's quite a rocky one and so the Trailblazer was put into 4-high and the road immediately flattened out. The other people on the tour really battled in their little Daihatsu Sirion. I almost felt bad for them, but everyone knows you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.
Having a look at the aerial photos on Google makes the structures look flat, but some are actually over 9-feet high. Locally it was thought that tribesmen build them as cattle kraals, but evidence now shows that they used the already standing structures for this. They're completely sealed with no entrances or exits and in many cases are located on slanted ground unsuitable for cattle. If this interests you, there are sites all over SA that you can have a look at. I just love the idea that we may not be alone or that if we are, our history on this planet is completely different to what we've been lead to believe for so many years.
Dullstroom Bird Of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre
The following day the Dullstroom Bird Of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre was the destination my wife had set up on our itinerary. The roads there were all tarmac but I didn't mind some relaxing driving for a change. I couldn't really get the Trailblazer near and birds for some cool shots because it's a closed off venue and also putting a few tons of metal near injured and traumatised birds would have been rather silly, but I had more fun with my camera here than at any other stop. My absolutely awesome wife arranged for me to have a private showing of the various birds of prey, purely for me to get photos. The crew at the centre is awesome and they were so accomodating. I was left alone with two of the crew, my camera and some amazing birds for over an hour while the rest of the troop went to see the sights around the centre. I took full advantage and racked up a good few gigs worth of images. Birds are way more difficult than cars to shoot, especially a Peregrine Falcon at full speed.
While it's sad to see what happens to these birds out there thanks to our carelessness, it's awesome to see so many passionate people helping them recover. Having some of them in captivity is necessary as they're too injured be be released or they've imprinted on people and see themselves as one of us, something that can easily get them killed. It also helps create awareness on them and the organisation and the great work they're doing. I'll be trying to figure out a way to help raise money for the place in the near future. Magdali Theron helps run the place and she was the one (along with a volunteer) who was showing me the birds and getting them to do fly bys for the camera. I don't think I've ever met someone more passionate about what they do. When I was done with the private photography session it was time for the show that the public gets to watch, so I snapped even more pics of the birds. The family re-joined me to watch the show and a few locals and a bunch of wide-eyed Aussies also joined. If you ever manage to get out Dullstroom way, you simply must visit the centre, even if it's just to make a donation and not watch the actual show. I won't pretend to remember the names of all the birds I got pics of but there were some falcons, eagles, owls and the maddest bird ever, a Secretary Bird that really doesn't like snakes. I tried my best to get photos that do the beauty of the birds justice.
Dullstroom Riding Centre
The last item on our itinerary once again involved those most evil of beasts - horses. We headed through to Dullstroom Riding Centre where we were booked for an outride on horseback. I won't lie, I was slightly crapping myself. Besides the wild horses trying eat the steering wheel in the Trailblazer followed by my man bits as dessert, many years back my sister did horseriding and one fine day a while riding bareback a horse ran away with me on. I was convinced I'd be a soprano for the rest of my life. If that wasn't bad enough, one day she left me to wonder around the stables on my own with explicit instructions to not touch a horse between its ribs and hind leg. Of course as soon as my sister was out of sight I went over to the closest horse and shoved my finger in its side. That was the day I realised horse have teeth.
The Dullstroom Riding Centre was a bit of a mission to find because they had relocated from the address listed on their website, but we eventually found the entrance after a few phone calls. There was a long, winding sand road and as far as you could see, just hills, valleys and veld. I was convinced we were on the wrong road but decided to carry on with it because some sections looked like there were taken from a 4x4 trail, but nothing that the Trailblazer's 4-high couldn't handle. Eventually in the distance we spotted a house, some cows and of course, horses. Within 15 minutes the lot of us were saddled up and the ride was on. It was awesome, and the views seen were just too amazing. SA is a brilliant place and there are so many sights to see and things to do without breaking the bank or even the need to travel far.
I know how horsepower is measured on cars, but when my horse decided to do a bit of a gallop, I was more than impressed with just 1hp. I could feel it was holding back the timing too and that if it wanted to, it could really start to, well, run. The youngest rides horses every weekend, so she was in her element. She'd stay back with a guide and let the rest of us pull a lead and then she'd gallop at full steam to catch up. Horses can cover a lot more ground in a short space of time than I thought. The ride was around an hour long, and I could have honestly carried on all day. I didn't think I'd ever say that, but my horse was well behaved and that put me a lot more at ease that I thought I would be. It seems it's just those damn wild ones that you have to watch out for. There wasn't much I could do by way of photos, I wasn't going to take an DLSR along in case the horse had a misfire so I used my Samsung S4. I tried my best to take a pic of the dash but my seat wouldn't move far enough back...
From Dullstroom we headed back to Waterval Boven for a relaxing evening and to rest up properly for the journey home. We did find a sand road that cuts through the farms that chopped a good deal of distance off the trip back to Boven. It didn't save us any time of course but it was so worth it. Thanks to having the right car for the job we managed to do and see some amazing things and the best part about it all is that it's only a few hours away from Jo'burg. There's no excuse for not traveling in your own country and seeing the things that tourists come here for. With my wife's amazing, meticulous planning, an awesome family and the 2015 Chevrolet Trailblazer LTZ 2.8 Duramax Automatic, some ever-lasting memories were made. How can life get any better than this?