High performance SUVs were a strange thing back in the early part of the new millenium. General Motors had just launched their newest midsize SUVs in 2002, the GMT360 lineup. The lineup included the new Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy (which would go on to win Motor Trend‘s 2002 SUV of the Year), and the Oldsmobile Bravada (notably, the last new Oldsmobile, which eventually became the Buick Rainier). But, no one quite knew about the trick that GM had up its sleeve for the TrailBlazer.
A few years after the launch of the successful GMT360, General Motors launched an all-new engine to replace the LS1. The new 6.0L LS2 became a big success as well, and ended up getting stuffed under the hood of the Chevrolet SSR, Corvette, and Pontiac GTO. Then, GM decided to drop it in the GMT360 Trailblazer, creating the SS. While it wasn’t the first performance SUV on the market, it was the first-ever (and so far, the only) SUV to carry the storied SS badge on its fenders. The Trailblazer SS got an engine virtually identical to the GTO, with 395hp and 400lbs/ft of torque. Although only ever offered with GM’s long-lived 4-speed automatic, it wasn’t at all a problem. Styling changes were aplenty, including a more aggressive front clip, front and rear valences, bigger wheels, and a lowered ride height all completed this truck’s package. Don’t expect quality inside, though, as GM didn’t make a lot of changes to the plastic-o-rama interior of the Trailblazer itself.
This truck’s performance numbers weren’t too bad either. RWD came standard, with 4WD as an option, through the use of a center differential by Torsen. Despite being stuck with the old 4-speed automatic transmission, the Trailblazer SS could hit 60 in less than 6 seconds, and run the quarter-mile in less than 14.5–respectable numbers for a two-ton chunk of pig iron. The brakes were also upgraded over the standard truck, and GM added a sport suspension to improve handling. However, it still leans just like the big, heavy lump that it is. It may not be a strictly straight-line performer, but the Trailblazer SS likely won’t keep up with a Porsche or Corvette on a mountain road without some serious stiffening and suspension upgrades.
Prices are all over the place for these. The SS is surprisingly common compared to its main rival, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee SRT8. A glance at various sources reveals that the going rate is anywhere from 15 to 30 grand, with good ones going for under $25K–for a decent Grand Cherokee, expect to pay a bit more. The best way to go would be to look for off-lease vehicles, as these tend to be abused a lot less due to the lease contract terms–and with these trucks being less than 5 years old, there are plenty of off-lease specials to be had. Overall, the Trailblazer SS represents a modern take on the old GMC Typhoon–and one that I’m thankful for.