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1994 Chevrolet Blazer TurboDiesel 4x4 Review

by Ted Laturnus

Although mini-vans such as the Plymouth Voyager, Ford Aerostar, Toyota Previa and Mazda MPV are the transportation of choice for many families these days, there are other, equally versatile, rigs out there that can do family duty as well as take you into the backroads or get you home when the snow piles up.

Four-wheel-drive wagons, like the full-size Chevrolet Blazer, can be had with a mind-boggling choice of options and features. Everything from seating for six to upgraded interior trim to trailer-towing packages, and, in the case of the Blazer, a turbocharged 6.5 litre diesel engine that could probably tow an ocean liner if it had to.

When you enter the realm of full-size 4x4 rigs, you're going beyond mere transportation. This isn't just car or truck territory here; we're talking equipment, where things like gross vehicle weight, torque output, vehicle dimensions, payload, and standard features actually mean something. The fact that these rigs also have twin cup-holders, vanity mirrors and fold-down rear seats is almost a bonus. The real question is: will it get a family of six and all their luggage home from the airport during a sudden spring blizzard? Will it plough through deep mud and sand? Will it climb over a washed-out backroad? Can it slip into four-wheel-drive easily? Can the engine stand prolonged low-rpm use? In the case of the Chevy Blazer TurboDiesel, the answers to those questions go something like this: like walking the dog, no problem, like ringing a bell, as easy as cutting butter with a hot knife, and you're kidding, right?

The Blazer (officially designated the K-1500 Blazer) is a full-size, two-door sport utility wagon, and comes with two engine choices: a 210-horsepower, 5.7 litre gas V8 and a 180-horsepower, 6.5 litre diesel V8. The gas engine outpoints the diesel in horsepower, true, but in terms of torque, which is the amount of power it takes to get the vehicle moving, and is really the important factor to consider here, the diesel leaves the gas engine in the dust. With 360 foot/pounds of torque at 1700 rpm, the turbo-diesel gives you full power, almost immediately. Since most engines idle at around 1000 rpm; this means that this particular turbo-diesel hits optimum engine power with the merest touch on the gas pedal. It has glow-plugs that take nine seconds to warm up when the engine is cold, clatters to life in the morning and announces its presence a couple of blocks away.

You can order either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission with the TurboDiesel Blazer. My test rig had the automatic, which has a column-mounted shift lever, and, all things considered, it'd be my first choice. Four-wheel-drive can be had through a floor-mounted lever that has three basic positions: 2WD, 4WD high-range, 4WD low-range. You can get into high range - and back again - while moving at any speed, but the rig must be stopped for low-end grunt power. This what General Motors call their Insta-Track system. The rest of us know it as shift-on-the-fly. GM has been building the Blazer for 25 years, and, although the '94 version is much more refined than its predecessors, the basic design and function of it hasn't changed all that much. It can still be had with a front bench seat and fold-down rear seat, and will comfortably seat five or six adults. Large human beings will be pleasantly surprised at how much head and elbow room there is inside. Storage space is generous: over six feet of length with the back seat folded down and four feet of width between the rear wheel wells for a total of almost 100 cubic feet. GM offers a lengthy array of options and trim levels, and you can order a bare-bones version, the slightly more opulent Silverado, or the loaded Sport model, which is what I had this time around. Among other things, it came with a huge centre console-cum-storage bin, twin armrests for the front seats, two-piece rear tailgate, twin cup-holders, air conditioning, power windows, full instrumentation, trailering package, power mirrors and upgraded stereo. Options include roof rack, rear window defogger, and power seats. My fully-equipped Sport had a price tag of $36,478.

I think what I like the best about the Blazer TurboDiesel is its size. In the politically-correct 1990s, large vehicles are not viewed with affection, but the Blazers size and height gives you a definite advantage in traffic, where, let's face it, most of its time will be spent. You step up into the Blazer and can see over the roof of everything but commercial trucks. And this is a safe rig. Although it does not come with airbags, you can order anti-locking brakes, and with its size and heft, the Blazer make you feel like you're riding in something virtually impregnable. I also grew to really appreciate the ease with which it negotiates the most congested streets. Make no mistake, this is an extremely easy vehicle to drive. And on the highway, the turbodiesel is in its glory: 100 km/h equals an engine speed of 2500 rpm. Set it on cruise control, and the Blazer could loaf its way from coast to coast without even thinking twice. Cruising range is well over 600 miles.

A few criticisms, however. First and foremost, I fought with the seat belt of my test rig every step of the way. The driver's side belt simply would not recoil and when released, would just lie off to the side like a dead snake, and would always seem to get caught in the door when it was closed. I also think General Motors could invest in some new radio controls; four buttons on the radio just isn't enough.

Otherwise, the Blazer Turbo Diesel is surprisingly driveable, and offers an attractive combination of comfort, security and versatility.

Equipment never had it so good.

AT A GLANCE

Type: Full-size 4WD utility wagon Drivetrain: Rear-wheel-drive w. on-demand 4WD; 6.5 litre Turbo-diesel v8 engine; four-speed automatic transmission Fuel consumption: 16.1 L/100 km (city), 12.1 L/100 km (hwy). Safety features: Optional anti-l;ocking brakes, three-point rear seat belts Price: $24,500 base

THE COMPETITION


ModelPrice RangeComments
Ford Bronco$22,800 to $29,100Very similar in dimensions and design,
no turbo-diesel available, also offered as two-wheel-drive.
GMC Yukon$24,500 to $32,000The Yukon is identical to the Blazer in every way,
with the same options and features.

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