Holden refines its Trailblazer

Peter Atkinson
The Holden Trailblazer, a full-sized SUV

This is the story of a humble ute that grew up to become an SUV.

In these days of fluid identities and gender dysphoria, it should come as no surprise when something as macho as a ute starts to display a softer, more delicate side.

After all utes have been doing this sort of thing for a while now. Toyota's iconic HiLux workhorse spawned an SUV derivative called the Fortuner. Likewise Isuzu's MU-X grew from the D-Max ute - and Ford's Everest seven-seater is based on the hugely successful Ranger ute.

Holden's rugged new Trailblazer follows the same recipe, but is modern and old-school all at the same time.

Based on the tough-looking Colorado ute, the Trailblazer has replaced another ute-based SUV, the Colorado 7 - in Holden's ever-more eclectic line-up.

Along with an updated design, some improved electronic safety, driver aides and a decent swag of upgraded equipment, Holden hopes the new model will complement its smaller, more city-focused SUV, the Equinox.

And it seems well placed to do just that.

The Trailblazer is big, if not particularly refined, and rugged, if not all that pretty.

And despite the fact that it borrows its name from one of America's most famous brands - the Chevy Trailblazer - this one actually hails from a factory in Thailand.

How about that? An Aussie SUV, built in Thailand and wearing a nameplate direct from the good old USA. Small world, indeed.

Despite its mixed heritage, the Trailblazer represents a solid step up from the Colorado 7 it replaces. It's no Range Rover, but with a starting price of $47,990 for the basic LT model, tested here, nor is it meant to be.

Yes, its robust, load-carrying suspension delivers a firmer, less compliant ride than the phalanx of urban SUVs on the market. But like the ute upon which it is based, there's a growing sense of sophistication around these vehicles - with electronic "shift on the fly" all-wheel-drive systems; hill-start and descent-control functions and the family-friendly flexibility of seven seats.

Still, you shouldn't expect too much luxury treatment.

It's a bit old school, if you like. No frills.

The 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel - shared with the Colorado - is workmanlike and effective, if falling short of best-in-class. Well suited, though, to plugging through the mud and slush on weekend adventures, when more car-like SUVs wouldn't dare to tread.

The engine sounds more clattery, with more vibration at idle, than the bulk of the diesels found in SUVs these days. The six-speed auto transmission is functional but, once again, feels a little bit agrarian in the Trailblazer.

There's the rudimentary presentation of the cockpit - from the eighties-style gear-shifter and handbrake arrangements to the rather hard, plasticky feel of the dash. The steering wheel is big and chunky and lacks any reach adjustment, making it tricky to find the perfect driving position.

None of this makes the Trailblazer a bad thing. In fact, it makes the car even more genuine - and hence even more desirable - to a certain part of the market. We're talking tradies who love nothing better than roughing it in a beachside campsite - surrounded by mates or family - when their working week is done.

It does deliver all the practicalities and essentials, though.

Holden proudly points out that rear park assist with reversing cameras are standard across the range - as they should be in a big family machine such as this. Incidentally, those third-row seats are a kids-only zone , but when folded away allow a huge load in the cargo compartment.

Even in its most basic form, the Trailblazer brings Apple Car Play integration, accessed via an attractive touch-screen MyLink control pad - with a seven-inch screen in the LT expanding to eight-inch in more expensive models.

Step up to the more expensive LTZ and you can expect leather appointed seats (with electronic adjustment for driver), satellite navigation, voice recognition, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning and cross-traffic alert.

Ok, the Trailblazer's transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan might still be a little way off. But it's a big, friendly thing that charmed us more the longer our week-long test continued.

That conversion to full SUV status might still be a way off yet.

HOLDEN TRAILBLAZER LT

HOW BIG? Decidedly so - almost five metres long and weighing 2.2 tonnes. But it will swallow up a full family plus a couple of guests and their gear.

HOW FAST? Not very. The diesel engine has plenty of low-down grunt but lacks the acceleration of some European rivals.

HOW THIRSTY? Official fuel consumption is 8.6L/100km, which is pretty decent for a vehicle of this size and versatility.

HOW MUCH? The basic LT will set you back $47,990 plus onroad costs; while the better-equipped LT-Z is about five grand more.