SUV Comparison: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer vs. 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
|driving.ca 17 Jul 2019 at 11:28|
Welcome to Dude Said, Punk Said — a special series devoted to skewering the automotive ramblings of young punk Nick Tragianis with the infinite wisdom of old dude Brian Harper. This week, the duo see if Hyundai’s all-new Santa Fe can defend its title as the superior two-row family SUV against the reborn Chevrolet Blazer.
Brian Harper: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: mid-sized sport-utes are the workhorses of the entire SUV market — the high riding, trailer towing, wagon-shaped family haulers. They usually aren’t sexy; they’re not (with some exceptions) overpowered or overpriced. They just quietly go about their business.
And it is one crowded segment, with about 20 nameplates — Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Kia Sorento currently the most popular — all fighting for market share. This field has been substantially increased in the past year or so with additions such as the Volkswagen Atlas, Honda Passport and Subaru Ascent, plus the Chevrolet Blazer, which we going to put up against one of the established players, the aforementioned Santa Fe. Initial thoughts, kid?
Nick Tragianis: It’s a crowded segment for sure, but while three-row family haulers are a dime a dozen, let’s focus on a pair of two-row trucksters, specifically the Santa Fe and Blazer. Both are all-new for 2019 and both have the same mission statement — to haul your family in relative ease and comfort — but they go about doing so in very different ways. We’re no strangers to the Hyundai; and the Santa Fe came out on top, because it’s just a no-frills sport-ute that does what it’s supposed to very well, even if it’s a little uninspiring in the powertrain department.
Depending on the trim, the Santa Fe comes with either a normally aspirated 2.4-litre four-cylinder with 185 horsepower, or a 2.0L turbo-four pumping out 235 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Our fully loaded Ultimate tester was equipped with the latter; it’s smooth and easy to live with on city streets, but when you need a burst of power to merge onto or pass someone on the highway, throttle response is dull. Switching the Santa Fe’s drive mode into Sport sharpens it a touch, but otherwise it feels a bit lackluster on the highway — and that’s too bad, because the Santa Fe is otherwise a fantastic cruiser. The eight-speed automatic operates smoothly and invisibly, the soft suspension soaks up bumps and rough pavement well, and wind noise barely filters into the cabin. As a family road-tripper, the Hyundai excels. Pun intended. So, what’s so special about the Blazer, old dude?
BH: It’s not as though Chevrolet is lacking in SUVs and crossovers. God knows every niche of the entire segment has been filled, from the diminutive Trax to the large-and-in-charge Suburban. And if it doesn’t wear a Chevy badge, one of GM’s other divisions — Buick, Cadillac, or GMC — can pick up the slack. Yet, Chevrolet has seen fit to slot in a new, mid-sized sport-ute with an old name, splitting the difference in size between the Equinox and Traverse .
This newest Blazer is nothing like the old Blazers — neither the full-size K5 Blazer, based on the C/K pickup chassis and built from 1969 to 1999, nor the compact S-10 Blazer, based on the S-10 pickup and built from 1983 to 2005. No, this one is built on the same platform as the GMC Acadia and the Cadillac XT5. Power comes from either a 193-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder or an optional (and plenty punchy) 3.6L V6 with 308 horsepower, which was the engine we tested here. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard; a twin-clutch AWD system is available.
Yet the powertrain, which certainly trumps the Santa Fe’s for acceleration, smoothness and hauling ability, is not the main story. The most interesting feature is the Blazer’s sharp styling, a more radical departure compared with the rest of the bowtie brand’s middle-of-the-road crossover lineup. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what I behold are sharp styling cues liberally borrowed from the Camaro. It’s certainly eye-catching, especially in RS trim, with the blacked-out features and when painted in the tester’s bold shade of red — although the macho pony car aggressiveness is somewhat exaggerated when stretched out over the Blazer’s slightly longer length and wider body. Still, GM’s design department got the job done; in a sea of two-box sameness the new Chevy certainly stands out.
NT: The Blazer certainly looks distinctive, and the 3.6L V6 definitely has the advantage over the Santa Fe’s turbo-four not only in output, but also towing capacity — the Hyundai can pull up to 3,500 pounds, versus 4,500 for the Blazer. It also deserves kudos for infotainment; the latest iteration of MyLink is quick to respond, easy to use, and the touchscreen is crisp and sharp. A physical tuning knob would be nice, but it’s definitely a significant improvement over previous iterations. Still, all this doesn’t make up for the bones I have to pick.
Let’s start with the interior, shall we? For a hair under $50,000, the Blazer misses the mark for a few reasons — the fit and finish and materials feel cheap, the climate control buttons on the centre stack are tiny and it’s smaller than the Santa Fe. The Blazer has a bit more headroom than the Santa Fe, and offers 864 litres of cargo space seats-up and 1,818 seats-down. However, the Santa Fe punches in with 1,016 litres seats-up and 2,019 seats-down.
On top of that, the Blazer is missing a few key standard features that makes the Santa Fe a great cruiser — cooled front seats, heated rear seats and a nifty 360-degree camera system, plus adaptive cruse control, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. Those goodies are standard on the Santa Fe Ultimate, which tops out at exactly a loonie below $45,000, but are optional on the Blazer.
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BH: You missed the Blazer’s built-in Wi-Fi hotspot with available 4G LTE data but, other than that, I have a hard time faulting your criticisms, kid. I expected more than sea of black — with a few red trim bits to supposedly offset the monotony — especially considering GM’s ambitious sticker price for the RS ($46,300), the tester further equipped with a $2,795 Sun and Wheels package that includes a panoramic sunroof as well as 21-inch gloss black aluminum wheels.
Here’s the thing. GM has mainstream crossovers and SUVs, ones more likely to compete with the Santa Fe and other traditional family-oriented competitors. The Blazer is clearly designed to be a more aggressive presence in the mid-sized segment. Up until the end of May, some 7,000 sales have been recorded in Canada, not a bad start for a brand-new product. With that said, the Santa Fe is both less polarizing style-wise and a better value. As long as trailer towing isn’t a big deal, its refined manners, roomy cabin and copious creature comforts make it a safe, dependable bet for most.
NT: In this rare moment of clarity, I agree with you, old dude. The Blazer may offer the superior powertrain, but the Santa Fe is the smarter choice all around. And if you need the extra towing capacity, step up to the Hyundai Palisade — you get an incredibly upscale interior, an extra row of seats, and it’ll still cost less than the Blazer.