Chevy Blazer packs versatility

By , Automotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor

Based on the S-10 truck chassis, the new Chevrolet Blazer is a junior-size, all-terrain vehicle which comes as either a 2-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive, depending on how you plan to use it.

Obviously the new mini-Blazer lacks the overall room and gutsy performance of the full-size Blazer, yet it's kinder at the fuel pump and still gives enough performance so that most drivers will find the adjustment easy from ''big'' to ''small.''

It is 15.3 inches shorter and 14.8 inches narrower than its big brother. At the same time, floor space is reduced by only 4.8 square feet, yet load floor length is actually increased by 9.4 inches because the rear seat folds flat.

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At 6.4 inches, the ground clearance is enough to get you off the highway so long as the trail isn't too rough.

True, the mini-Blazer is not a sports car, but neither is the big Blazer. Thus, steering is less precise than a sports car, but the Blazer still does its job well. The vehicle isn't designed for performance tricks on the blacktop. It's designed for the trip to the lakeside, the back-woods logging trail, or the blacktop and concrete of the Interstate.

The switchover from ''2-wheel-drive high'' to ''4-wheel-drive high'' is as easy as shifting gears and, like shifting gears, you can make the move while rolling down the road - even as high as 55 m.p.h. To shift into ''4-wheel low,'' however, you first have to stop - and then make your move.

Room is sufficient, especially in the front. Naturally, when a vehicle is downsized, some space disappears. In total, the manufacturer has done a good job.

As to fuel economy on the road, the Chevrolet mini-Blazer is not a minicar, and its fuel mileage reflects that fact. A combination of highway and local-type driving gave an m.p.g. figure of about 17.

Base engine is 2 liters and rated at 83 hp., except in California, where a 1. 9-liter engine is standard. For the driver who wants a little more pep in the performance, a 2.8-liter V-6, rated at 110 hp., is available.

Standard gearbox is a 4-speed manual, although a 5-speed manual is an option, as is a 4-speed automatic.

Base price is $9,433.24 - why does GM tack the pennies on its price list? - although the options can jack up the price fast.

With the Tahoe package ($576), air conditioning ($690), folding rear seat ($ 325), locking differential on the rear axle ($230), and operating convenience package ($300) - there's a lot more as well - the sticker price runs up to $14, 641.95.

There are those pennies on the invoice once again!

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