DOUBLE cab utes. Great, ain't they?
Ideal for the worksite, can lug a tonne in the tray and will tow mountains. Then there's the back row seats for the family and, these days, the cabins are pretty schmick too.
No wonder four-door utes are bloody everywhere, with a decent number - those of shiny chrome and blackened rims - never seeing an off-road trail, let alone a work site.
Many are being bought as pure lifestyle vehicles as likely to do a day's hard work as a bikini-clad Rich Kid of Instagram.
Why get one then? Well, double cab utes project the genuine "rugged lifestyle" pose most modern SUVs have eschewed; far too many of the latter watering down the utility bit with only two-wheel-drive, little ground clearance and next to no boot space or towing capacity.
There is another segment though: the ute-based seven-seat SUV. Just imagine, all that double cab ute toughness but with not just room for your kids, but their mates too. And with all the rear seats dropped you've a massive cargo space wrapped in a steel shell making your lifestyle stuff (bikes, boards, camping gear) more secure than in your exposed ute tray. Makes sense, no?
The ute-based SUV isn't a new idea, but in the last couple of years the market's been flooded with them. Good things, too: Toyota's Fortuner, Isuzu's MU-X, Mitsubishi's Pajero Sport and Ford's Everest built on each brand's respective one-tonners.
Holden used to have its 4x4 Colorado7 in the mix, but this was certainly dragging its heels in the shadow of the above rivals' new or recently refreshed offerings.
Colorado7 badge now dropped, here's the far sexier-named Trailblazer 4x4 seven-seater, based on the just-refreshed and much-improved Colorado ute. And it immediately looks a contender against these rival rugged large SUVs.
Available in LT and LTZ grades from $47,990 before on-roads, these Thai-built Trailblazers have upped the on-road user-friendliness over the Colorado7 thanks to a new chassis tune, electronic power steering and noise suppression. Cabin toys and luxury are certainly more SUV than work ute, too. Safety - key for family buyers - is 5 Star Ancap with seven airbags and decent active safety kit inclusions; plus it'll tow three tonnes.
The thinking family man's double cab ute alternative?
Aimed at families with older kids (or lots of them) who are weekend adventurers and likely to take bush-bound Aussie holidays, the cabin has been designed with comfort, safety and practicality in mind.
Living space for front occupants is markedly improved over the outgoing Colorado7 SUV, with a more car-like dashboard and soft-touch plastics, while overall design is cleaner and quite attractive with its sharp angles.
Central to its functionality are new and pretty sharp colour touchscreens (7-inch the LT and 8-inch the LTZ), featuring superb Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, allowing you to voice control your phone calls, text messages, maps, apps and playlist without ever taking your hands off the wheel.
Our test drive over bitumen and unsealed roads suggested many hours in the Trailblazer's saddle wouldn't be a problem on the bum and back comfort front, although the heated leather trim in the LTZ models added a welcome hint of luxury. Driving position is good, but a steering wheel that adjusted for reach as well as height would be welcome.
On the road
The Trailblazer was developed in tandem with Holden's new Colorado ute, featuring the same appreciated chassis and drivetrain revisions and re-engineering, albeit the SUV has comfier coil rather than leaf sprung rear suspension.
Key improvements include a new chassis tune with Holden engineer involvement, electronic power steering, a new CPA torque converter to reduce vibrations (and does a damn fine job), new engine and transmission mounts and a wind noise package.
Result is an impressively quiet cabin on- and off-road, and when using the 'Blazer as a highway cruiser it belies its ute roots well, feeling on a par with sealed road-specific SUVs on the well-insulated front.
It is a rugged 4x4 offering however, needing the macho capabilities not necessarily required from more squat large SUV options. Approach angle is 28.4-degrees, departure 25.6-degrees (LTZ), ground clearance is 218mm (LTZ) and wading depth 600mm. It'll also tow 3000kg.
Trade-off is an on-road drive typical of ute-based SUVs, that is a bit floaty over bitumen bumps and around corners, where the high-rider does start to lean if you push it. New electric power steering is a boon though, feeling very direct and weighting up nicely in the turns.
The Trailblazer feels at its best on an unsealed stretch, soaking up the bumps and remaining smooth and surprisingly quiet. We didn't have the chance to do any serious off-roading, but its Colorado ute twin proved it would venture over anything 99% of owners would ask of it with ease.
The engine remains the same 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel as found in the old Colorado7, boasting plenty of power and torque at 147kW and 500Nm.
For me it doesn't have quite the refinement of Toyota's excellent new four-cylinder diesel in its HiLux and Fortuner, but the Holden's donk is quiet enough unless you really stamp your right foot, but the revised six-speed auto cog-swaps smoothly to ensure things remain calm and you always have lumps of torque on hand.
You'll get a more car-like ride in non-ute based SUVs, but for its segment, the Trailblazer has certainly kept up with its opposition.
What do you get?
Entry-levels come with auto gearbox, 17-inch alloys, MyLink infotainment with 7-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection, reverse camera, rear park assist and LED daytime running lights.
An extra $4500 buys the LTZ which adds leather trim, heated front seats, 18-inch rims, an 8-inch screen with integrated sat nav and voice recognition, remote vehicle start via keyfob, rain sensing wipers and a suite of active safety including forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind zone alert and rear cross traffic alert. No auto tailgate is an oversight though.
The LTZ's spec is on a par with Ford's Everest Trend - a great car indeed, but the Blue Oval is nearly $10k more.
Versatility is key in these offerings, and with the third row of seats folded you score 878-litres of boot space (a bit off Ford Everest's 1050-litres), and the seat folding mechanism is smooth and requires little effort. Two travellers can drop all the rear seats for 1830-litres - the same as a Toyota LandCruiser Prado. With all seven seats used you've enough space for a small shop or a few sports bags and kit.
All too often the third row of seats in seven-seaters have chairs suitable for small kids only. The Trailblazer really impresses here, as even with my six-foot frame my head was nowhere near the roof, and although my knees were up against the seat in front, I'd tolerate a few hours' travel in Row Z if really needed.
Second row seating is very adult-friendly, with even the centre seat proving comfortable and spacious. Ceiling air vents for all seat rows is another win.
As for ownership, Holden's capped price servicing for life is appealing, while a quoted 8.6L/100km is typical for the segment.
Many, and all costing more than the sharply priced Holden. Similar grades to Trailblazer LTZ are Ford Everest Trend ($60,990), Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed ($52,750), Toyota Fortuner GXL ($54,990) and Isuzu MU-X LS-T ($54,000).
The name "Trailblazer" may sound tough and rugged, but these high-riding Holdens err towards a cleaner and more conservative exterior body style, bordering on the bland. But with a few rivals in the segment (mentioning no names, Fortuner and Pajero Sport) styled on the edgy and 'out there' side, the Trailblazer and its redesigned grille, fascia and bonnet will appeal to some with its conventionality.
Holden's on the assault with new products, a new image and new targets.
The Trailblazer enters a rampant SUV segment as a far-improved step-up over the outgoing Colorado7, and takes a strong fight to other ute-based seven-seat SUVs with its decent spec and a sharp price.
Safety-packed to appeal to families, smart cabin with usable seating for seven adults, latest smartphone tech and a much-improved driving experience show it's another new Holden worthy of consideration, as the brand's portfolio gets ever stronger.
Driving experience 14/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 18/20
Style and design 14/20
Model: Holden Trailblazer.
Details: Five-door, seven-seat 4x4 large SUV in LT and LTZ grades.
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3600rpm and peak torque of 500Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 8.6L/100km (combined).
Towing capacity: 3000kg (braked).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $47,990 (LT); $52,490 (LTZ).
What matters most
What we liked: Well-insulated cabin and torquey engine makes for easy cruising, nice steering, decent bump absorbsion off-road, LTZ's family-friendly safety kit, value for money, possible to sit adults in third row of seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
What we'd like to see: Less floaty on the bitumen but this is typical of ute-based SUVs, braver and tougher exterior design, auto tailgate for the LTZ.
Warranty and servicing: Three years/100,000km warranty. Servicing is every 15,000km/9 months, with capped price servicing for life. Cost is $349 for the first four services, $409 for the next three services.