When Chevrolet introduced the Trailblazer Super Sport for the 2006 model year, the term “performance SUV” wasn’t really a thing. In fact, the Trailblazer was the first SUV to be given the SS badge. This was a big deal at the time, and to this day, a used Chevy Trailblazer SS still hold a lot of value.
They hold that value because they’re worth it. The “TBSS,” as they are known by enthusiasts, remains a platform with incredible potential and immense practicality – not to mention good looks. But after the Trailblazer SS was unveiled, other performance SUVs began to be offered as well, including some that, at least on paper, looked to deliver a real challenge to the original SUV speed demon. These days the competitor SUVs are far cheaper than when they first appeared. But is the TBSS’s reign at an end?
To understand what made the Trailblazer SS an act worth imitating, we need to get under that stout bodywork and see what makes the TBSS such a standout vehicle. It featured a variety of mechanical attributes that no SUV had yet combined into a single package. None of these individual elements are overwhelmingly special or even technically advanced, but when combined into a well-engineered package, they created a new sub-segment in the boundlessly popular SUV segment.
That said, if one of the Trailblazer SS’s attributes did have to be picked out as the biggest draw, it would be the LS2 engine. This six-liter V8 uses an aluminum engine block to improve the power to weight ratio and vehicle balance. Perhaps most telling of all is that this engine is lifted directly from the C6 Corvette that had only just recently gone on sale when the Trailblazer SS was unveiled. No matter what car it’s in, the LS series of Chevy small-block V8s is legendary and is widely seen as one of the best engines ever made.
The LS series gained this reputation by being mechanically simple, compact, lightweight, and reliable. On top of all that, they are also incredibly cheap to buy, maintain, and modify, all while being capable of producing massive amounts of power with very little effort. There are thousands of LS-swaps a year globally, where all kinds of vehicles, from Fords to Porsches to classic Lamborghinis, have their less powerful and often less reliable engines replaced with an LS small-block. But while it can take weeks of time and thousands of dollars to swap an LS into a vehicle, the Trailblazer SS comes with one already installed.
What is harder to retrofit onto a vehicle is an all-wheel drive system. Snaking through the underside of a vehicle to retrofit this into most cars or crossovers would be a monumental undertaking. That said, being able to deliver power to all four wheels dramatically aids acceleration, as well as all-weather power delivery. As with that wonderful LS2 engine, the TBSS comes from the factory with an all-wheel drive option. This lets the truck put its power to the ground without the need for racing slicks, even when that LS2 has been lightly or moderately modified.
The LS2 makes the Trailblazer SS fast, but the all-wheel drive system makes it fast everywhere, on street tires no less. This is the combination of attributes that makes the Trailblazer SS so stunningly and surprisingly capable at the drag strip. But those aren’t the truck’s only special attributes, and the drag strip is not the only place this capable SUV can put the smackdown on its rivals.
Chassis and Interior
The Trailblazer SS might be based on something of a proto-crossover, but there was a long list of changes made to make a big truck dance like a ballerina. Like the standard Trailblazer the TBSS is based on, it uses old-school body-on-frame construction. However, the original Trailblazer uses the first GM SUV platform that isn’t simply a modified pickup frame. The Trailblazer is built on a better-optimized platform that offers the opportunity for better rigidity than if it was simply a pickup with a cab that ran the length of the frame.
This better foundation serves as a great platform for the TBSS’s modifications over the standard Trailblazer. These include stiffer shocks and shorter springs to lower and stabilize the truck, as well as larger and more capable brakes to get the SUV’s heavy weight stopped in a hurry. This is all topped off with wider and stickier factory tires, completing the truck’s transformation into a street prowling, track-eating sleeper.
On the inside, the TBSS continues to be a special machine. Just like the standard Trailblazer, the TBSS has a comfy and utilitarian interior, though with available leather. But while the standard Trailblazer had quite the conventional presentation, the TBSS features a white-faced tachometer and SS badging on the steering wheel, just to remind you that what you’re driving is good for more than just the school run.
When the Trailblazer SS first came out, every other domestic SUV was indeed used for just the school run. Sure, a few found their hands into off-roaders, but the explosion in SUV popularity wasn’t because people wanted to go off-roading but because they wanted to look like off-roaders. While doing the school run.
This family-friendly status quo is quite visible in the SUVs available at the time the TBSS came out. The fourth-generation Ford Explorer’s most powerful available engine was the pathetically underpowered but reliable Modular 4.6-liter V8, which produced a hundred horsepower less than even the stock LS2 in the Trailblazer’s super sporty variant.
After the collective American auto industry saw the success of the Trailblazer SS, however, the competition was quite forthcoming. The best SUV variant that came out of this wave of competitive designs was the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8. This was a HEMI V8-powered all-wheel drive luxury Jeep that had both the power and drive system to give the TBSS a serious run for its money. At least, that was true when both trucks were new. These days, in the used market, things are a little different. FCA-built vehicles and drivetrains like the ones found in the SRT-8 Grand Cherokee have proven to be less reliable overall than the stubbornly dependable LS engine of the Trailblazer SS.
When new, the Grand Cherokee was indeed a little faster than the Trailblazer it was designed specifically to defeat, but these days none of these vehicles are going to be stock for very long after an enthusiast gets their hands on one. And while the HEMI V8 is a beefy power proposition, the LS is much cheaper and far easier to make into a true track-dominating power plant. There is no doubt that the TBSS has earned its legendary reputation.
A True Super Sport SUV
So yes, the Trailblazer SS is still the best performance SUV you can buy used. This is true partially because of the mechanical blessings bestowed upon it by the GM engineers who designed it and partially because it has a vast expanse of aftermarket parts available for it and the community to back it up. It is also one of the cheapest factory performance SUVs on the market right now, despite having incredible potential and performance credibility. The only vehicles cheaper are used European performance SUVs that are only cheap because they require their purchase price every year in maintenance. It was true when it first appeared, and it is true now, the Trailblazer SS is the best performance SUV buy.