I want to start this out by saying that I do not think what I am about to discuss is necessarily a bad thing. I’m all for cars with small engines, even to absurd extremes, and I realize that this sort of thing is not all that uncommon in Europe and Asia and most of the rest of the world, but, here in the United States of Generallybigthings, it’s kind of odd. What I’m talking about is the 2021 Chevy Trailblazer, and its bold turbocharged three-cylinder 1.2-liter engine option.
We’ve certainly had 1.2-liter cars in America, and still have them: the 2020 Mitsubishi Mirage has a 1.2-liter three-banger making 78 horsepower, in car that weighs 2,018 pounds. The Smart ForTwo only had a one-liter engine, but the gasoline one isn’t sold here anymore, Volkswagen’s smallest engine here is a 1.4-liter, even the Nissan Versa now comes with a 1.6-liter, and Ford no longer sells their nifty little one-liter three.
So I’m pretty sure that leaves the 2021 Chevy Trailblazer in a class of its own: a crossover with a 1.2-liter engine. It’s not like it’s that much smaller than its competitors, really, but it may be the most underpowered.
Honda’s CR-V, for example, is only 300cc bigger, but produces 190 HP compared to the Trailblazer’s (estimated) 137 HP. Now, 137 HP from a 1.2-liter engine is pretty good, in the right context—for example, a 2006 Scion xB makes 103 HP, but it’s only dragging around 2,425 pounds, giving each horse just 23.5 pounds to drag around.
On the 2021 base model Trailblazer LT FWD, the car weighs almost twice as much—4,189 pounds, meaning each of those 137 turbocharged ponies has to pull about 30.5 pounds.
That’s sort of a familiar number to me—my 1990 Nissan Pao with its 987cc four makes about 53 HP, and weighs about 1590 pounds, for an even 30 pounds per horsepower, just a shade better than the Trailblazer.
For the record, my Pao is not fast. And the idea that there may be a new vehicle I can beat off the line absolutely thrills me.
I think Chevy deserves to be commended for this bold choice, putting such a small engine in a 4,000-plus pound car, and I’m pretty sure this represents the greatest vehicle size-to-engine-displacement disparity of anything you can buy in the American mass market today.
I’d like to know how physically small that whole engine setup is; could Chevy pack it tight enough and put a false floor under the hood, making a frunk, VW Type 3-style? If they could that would wildly increase my level of interest in the Trailblazer.
Is there anything that beats that? Am I the only one that finds this perversely cool? Let me know, shut-ins!
CORRECTION/UPDATE: The 4,189 pound number is gross vehicle weight, as in fully loaded, not curb weight, which will be closer to 3,500, most likely. So, performance will be much better than my Pao, unladen!
ANOTHER UPDATE, FROM GM: In order to set the record straight, GM gave me the accurate figures, and took a nice little swipe at Ford:
Our Trailblazers with a 1.2L Turbo engine range from 2,996 lbs to 3,030 lbs (curb weight) with 137 hp. This is a 21.9 to 22.1 power to weight ratio. A better ratio than the 2006 Scion xB and Nissan Pao you referenced. Conversely, take a look at one of our competitors: the lightest application of the Ford EcoSport with 1.0L Turbo has 3,020 lb curb weight with 123 hp – 24.6 power to weight ratio.
Taking this a step further, Trailblazer is packed with great performance at 162 lb/ft of peak torque at 2500 RPMs with a 0-60 in 8.9 seconds – an improvement over the Trax. 1.3L models offer even more performance, with peak torque of 174 lb/ft available between 1600 and 4000 rpm.