OLD SCHOOL vs NEW SCHOOL: 2023 CHEVROLET BLAZER RS & 2023 LEXUS NX 450H+ PLUG-IN HYBRID
When we look down memory lane, the powertrain in vehicles certainly have come a long way from when a messily 150-horsepower was extracted from such a beastly 5.0-liter V8 engine. When the Japanese intersected the market in the 1980’s, four-cylinder engines became a popular commodity over the large gas guzzling eight-cylinders. That was, until the millennium came around and we started seeing electric and gasoline engines working together, granted it wasn’t quite the enthusiastic powertrain, but with over 40-mpgs in 2003, that was mind blowing capabilities. So here in the modern time of 2023, we’re looking at two vehicles with two different powertrains, showing where we’ve come and where we’re going, sort of.
First, the Chevrolet Blazer… it comes with its choice of a small, but mighty 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but the one we’re here to look at is the 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6 that has been around the block more times than Paris Hilton on MTV. There is a lot of history behind Chevrolets popular 3.6 engine as it is featured in several General Motor products including the Cadillac XT5 & XT6, the Buick Enclave, the Chevrolet Traverse, Colorado and even the Camaro. So needless-to-say, General Motors has had some time to work out its kinks… and boy they have.
The Blazer we have for this write up is the RS model, the sportiest version available starting at $44,195 – equipped with the optional all-wheel drive, Radiant Red tintcoat paint, 21-inch wheels, the Enhanced Convenience Package and Driver Confidence II Package, our total subject arrived with a price tag of $51,515. The RS model comes standard with that aforementioned 3.6-liter V-6 with 308-horsepower paired to fantastically tuned 9-speed automatic.
Our last experience with this engine was in the Cadillac XT5, and to put it so bluntly, it was a dramatic disappointment despite having 310-horsepower. However, here in the Chevrolet Blazer, it is a completely different outcome. Even with two less horsepower than the XT5, it is incredibly lively and spirited. It reminds us of why we appreciate the naturally aspirated engine, the power is always there, ready to go at any point the accelerator calls. And then there’s the part of the transmission that is utterly eager to engage the next gear – shift points are smooth, and quick to the response. It’s an SUV that is enjoyable to drive. Plus, the ability to go from 0-60 mph in under 6.0-seconds isn’t half bad either.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Lexus NX. The NX has a few more powertrain options than the Chevrolet Blazer with the choice between a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a turbocharged 2.5-liter, and a hybrid system. But what we’re looking at is completely new to the NX family, a Plug-In Hybrid noted as the NX 450h+.
The NX 450+ is a little more expensive than the Blazer, starting at $58,655, but does come standard with all-wheel drive. For this write-up, we too have the sportier version of the bunch, the NX 450+ F Sport Handling – adding all of the optional extras our total example arrived at $62,985.
The plug-in hybrid technology behind the NX 450+ hasn’t been around all that long with its first production being in the Toyota RAV4 Prime, only released a couple of years ago. The NX uses the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a 277 kW electric motor and Lithium-ion battery pack that makes up a grand sum of 304-horsepower. Delivery of power is far different from the Chevrolet Blazer as the NX uses a single-speed electrically controlled continuous variable transmission.
This setup is quite the fascinating spectrum, being both electric and gasoline powered, it carries the ability to obtain 37-miles of electric only range and a total fuel range exceeding 500 miles. To put that in perspective, that is a trip from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada and back, 10-hours of driving on one single tank… eventually you’ll have to use the restroom before the car does. Then there is the performance aspect, the NX 450+ is pretty darn quick, 0-60 mph in just under 6.0-seconds as well. And because it uses that single-speed CVT, power is always consistent without any interruption.
Looking beyond the powertrain for a moment, the Chevrolet Blazer isn’t as new to the market as the NX is. The Blazer was refreshed for 2023 updating its exterior features with a more premium look with better looking smooth LED daytime running lamps, a little nip & tuck in the bumper, LED taillights in the rear and new optional 20 & 21-inch wheels. Chevrolet also gave the interior a larger 10-inch screen that is more appropriate to the size of vehicle. Overall, the fit and finish of the Blazers interior is quite attractive with plenty of soft-touch materials on all the important bits and the seats are comfortable as well as supportive with a nicely open aired cabin.
The Lexus NX however is completely new from the ground up with this second generation coming out just last year, 2022. The NX 450+ F Sport Handling is by far the best looking NX expressing all its curves and lines from its Ultrasonic Blue paint and large black wheels. Inside, the cabin is dominated by the overpowering 14-inch multi-media display and modern design. The cabin too is utterly comfortable with body hugging seats that coddle you like an infant. The fit and finish is elegant with soft touch materials everywhere the naked eye could see. The only dislike I had for the NX 450+ was that for it being the sportier model that the electronic gear select could have a little more tactile engagement.
Experiencing both vehicles back-to-back helped me appreciate the past, present and future powertrains to come. While this isn’t necessarily a comparison against these two crossovers as their approach is to two very dissimilar demographics, I still sat back analyzing which one I would rather have.
My head had me leaning towards the Lexus NX with its near 40-mpg’s, its 36+ mile range of pure electricity, its sporty attributes and well-appointed interior. However, after seeing that I put far more miles on the Chevrolet Blazer, I realized, subconsciously, that was the vehicle I preferred to drive the most, despite its 19-mpg fuel consumption.
The Chevrolet Blazer is the SUV that shouldn’t be entertaining to drive, but somehow is with a tight steering system, confident chassis, and smooth ride. I guess when it comes to driving enjoyment, nothing can beat the joys of driving a naturally aspirated engine.
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