Chevy builds a muscle car out of a truck All-wheel drive is an option, but it just adds cost, weight and traction. By Scott Oldham At 130 mph, its electronically limited top speed, the 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS should be wandering around like a wino after a jug of dry chardonnay. But it isn't. Despite sharing aerodynamics with Carnegie Hall, Chevy's new muscle-bound SUV is dead stable and…hold on a second while I pass this truck…requires nothing more than a few fingertips on the steering wheel to keep it pointed straight down the road. Even when passing these 18-wheelers traveling at half our speed…like this one…it just pours past without getting…wait a second, here comes another one…pushed around by turbulence. Fact is, if it weren't for the roar of the airflow trying to dislocate the truck's large outside mirrors, our velocity would be completely transparent. To us, that is. Outside the confines of the TrailBlazer's leather interior, every trucker and highway patrolman between Barstow and Vegas is now on the lookout for the crazy bastards in the black SUV. Time for pie. Asylum is found in the Bun Boy, a Baker, California, landmark that's been feeding wayward motorists since 1926. There, within sight of the world's largest thermometer, we gorge on strawberry pie and reflect on the TrailBlazer SS, which is the first sport-utility to wear the iconic SS badge and the first truck developed by GM's Performance Division. Turns out the SS option package (option code G B4U) is much more than just a big engine, shiny wheels and steamroller rubber. For just $5,195 it adds a racetrack-tuned suspension, fade-resistant brakes, quick steering, a monochromatic exterior, a black mesh grille, well-shaped sport seats, and, of course, a big engine, shiny wheels and steamroller rubber. Plus, Chevy lets you order it on any short-wheelbase TrailBlazer, so you get to choose your trim level (LS, LT), your individual options and either rear- or all-wheel drive. Our test truck, a carefully optioned LT 2WD with heated seats and adjustable pedals (but no sunroof), proved to be a worthy addition to the Super Sport legacy. Mighty muscle Chevy kept the truck's exterior simple and understated, but aggressive. Notice the lack of body cladding and the missing roof rack. Four exterior colors are offered: black, blue, silver and white. "We were going to do it right, or we weren't going to do it at all," says Tom Wallace, the vehicle line executive of small and midsize truck at GM. "At first they wanted to use the 5.3-liter V8 and do nothing to the suspension. I said forget it." Instead of the 300-hp, 5.3-liter V8, which powers the TrailBlazer V8 model, Wallace fit the TrailBlazer SS with the 6.0-liter LS2 V8 that powers the Corvette and the Pontiac GTO. In this application, the all-aluminum pushrod engine pumps out 391 hp at 5,400 rpm and 395 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, which is a little shy of its output in the Vette and Goat. According to Wallace, who will take over as chief engineer on the Corvette January 1, the drop in power is due to packaging issues. Because of firewall clearance a different intake manifold had to be fitted, and a single exhaust was necessary because of the location of the truck's fuel tank. Although the exhaust uses a unique single straight-through muffler and resonator design to give the engine an epic roar, its lone chrome exhaust tip would be more appropriate on a fast and furious Honda than a 400-hp muscle truck. Two pipes poking out from under the TrailBlazer's rear bumper would certainly be more appropriate. Or better, four. Four speeds, no waiting Sport seats and tweaked instrumentation dress up the interior with form and function. There's also SS badging on the four-spoke steering wheel and dash. Also borrowed from the GTO is the TrailBlazer's four-speed automatic transmission, which is electronically controlled and tuned for firm gear changes and wonderfully quick response. Full throttle upshifts are neck-snapping good and always right on the V8's 6,500-rpm redline. But the best part is how quick the transmission kicks down on the highway. Despite the truck's steep 4.10 rear axle ratio, which puts the engine up near 3,000 rpm at 80 mph, just a quick jab of throttle gets you 3rd gear and all the acceleration you could want. If you live near the North Pole order the all-wheel drive, otherwise save the $2 grand and go for a rear-wheel-drive example like our test vehicle. For bad weather, the standard traction and stability control should be more than enough, plus there's a small button on the shifter to disable those electronic party poopers. Tap it once and the traction control shuts off, hold it for several seconds and the stability system takes a nap. Now you can do hard launches and smoky burnouts from dawn to dusk if that's your thing. Don't worry, a stronger 9.5-inch rear end and an indestructible Eaton limited-slip differential are also part of the package. More than just muscle Under that oversized engine cover is essentially the same 6.0-liter V8 that powers the Chevrolet Corvette, SSR, and Pontiac GTO. Here it's rated at 391 hp. But smoking those 20-inch Goodyears into oblivion is just one arrow in the TrailBlazer's quiver. Impressive handling, a refined ride and surprising comfort are also part of the SS's repertoire. Bilstein shocks with SS-specific valving work with 25-percent firmer springs (conventional coil in front and load leveling air springs in back), which also lower the vehicle about an inch. Everything from the jounce bumpers to the amount of rebound travel has been modified, and the front stabilizer bar is 10-percent thicker. Although the ride can get a bit choppy over 80 mph, the ride up to that point is firm but comfortable. Body motions are extremely well controlled, and there's very little lean during hard cornering. This is a truck you can toss around like a sport sedan. To improve the steering, nearly every part of the system, from the ratio to the power-steering pump, was either replaced or extensively tweaked. And the results are astounding. It now has just the right heft, quickness and communication. After months of testing, which included time on Germany's legendary 12.5-mile-long Nürburgring, the TrailBlazer's front brakes were dumped for larger 12.8-inch front rotors and twin-piston calipers. Wallace and his team of gearhead engineers also equipped the TrailBlazer SS with a larger master cylinder and the same front brake pad material that's used on a Z51 Corvette. The rear disc brakes also get a more aggressive pad, but are otherwise unchanged. ABS is standard. Runs with a Charger R/T Although other colors are offered, black seems to suit this truck best. Although it's easy to figure the TrailBlazer SS as a rival of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT-8, it's more fun to think of it as the Dodge Charger R/T fighter Chevy-heads have been clamoring for. No, we're not crazy. Check the stats. They perform about the same, cost about the same, and both wear iconic nameplates from the muscle car era of the 1960s. Our TrailBlazer, which stickered for $37,955, accelerated to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.4 seconds at 96.3 mph. The last Hemi-powered Charger R/T we tested hit 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and blitzed the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 98.6 mph. Good race, huh? The two would also be bumper to bumper on a mountain road. The lower and lighter Charger did out-slalom the TrailBlazer, but not by much (61.8 mph vs. 60.3 mph), while the big black truck won the 60-mph-0 braking contest (118 feet vs. 121 feet). Cool. While we expect the 425-hp SRT-8 Grand Cherokee to out-perform both, its base price is over $39,000, and it's only available with all-wheel drive. Plus, the TrailBlazer offers 81 cubic feet of cargo room and can tow 6,700 pounds. Two specs neither Mopar can compete with. Wait, there's more These six-lug, six-spoke polished 20-inch wheels are standard, and wear Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires sized 255/50R20. You know, it's been 10 years since Chevy offered a V8-powered rear-wheel-drive sedan. Remember the 1996 Caprice-based Impala SS? Well, you've just met its successor. Chevy says it will build as many as it has demand for. Our only exterior complaint is the single exhaust. Although the chrome tip is large and attractive, a truck with this much rumble and performance should have dual pipes. What Works: Strong acceleration, V8 rumble, firm shifting transmission, supportive sport seats, understated exterior, good value. What Needs Work: Single exhaust looks wimpy, highway ride gets choppy over 80 mph. Bottom Line: A true muscle car with 81 cubic feet of cargo room and a 6,700-pound towing capacity.