In the world of midsize SUVs, the is a worthy contender. But it has a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out.

First, the third-row seat is a nice feature. But, when combined with the headrests, it makes it difficult to see out of the rear window. To solve this problem, I folded down the third-row seat and kept it that way for the entire week. Seat belts pose another problem. Instead of attaching to the B-pillar, they attach to the side of the seat. While this sounds nitpicky, searching for your seat belt is annoying, and my other passengers voiced the same sentiment. And the gearshift, which sits on the center console, has no gear demarcations to let you know which gear you're in. To confirm gear position, you have to look at the instrument panel. I adjusted to this after a couple of days, but still continued to look down when shifting gears.

All that aside, the Trailblazer EXT is powered by a 4.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine which provides 270 hp at 6,000 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. While this gives the Trailblazer fairly good get-up-and-go, I muttered to myself that it would have been nice to have a V8 under the hood. Lo and behold, Chevy recently announced the 2003 Trailblazer EXT will carry a V8 (optional) that puts out 290 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque.

The rear-wheel-drive Trailblazer EXT carries a four-speed automatic transmission with electronically controlled overdrive and a torque-converter clutch. The SUV rides on an independent, double A-arm suspension up front, and a five-link, solid axle with stabilizer bar in the rear. Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion steering gives control and a fairly tight turning radius. According to Chevy engineers, a stiffer, hydroformed frame contributes to the smooth ride and handling. And, all things considered, the Trailblazer handles well for a midsize truck. My second-row passengers reported plenty of leg and headroom, as well as a comfortable, smooth ride.

For safety, the Trailblazer comes standard with dual-stage front and side air bags, and three-point seat belts for all seats, including the entire third row. Four-wheel ABS is standard.

As far as interior space goes, folding down the third-row seat frees up 61.6 ft3 for hauling equipment. A removable cargo shelf works when the third-row seat is up, and is easily reached by lifting the rear window. When the third-row seat is folded, I found it best to take the cargo shelf out of the truck completely, as it just takes up extra space in the cargo area.

The Trailblazer EXT comes loaded with standard equipment, including heated power mirrors, a one-year OnStar "safe and sound" plan, AM/FM stereo with CD player, dual-zone air conditioning, and 17-in. aluminum wheels. The only options are a locking-differential rear axle ($270), and traction control ($195). Base price for the 2WD Trailblazer EXT is $30,785. Add on option and destination charges, and the final tally is $31,945.