Before buying any new vehicle, I do an incredible amount of research, and test drive a number of similar vehicles (which for me involves a lengthy test involving flat-out acceleration, cornering at speed and panic braking). I talk with service techs and car enthusiasts about potential problems.
I was aware that GM had issues with the computers on the Trailblazer/Envoy vehicles not being set properly. I sought out a triple-A rated dealership that had technicians specially trained in the proper setting of the 2002 and later Trailblazer and Envoy computers.
We had previously driven 8 other SUV's, and found nothing even close to the Envoy in power (even with the 6), ride, feel and plush interior.
We bought our 2003 Envoy in the early summer of 2003, and to date have not had a single problem of any kind with it. I just did a 100,000 mile bumper-to-bumper check-up, and found that all the original hoses, shocks, serpentine belt and brake pads are still in excellent condition. The A/C has never required service, and the car has never even had an alignment. I have yet to replace the spark plugs, and we still get 24mpg on the highway.
We have never been more pleased with any new vehicle we have owned, and my wife wants to keep this one for another 200,000 miles as the body-on frame models (which are much safer) are no longer made.
After three Explorers (all of which were also flawless), our first new GM since 1970 has impressed us more than any new car we have ever owned. We still love Fords and own two, but GM has really become a world-class car maker as well.
So, yours was flawless and mine was a deathtrap. Good thing GM is consistent huh? Seriously though, I have heard wayyyyy more complaints on these trucks then praises. I have actually never met anyone personally that can say their Trailblazer experience was "flawless".
As far as power and performance goes, yes, in 2003 these felt really powerful and they are plush to drive. Plush is great on highways and long stretches of road, but it is terrible in cornering situations or any place you want any kind of driver feel. I loved ours for long trips, as it felt like you were home in the easy chair, but hated it in any other scenario, as it had a ton of body roll and never felt secure. Had it not been for the 85% highway miles we were driving, I would have opted for something better handling for daily driving.
I feel the exact opposite as you do about full frame vehicles and the perception of safety they create. Due to the poor handling and extra weight, these vehicles were actually more dangerous as you could lose control so much easier. Safety to me is avoiding the accident in the first place, not just having the bigger, heavier vehicle so I can crush everyone else and walk away unhurt. I would have trouble living with that scenario. I did like pulling our boat with it though. That, full frames are better for.
All in all by today's standards of better designed SUV's, that drive better and handle way better, these are outdated at best. That coupled with the many many faulty parts we had to replace on ours just makes me more glad that GM finally got smart and stopped making them. I would never buy a used one with all of the potential problems they have had. You are right... do research on any vehicle. I am surprised you didn't come across more of the major complaints with these trucks. It didn't take me long to find multiple forums with questions and answers about all of the problems I had with mine.
As has been pointed out, there were problems with the computers on the 2002-2003 Trail Blazer/Envoy vehicles. These issues were very easily corrected by seeking out qualified technicians to properly set the computers. The key word here is "qualified". A huge number of GM dealerships did not bother to get their techs trained to service these computer systems. This resulted in a number of problems that were due not to GM, but to dealerships that were incompetent to solve the problems. Yes, it was a great inconvenience to owners, but technically it was not the fault of GM, but rather individual dealerships who were too cheap to have their techs attend the classes on the new systems.
As for the mechanical parts, such as brakes, steering components, suspension components and drive train, these areas are some of the strongest in the industry. As a mechanic I have seen far smaller, less substantial components used on many similar vehicles, especially imports. We have taken our Envoy off road on one vacation to the mountains, and found it very capable of handling the roughest terrain without a problem. SUV's are not purchased with the intention of road racing, so no, these vehicles will not corner like a Mustang. They aren't supposed to.
As for safety, I'll take a roll-over any day over the car being crushed. With the seat belts on, roll-overs seldom result in any injuries. All the roll-over deaths you read about in SUV's are due to people who are not restrained being ejected. A good case in point was a recent accident on our area where an SUV rolled over and killed 3 people. All three were ejected because they were not wearing seat belts. I personally witnessed a Ford Explorer roll 5 times at 70mph. The young driver was properly belted in and walked away unhurt. Body-on-frame SUV's offer far, far more overall protection than flimsy unibody vehicles. My wife has been in two accidents in her body-on-frame SUV's. In both cases the other vehicles were totalled while her SUV sustained very little damage at all. In the last crash, a Honda Accord rear-ended her Envoy, totalling the Accord. The Envoy was "repaired" by buffing the Accord's paint off the rear bumper. Not even so much as a dent or broken tail light lens. To Honda's credit, the Accord driver was unhurt even though the car was totalled. The point is, it cost the Accord driver a car, while all it cost us was 15 minutes of my time and a little buffing compound.
Another advantage of Body-on-frame SUV's is ground clearance. We live in a flood-prone area. Our Envoy can easily traverse 2-foot-deeper (or deeper) flooded areas without a problem. Lower sedan-based SUV's cannot. We have routinely driven around stalled vehicles in flooded areas during heavy rains. We've passed several drowned-out crossovers along the way.
I don't dispute that some GM owners have had problems. As I pointed out, I suspect most of the problems were due to dealer incompetence or a desire to make money off the owner.
Any time I hear of a Trailblazer/Envoy owner having to replace brake components before 50,000 miles I highly suspect that it was an unnecessary repair. The brake components on these vehicles are very ruggedly built and over-engineered. Granted, we do not tow anything and do not ride our brakes, but at 100,000 miles there is still a lot of pad left on ours. None of our family members or friends who drive these vehicles has ever replaced the brake pads before 60-70,000 miles.
Finally, our own (very good) GM dealership has even gone so far as to warn me about a few potential problem areas with these vehicles. Not a single one of these problems has ever materialized. I credit this to the fact that I carefully inspect the vehicle very meticulously every year to check everything and make sure that nothing needs attention. Most problems with these vehicles are due to neglect, abuse or misinformation from shops wanting to do unnecessary repairs. I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for all the totally unnecessary brake and front-end repair work that shops and dealerships frighten the unsavvy car owner into. People need to make themselves aware of a few automotive basics. It could save them thousands of dollars.
I have recommended used Trail Blazers, Envoys, Rainiers and Bravadas (all are the same vehicle) to many people. I routinely advise people on car purchases, and not a single person who has bought one of these fine vehicles has ever been disappointed. The key is a very thorough inspection to determine any existing damage or abuse and a maintenance history on the vehicle. Summer before last a neighbor bought a used Olds Bravada with 105,000 miles on it. It is perfect, and they couldn't be happier.