By Andy Lilienthal
The subcompact crossover segment is simply exploding with new entries, and one of the latest is Chevrolet’s new Trax. Based on the Chevrolet Sonic chassis, the Trax is a mechanical twin to the more upscale Buick Encore which has been selling like super-practical little hotcakes. The Trax isn’t quite as lux-oriented as its Buick cousin (it’s also not available in beige with faux hood vents), but is actually a remarkably neat little vehicle. Admittedly, after speaking to some of my fellow automotive writing cohorts, I thought the vehicle was going to be a disappointment. But it was pretty much the exact opposite.
Canada has had the Trax for a year already, and for 2015, the U.S. gets the vehicle. While there are three trim levels and AWD is available on each of them, there is only one engine, the 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec mill making 138 horsepower and generating a healthy 148 ft/lbs of torque. The engine makes great low-end turbo power and has plenty of get-up-and-go under about 4,000 RPM. After 4K things get a bit wheezy, but there isn’t a whole lot of reason to rev it up anyhow. The sole transmission is a six-speed automatic, but it pairs quite well with the small force-fed powerplant. Our tester was a front-drive version.
The Trax has a miniature SUV look to it; sort of like a Micro Machines version of a Chevrolet Traverse. The proportions aren’t awkward, however, and the overall shape is appealing in an urban utility kind of way. The mini SUV rolls on big 18” alloy wheels wrapped in fat 215/55/18 Continental all-season tires, and that large rolling stock helps to offset what can amount to that don’t-skip-leg-day kind of look found on the Fiat 500L. There’s a slight rake to the stance, and I dig it. I also like the Orange Rock Metallic paint. Make no mistake about it thought—this is not an off-pavement vehicle. The front end sits very low and there isn’t much ground clearance. If you’re looking for a soft roader, you’ll want to look at the Subaru XV Crosstrek or the Jeep Renegade.
Slide inside and you’ll notice a large quantity of hard surfaces and lots of gray plastic. The good news is the plastic features a couple different shades, so it doesn’t look like it was sourced directly from the Rubbermaid factory. While I’d like some more soft-touch bits, the overall shape isn’t offensive, and the build quality felt surprisingly solid.
All seating surfaces wear leatherette (aka vinyl) and the front seats are heated. The driving position is very upright—very SUV-like—but supportive and comfortable. The rear seats, which fold 60/40 are acceptable for full-grown humans; just make sure to raise the rear headrests first or you’ll have a lump in your back. Bonus points for having a 110V AC plug on the back of the center console, too. The rear cargo area is big for the segment. I’m guessing you could get a couple of full-size coolers there, some golf clubs, I don’t know, maybe a bale of hay or a giant brick of cheese? I’m envisioning an Chevy Trax social media campaign coming on …
There are little things that did feel as if the cost cutting crew came in, however. There’s the lack of soft-touch materials, a chintzy-feeling dome light, a thin headliner, and a few design elements that just weren’t all that great. Overall I was surprised at the car’s solid interior build quality. In fact, it’s incredible that this is the same company that offered vehicular dry-heaves such as the Aveo and Cavalier.
The Trax’s feeling of solidity continues once you’re on the road, and the car feels quite substantial; the curb weight for this FWD model is 2,805 lbs. There wasn’t a rattle or squeak to be had and the ride is unexpectedly good and quiet. While not an inherently hoonable vehicle, the Trax is more nimble than you’d expect thanks to a combination of fairly meaty rolling stock and suspension tuning that borders on athletic. And by athletic, I mean that kid you never expect to be good at tennis, but despite his physical appearance, he puts up a great game. You can manually shift the automatic trans, but it’s not a sporting endeavor. To shift manually, you use a thumb switch on the shift lever. Not exactly enthralling. As mentioned, low-end acceleration is very useable and quite torquey, although you’re not going to be doing smoky burnouts down the street, either. There is adequate passing power and merging onto the freeway is rarely a scary task.
Rated at 26 city, 34 highway, and 29 MPG combined, I was surprised to get 31 MPG with the Trax—a couple MPG higher than the computer displayed, which is a rarity.
Price wise, this Trax is just about $26,000 would could get you into a myriad of other small crossovers, including the aforementioned Subaru XV Crosstrek which is bigger and has more horsepower (but less torque). You could also get into a Nissan Juke or 500L which are both polarizing but have some positive attributes as well. None of these cars still employ drum rear brakes, either (if that's a concern).
Something about this car just works for me. It’s the right size. It has enough power. It’s super practical without being boring. If I were looking for a compact SUV/CUV/or whatever the kids are calling them these days, I’d certainly look at the Trax. I do wish I could purchase it with a manual transmission option, even in the FWD variant, but I understand why they don’t offer it (hint: nobody would buy them). Then again, I can get a Sonic with the manual transmission, and it’s the same engine and chassis, but it weighs less and is faster. It doesn’t look the same, of course, and it’s not quite as practical. But so far, I’d say the Trax is actually one of the better, more interesting cars in this burgeoning subcompact CUV segment.
|THE BASICS: 2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ|
|MSRP As Tested:||$25,905|
|Engine:||1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder|
|Curb Weight:||2,805 lbs.|
|Suspension:||F: Struts, independent front |
R: Torsion beam
|Brakes:||F: Disc w/ABS |
R: Drum w/ABS
|Range & MPG:||26 city, 34 highway, 31 combined|