Last year Chevrolet decided to join the rapidly burgeoning B-segment (aka subcompact) crossover utility field with an entry called the Trax. The Trax joins GM’s other similarly sized and surprisingly successful crossover the Buick Encore at a more affordable price point to challenge the likes of the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Nissan Juke. In a segment expected to spawn several more entries from the likes of Ford, Hyundai and Toyota in the next couple of years, does the Trax have what it takes?
The Trax name first appeared more than eight years ago when Chevrolet unveiled a trio of micro-car concepts at the 2007 New York Auto Show. That Trax was one of three design studies produced out GM’s South Korean studio along with the Groove and Beat to gauge American consumer interest in an urban runabout at a time when gas prices were on the rise toward $4 per gallon. Ultimately the Groove was chosen for production as the Spark while the boxier Groove and crossover Trax were shelved. In the immediate aftermath of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization another small crossover badged as a Buick and built off the slightly larger Sonic platform was shown to media and that architecture would later spawn the vehicle we now have as the Trax.
The production Trax shares little other than its name and the signature Chevy bowtie and dual-port grille with the 2007 concept and that’s just fine. If anything this is clearly more of a little brother to the compact-midsize Equinox which remains one of the best looking vehicles in its class even as it enters the seventh year of its current lifecycle. With its bulging wheel arches, the Trax has a pleasantly chunky look to it despite its somewhat tall proportions relative to its length.
One thing that is immediately apparent when you approach the Trax is that unlike the surprisingly off-road capable Renegade, the Chevy is very much a soft-roader. With its deep front air dam the Trax is going to be crawling over any boulders, but then again the fraction of the car-buying audience that actually does that is vanishingly small. GM has clearly decided to go for the heart of the market that wants a vehicle roomy enough to carry kids or adult friends, a decent amount of cargo for a trip to Ikea or the lake and consume minimal amount the owner’s paycheck at the gas pump.
The Trax fulfills all of these requirements quite ably but not ostentatiously. Just as the exterior design is less avant-garde than either the Juke or the HR-V, the cabin is basic but functional. Unlike its Buick sibling, the Trax eschews fancy soft-touch materials or sophisticated instrument graphics. The plastics that compromise the driver’s surroundings are hard to the touch although they are well finished with no noticeable mold parting lines or other sharp edges. The instrument cluster is straight out of the Sonic with a round analog tachometer on the left and a monochrome blue digital display inset from the right.
The standard air-conditioning is manually controlled with everyone getting the same temperature. The infotainment system is GM’s first-generation “bring your own media” MyLink which is covered in depth in this separate article. In addition to the mediocre BringGo navigation app, the other main flaw of the infotainment is the use of capacitive touch buttons for the volume up/down rather than a rotary knob. Fortunately, there is a redundant volume switch on the right spoke of the steering wheel and the navigation complaints will be resolved by an upgraded version of the system for many 2016 GM models and the 2017 Trax that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The HR-V still has the edge in cargo room thanks to the fuel tank mounted under the front seats and the ability to either fold up the rear seat cushions or drop them to the floor with the “Magic seat.” With seats folded, the Trax will swallow an impressive 48.4 cubic feet while the HR-V will absorb 58.8 cubic feet. Even with the rear seats occupied, 18.7 cubic feet of stuff can still go in the back, more than enough for a cooler and all the stuff you need for a summer afternoon at the lake.
My biggest complaint about the HR-V was the rather weak feeling 1.8-liter engine. The only available powertrain in the Trax is the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic that is the optional upgrade in the Sonic. With 138-horsepower, the Trax engine is just shy of the 141-hp in the Honda but the 148 lb.-ft. of torque that peaks at just 1,850 rpm trounces the 127 lb.-ft. at 4,300 rpm from the Honda. The 1.4-liter is a relatively old engine that is gradually being replaced in other applications by GM’s new global small engine family which will likely come to the Trax for 2017.
Even now however, while this isn’t necessarily as refined as the best four cylinders from Volkswagen or Honda, it’s perfectly acceptable and has more than adequate performance. The beefy low-end torque and good responsiveness provide good overall driveability. The automatic transmission has been calibrated to stay in the highest possible gear and glancing at the tach showed the engine running at about 1,700-1,800 rpm most of the time, something made possible by that low torque peak. The result is very good fuel economy with the EPA rating the front-drive Trax at 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. During my week of driving it averaged a very respectable 30 mpg. While the Chevy feels more robust off the line than HR-V, the Honda feels a bit sharper on the road. Ride quality is comparable and the brake pedal feel is solid, but the Trax steering doesn’t feel as precise as what Honda has managed on the HR-V.
The base front-wheel-drive Trax LS starts at just $21,000 while even a loaded LTZ is just $27,405. The mid-grade front-drive LT I drove was just $23,815 delivered. If you ever want to go off-road, the Renegade is probably your best choice but if you are like most drivers, Trax is certainly worth cross-shopping against the HR-V. It’s handsome, surprisingly roomy and has a capable powertrain all at a very attainable price point.