The baby SUV is back | The Trax manages to fill a void in the market that is more and more appreciated as gas prices rise.
Does anybody remember the Chevrolet Tracker? It was a compact economy SUV sold in the 1990s that was also sold under a few other names, such as Suzuki Vitara, Asuna Sun Runner, and Geo Tracker. This market sort of died off with the 90s, and last year General Motors decided that they need to re-enter this market. I come from a GM family; my parents have an early 2000s Envoy to this day. I decided to sample the 2014 Chevrolet Trax LT and see how it stacks up against the other compact SUVs of today.
The Trax is the slightly less-upscale version of the Buick Encore, and hence shares its underpinnings. This is a pretty good chassis; there is minimal body roll for a compact SUV and it handles reasonably well for what it is. Under the hood is the same 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder as the Chevrolet Sonic and a few different iterations of the Cruze. It puts out 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. Power was linear and while there is some turbo lag, the Trax gets up to highway speeds effortlessly. While on the highway, it doesn’t dart around and is surprisingly composed for its size.
One thing I liked about the only example of Tracker I had driven back in the 90s was the availability of a 5-speed manual. Naturally, in this day in age, nobody really buys manual-transmission SUVs (or CUVs). Hence the lack of surprise as my tester was equipped with a 6-speed automatic. It may not be the sportiest transmission out there, but it’s exceptionally easy to get used to and is very smooth. I didn’t feel the need for a third pedal at any point during my commute. With its high ride height, all-wheel-drive, and nimble steering, the Chevrolet Trax is an exceptional commuter for those whose daily grinds involve a drive from the suburbs to downtown Toronto.
When I first learned I was testing a Trax, I had a lapse in my thoughts. For some reason, I assumed that this little guy had a 1.8L or 2.0L 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated. Upon realizing that it is in fact a 1.4L turbo-four, I expected the fuel economy to be great. I was a bit disappointed in my week’s observation of about 8.9L/100km in mostly highway driving. My expectations were that the Trax would return a number in the mid-7L/100km range. There is a fuel economy and general information section in the center of the motorcycle-style instrument cluster. It’s very easy for even the most tech-illiterate people to decipher, and makes the commute slightly more relaxed.
There’s no question about it, my absolute favourite part of the Chevrolet Trax was the infotainment system. The Trax uses a version of Chevrolet’s MyLink, and it’s excellent. It’s essentially the same system found in the Spark we tested late in the winter, and the beauty of it is that there’s literally no lag. The touchscreen is among the most responsive in the industry, and everything is simple to use. I do wish there was a designated knob or physical buttons for volume control on the multimedia unit itself, but they do exist on the steering wheel. Bluetooth phone pairing is simple, and browsing through playlists and albums on an iPod is just as seamless. There is a USB port for those who don’t want to stream their music using Bluetooth.
My tester was the LT model, and came with a few niceties. Chevrolet now uses a switchblade-style key like Volkswagen and Audi have been using for decades; it’s classy and gets the job without complaints. Bluetooth, power everything, and keyless entry are on board my tester, along with the MyLink, iPod connectivity, and heated seats. For an as-tested sticker price of just over $28,000, this Trax represents a great value for the cost-conscious Canadian buyer. It’s no surprise that these things have been selling pretty well.
What didn’t I like about the Trax? Well, it’s not exactly pretty – I find the Cruze, the Sonic, and even the Spark quite elegant and good-looking. Its sibling, the Encore, has a bit of a premium look – mostly because of the Buick corporate grille. I tried to look harder and harder at the Trax to see if it had any angles I liked, but I just couldn’t come around. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A couple of my colleagues here did think it’s a smart-looking little thing. Even though I’m not a fan of its lines, I could totally see myself rocking an all-wheel-drive Trax with a manual transmission. It’s a real shame this configuration doesn’t exist…
The smallest SUV in the Ford lineup for now is the Escape, and until the Jeep Renegade shows up, the Cherokee is the smallest thing they have in the Chrysler lineup. This Chevrolet Trax and its sister, the Buick Encore, manage to fill a void in the market that is more and more appreciated as gas prices continue to rise. As I write this, fuel currently costs $1.60/L for premium-grade. I know tons and tons of families who purchase small SUVs to replace their Corollas, Civics, and Mazda3s because at least one driver in the family wants something with a higher seating position. This vehicle represents a great compromise in many ways – it has all-wheel-drive and a high seating position to give you the confidence of a bigger, safer vehicle, without the expensive pump-penalty of a full-on SUV. I’d like to see more vehicles in this segment hit our shores – I would wager they’d sell pretty well.
2014 Chevrolet Trax LT Gallery